From Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, a review by Jennifer Szalai of a book by new Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, THE VANISHING AMERICAN ADULT: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. The review is called To Make America Great Again, Give Your Kids Chores.
Sasse sounded pleasant and charming on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on Saturday, but the reviewer of his book is not impressed. Indeed, from this description it sounds like another “life was better in the good old days” rant, along with the attack on “kids these days” – both complaints that echo across the generations. It’s a fallacy that a golden age ever existed, except in the fog of nostalgia and forgetfulness of what life was really like generations ago. Quotes from the review:
It should also be said that Sasse’s children are home schooled, and that he unequivocally praised Betsy DeVos — who sponsored unregulated charter school expansion in Michigan, with poor results — as an “excellent pick” for secretary of education.
Alarm bells begin ringing. And
…he’s writing not “as a senator, but rather as a citizen, as a dad, as a reader, and as a former college president.” What he’s advising is simply so much “common sense.”
Beware ‘common sense’. That’s usually an excuse for favoring one’s experience and biases and not taking the time to think about other people’s experiences and points of view.
And considering how in fact older Americans favored Trump, in contrast to younger Americans, the reviewer notes:
To read “The Vanishing American Adult” is to reside in a parallel universe where older Americans stoically uphold standards of decency and responsibility, instead of electing to the country’s highest office a reality-TV star with six business bankruptcies to his name who brazenly flouts both.
Still, there is something politically coherent in this. The Republican Party has been pushing a hyperindividualistic ideology for decades, fixated on the idea that the solution to every problem lies with each American falling back on his or her own personal reserves of “self-discipline and self-control.” In this unforgiving cosmology, there isn’t much room for forces that aren’t so amenable to an individual’s will — and sure enough, there isn’t much room for them in Sasse’s book either. Economic scarcity? We’re an “exceptionally prosperous nation” whose biggest problems are the “surplus creature comforts” that “make a civilization fat and unambitious.” (He approvingly quotes a friend whose travels to Ecuador made him “realize that America’s poor are rich by comparison.”) Racism? The United States is now “free of the racist legal barriers that held back many Americans” and is “finally transcending our slaveholding past.” Sexism? What’s that?
On the one hand, he’s right that many people erroneously think society is far worse off than it is, considering current levels of health and standards of living (brought to you buy… science and technology) compared to all previous generations — compared to that mythical past golden age. But that’s a sort of mental bias, not a judgment on the current population compared to our stalwart ancestors. Furthermore his reliance on individual self-discipline and control will fail when big issues, like climate change, arise than can only be solved cooperatively not just by one nation but by all nations.