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Not one of us

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2015-09-03


It's always disconcerting when you make the discovery that the people you always thought were "your people" aren't really "your people" anymore. This happened very recently to one of my best friends, who was shocked to discover that his adult children with whom he had just engaged in a heated discussion about contemporary events suddenly viewed him as some sort of old, reactionary, right-wing troglodyte. For my friend, there was simply no greater pejorative an 80s liberal, he hated Reagan, loved punk music, was pro-union, pro-tolerance, pro-choice, and yet here his own millennial-liberal, flesh-and-bloods were acting like he was some unholy combination of Hitler, George Wallace, and Ann Coulter. The realization floored him, to know that his kids could dismiss him so easily as not being "liberal enough."

I'm sure some of that could be chalked up to simple kid/parent dynamics, the natural evolution of kids rejecting their parents' viewpoints just because their parents hold them. Kids establishing their own sovereignty and all that. But it's happened enough to many of my friends and acquaintances that I'm convinced there's something else at play here. 80s liberals and millennial liberals are starting to construct a divide in America that is almost as profound as the eternal liberal-conservative divide.

It's hard, as a self-professed 80s liberal, to not want to stake my ground and tee off on the millennial liberals, for I don't want to do anything to increase the divide, but how do you bite your tongue when there's a question about free speech versus political correctness? True-blue, ACLU-loving, orthodox 80s liberals go ballistic whenever free speech gets threatened, yet orthodox millennial liberals perceive a different dynamic. To illustrate the difference, I have to invoke "Blurred Lines" again, the infernal 2013 Robin Thicke song that continues to piss people off and has become a litmus test as to what kind of politics you hold.

In "The Hell You Say," Kelefa Anneh's New Yorker article from the August 10-17th issue, the writer talks about the brouhaha that ensued after a d.j. played the song in an Irish pub in Chapel Hill, North Carolina last year. A female patron requested that the d.j. cut the song short, saying that she wanted to create a safe space and that the song evoked threats of sexual violence. The d.j. said no, and later, the girl and her allies went to social media to voice their displeasure. Eventually the bar got weary of the negative publicity, and apologized to the girl and promised to never hire the d.j. or play the song again. Things got ugly after that, as the story broke nationally, and people lined up on both sides of the "free speech versus political correctness" question to express their viewpoints, often quite vociferously and cruelly.

It's generalizing to a great degree to simply say that 80s liberals would be pro-Robin Thicke in this instance and millennial-liberals against, but I would say that most 80s liberals were at least troubled by the censorship of the song and that most millennial-liberals were somewhat confident that the right decision had been rendered. (Please forgive the qualifiers.) And thus the divide is exposed. It must be troubling for 80s liberals to be demonized as proponents of violence against women by the younger generation because they cherish free speech; even more galling is the realization that the most celebrated opponent of "political correctness" currently is that imbecile-cartoon Donald Trump, the favorite candidate of white supremacists, a man that most 80s liberals would be horrified to be lumped in with. But in a black-and-white world, it's becoming harder to recognize the grey gradations. It's hard for people to see that it's possible to hate both Donald Trump and political correctness.

I'm sure there is still common ground that exists between the two groups, but there's destined to be some acrimony in the lead-up to the 2016 Democratic primaries. 80s liberals probably wouldn't be too upset if Hillary Clinton were to be the candidate, but millennials would be horrified: it's Bernie Sanders or bust, for them. Hillary Clinton is too moderate, too Establishment, a relic of the past. Sanders is more progressive, more now, more, well, liberal. (To be fair, Sanders has attracted a lot of old-school liberals as well, which means that the election season ought to be a pretty lively, combative affair.)

I try to avoid politics as much as possible, especially during an election season, when the raw gibberish and endless grandstanding from the candidates makes me want to flee the country. But I'm fascinated and a little disconcerted by the current political landscape. The entrenchment between liberal and conservative and now the entrenchment between generations make me wary of the potential for any sort of meaningful national dialogue. You're either with 'em or against 'em, and any thoughtful discussion between those lines is on the verge of becoming extinct. (I have a number of liberal acquaintances on Facebook who like to brag about how many right-wing friends they've "unfriended" because of contrary political posts. As if there's something inherently good about perfecting the insulation of your own echo-chamber of opinion. And I have Republican friends who've done the same.)

Used to be, you could count on the people that you're at least somewhat affiliated with to be a part of your gang, your pack, your people. But now it's tricky to know what group you truly belong to. It's a sad day when you realize that maybe, just maybe, you don't really fit anywhere. That sad day when you sidle up to someone you thought was as comfortable as an old pair of shoes only to discover: Nope, you're not one of us.

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