Politicians, Young Activists, and Their Enablers
In case you were living under a rock last week, millions of people worldwide participated in various protests against what they deemed to a political class not sufficiently committed to fighting climate change. Many of the protesters were young people, which led to copious amounts of praise from media outlets and politicians. Look at these young people who care deeply about the future of the planet, if only Republicans listened to these wise kids.
The tragedy of it all is that these children have been lied to and manipulated by the adults in their lives. They have been told by adults that human civilization is doomed to extinction if they as young people don’t do something about. What does “something” mean? Who cares, why do want the planet to burn?
It started earlier in the week when a select few of them, including the 16 year-old Greta Thunberg, testified in front of Congress. It was here that some of these teen activists got there first dose of “the real world” and it was an unhappy experience. As I wrote elsewhere, one of Thunberg’s fellow teenage activists told CNN’s Bill Weir on the day of the protests that, “A lot of the things these politicians were talking about is ‘Oh, it’s not sensible. We have to have sensible solutions’ as if — as if it was sensible to destroy a life on Earth. It is insanity.”
These teens, and teens generally, aren’t great political thinkers, they’re just repeating what the adults have been telling them. They fear they are going to die in a climate catastrophe (or a school shooting) because that’s what the adults tell them, not because of any exhaustive study on the issue. The adults say one thing, the teens repeat it, and the adults praise the teens for their wisdom and activism. They excuse, even glorify, the school skipping because they deem the cause just.
In doing so these adults have ruined the children. They taught them that their youthful passion is sufficient to win an argument. They’ve used them as political shields. On one hand you must take them seriously because they are the future, but on the other hand, don’t you dare criticize a child. What kind of monster goes after a child? Which brings us back to their encounter with Congress.
Lawmakers, at least those who take their job seriously, have to ask questions that deal with practicality. The Do Something Act of 2019 may play well with focus groups or CNN or even with voters, but in Congress, you have to do better than that.
Politics is the art of the vision. Politicians now run for president as visionaries and as if they were running to be Emperor or Empress of America, where if you would just vote for them, they would implement all these different plans and all of the country’s problems would be solved. But policy, at the end of the day, is still requires a legislative process. But, politics is also the art of the possible. Greta Thunberg can take as many symbolic transatlantic racing yacht voyages as she wants, but she will never succeed in un-inventing the airplane. To briefly digress to gun control, Kamala Harris can laugh and pander all she wants when talking about about using executive orders to ban guns, but Joe Biden is right that there is still something called the Constitution that governs American politics and in the Constitution there is something called Congress.
And no, climate change is not like World War II or putting a man on the moon. In WWII we knew what the end game was, it was complete and total victory over the nation’s enemies. The end game of putting a man on the moon, was putting a man on the moon before the Soviets. What is Greta Thunberg’s end game? At what point do we demobilize and declare victory or is this an acceptable “forever war?” Nobody knows and nobody will ask, because though shall not question the children.
So, what happens when these young activists get hit with reality. They could very well become cynical about the American political process. That could lead them simply dropping interest in politics, because what’s the point? Another, far more worrying, possibility is that they become increasingly radicalized and develop opposition towards constitutional notions of free speech, separation of powers, federalism, property rights, and individual liberty and support radical fringe candidates. Some would say this is not a bug, but a feature.
Of course they could realize that the goal is to put the ball in the end zone, but instead of throwing the ball 80 yards downfield, could try moving the ball downfield one first down at a time, but then they would not be the subject of worldwide adulation.
Another way the adults set these failed teens that was evident in that CNN interview was that the adults did not prepare the activists for the fact that in the real world, people will disagree with you. Congress, unlike many public high schools, has a significant number of Republicans.
To take just a few examples, they told the youngsters that human civilization will end in twelve years, but not the easily cited counter-argument that time and time again end of the world-like predictions have failed to come true. Activists want to government to “invest” in something, politicians have to figure out how to pay for it. Activists want their country to enact a piece of legislation, meanwhile they have no influence over countries like China and India. What happens if their plans and policies don’t actually amount to anything? Finally, whether they believe that with age comes wisdom and experience or whether they simply believe that an argument is good or bad regardless of the age of the arguer, not everybody believes in the cult of youth. Iin some cases it is dangerously close to a literal cult with protesters portraying Thunberg as a Jesus figure.
The adults that put these children in the spotlight by granting them media interviews and using them for publicity stunts should know better. They called them up to the big leagues before they were ready to face big league pitching. Finally, young politicos need mentors, not worshipers.