Opinion

Oops. Did We Raise Donald Trump Supporters?

Each generation embodies their parents’ core values — but nakedly, and stripped of all pretenses

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The frequent question: Why do so many seem to like Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency?

The partial answer: because he is everything the public has been taught to like.

We human beings tend to flatter ourselves. With each new generation we tend to fancy ourselves as courageous trailblazers who have identified the strengths and failings of the generation before and created a new future that is uniquely ours.

But that’s not really what happens.

What really happens is that we each more or less behave exactly the way our parents and teachers told us to.

Consider the 1971 ballad “Imagine,” by John Lennon. We think of it as a rebellious generation’s hymn to the bold new humanity it forged in the 1960s: “Imagine no religion … no countries … imagine all the people living life in peace.”

The problem is that if you watch Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet you see that the iconic parents that raised the bold 1960s generation … were people who never mentioned religion or patriotism and enjoyed an untroubled peace. They were people like my grandfather, a kindly old atheist who had no American flag in his house, subscribed to Scientific American and shared its deep and abiding faith in a peaceful manmade progress.

When the children of such men sing “Imagine,” the deep gratification they feel is really just the old-fashioned contentment of agreeing with Dad.

I was a child who came of age in the 1980s. We wanted to be like the lovers of freedom and of free-loving — like Bruce Springsteen, who was “Born to Run,” and Cyndi Lauper, who declared (when it really was bold to declare it) that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” We wanted to be pointedly unique like Michael Jackson, Billy Idol and Madonna, which was exactly what our parents taught us to be. They read Dr. Spock religiously and were convinced that, above all, their children needed freedom and validation, the constant assurance that they were “special.” We just did as we’d been told.

You can apply it over and over again, and the theory seems to hold. The 1970s generation of divorce and sexual experimentation gave us harsh realism at the movies (Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, et al.); disco in the clubs; and a desperate reliance on contraceptives and abortion. As parents they invented the latchkey “After-School Special” kids. In the 1990s, those kids sang from the hymn book they had been taught: “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious; here we are now, entertain us …”

Each generation embodies their parents’ core values — but nakedly, and stripped of all pretenses.

The jury is still out on the kids raised by my comrades and me; but I suspect the pattern holds true. Millennial output will largely be a product of parental input. We had the “safe sex” movement, missing children on milk cartons and the discovery that our kids might get hurt on playgrounds. Our kids are demanding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” because the thoughts of others have become scary. We were “in the spotlight, losing my religion;” they are in our shadow, never having had a religion to lose.

Today’s radical secularists aren’t a bold new thing: they’re just teachers’ pets on steroids.

So, those people who love Donald Trump? Thirty-eight percent of them are 18-49 years old, and exactly the same percentage is 50-and-older. They are cross generational — parents and those they raised, and they represent trends ubiquitous over decades.

  • Trump calls people names and berates them, just like the “loveable loudmouths” in sitcoms, from Archie Bunker to Al Bundy to Peter Griffin, and like much of the rap culture.
  • Trump is wealth and celebrity obsessed. So have we been, from the 1980s Dallas and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to today’s Duck Dynasty and Keeping up With the Kardashians.
  • Trump appeals to emotion rather than right reason, and that’s just fine with parents who sported colored ribbons and called it “activism” and whose children wanted frames and mantles for their “participation” certificates and trophies.

Why are such people enthralled with Trump? we ask. Why in heaven’s name wouldn’t they be?

Raised on such crass and hollow examples of leadership as we have seen, we can imagine what the next generation will be like, but let’s not. Better to consider how we might change such a troubling trajectory. It seems to me there is only one way: through the restored health of the family.

 

Pope Francis gets this; that is why he is promoting Christian basics: a life that rejects name calling, embraces the Beatitudes, and a heartfelt prayer life.

And many Catholic families, thank God, have been working on this for a long time. We look to their children, desperate with hope, because there is only way to improve the future: Improve the family.

 

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.