I read yet another hot take on how Trump is destroying Republicanism and how most young people these days are becoming more politically liberal. This one, published on The Week, was titled ‘The kids are all Democrats,’ by David Faris.
After criticizing neoconservative ideology yesterday, I must concede that that was a great headline. However, it is a bit of an overdetermined claim. First, I have a bunch of young socialist, communist, libertarian, and classically conservative friends too. I don’t have the numbers that Faris has on hand – this is, after all, not my field of expertise – but I am not sure that it is just a return to political liberalism that is in the cards. Some young people are reading Rawls with fresh eyes, but those people are mostly in Hong Kong, I think. My friends, including some of the conservative ones, are reading Marx.
Second, I do not really like this conflation between liberalism and the Democratic Party. I am sure that some people see it as the lesser of two evils. Of course, most Catholics also take this approach to the Republican Party because at least the GOP doesn’t, in their words, support killing babies. But my uneasiness about the Democrats is not really based on their partisan platform on abortion; I am not convinced that ending the practice is achieved by criminalizing it.
Instead, I have long been a bit queasy about the Democrats’ elitism. I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but I’m using it describe all sorts of ways that they’ve shut down the voices of people calling for radical democratic change. Mostly owing to Chicago’s law and order paradigm under Mayor Richard Daley, the disillusionment wrought from the failure of the 1968 protest at the Democratic National Convention highlighted how difficult it was to get antiwar and pro-poor policies onto Democrats’ platform. Fast-forward to 2016, and the politics of respectability led to the shafting of Bernie Sanders in favour of Hillary Clinton. If there is a problem between elitist adults imposing their ideologies on the world at the expense of their kids, the Democrats have as much of a problem with this as the Republicans. To Faris’s credit, he talks a good deal about Democratic incompetence as a driving factor as to why there are not more kids in the camp. But that means the headline is wrong too.
Still, there is a general feeling of something or another in the wind, and I want to try to describe it. It is a little bit like thinking that I grew up in a bubble, only to find that it was no bubble – a bit like The Truman Show, except that instead of exiting stage right, Truman discovers that the world he is in is actually the real world.
I grew up going to Chinese evangelical churches on the East Bay, across the water from what we called ‘the City’: San Francisco. As I was growing up, it was like the adults, who were conservative, felt more and more inclined to hold power. Sometimes they’d screw the English congregation by firing our pastors, double-booking rooms at church, laying down the law for outings and sleepovers, complaining about our loud music (as if theirs weren’t loud, especially the karaoke), and whining about our loose morality.
It seems like this was the way things were everywhere. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Helen Lee had written an article in Christianity Today about the ‘silent exodus‘ of second-generation English speakers from Korean churches, mostly based on experiences in Southern California. Actually, the Los Angeles Times staff writer Doreen Carvajal had coined the term: she had been trying to understand community politics in Los Angeles’s Koreatown in 1994. She doesn’t say it in the article, but the timing is curious: her project occurs two years after the devastation of the Los Angeles uprising after the acquittal of the police officers who beat up Rodney King. Some of us who came across these articles in the Chinese churches felt some kinship. We may have approrpriated some of the tropes from Korean churches and plugged and chugged it inappropriately into our contexts. Eventually, the whole lot of us became known as ‘Asian American evangelicals,’ mostly on college campuses and with a special affinity for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Lee now says we are ‘silent no more.’
But in the silent exodus, we always felt like the white people, especially the Christians (by which we mean ‘Protestant,’ of which we meant ‘evangelical’), were more tolerant, open-minded, willing to put up with loud music, and would never fire our pastors or double-book rooms. So through Starfield and Switchfoot and open fields of wild flowers, we fell into the clutches of white evangelicalism, unaware of the new bubble we had acquired for ourselves and thinking that we had finally become liberals. Eventually, some of us woke up and became disillusioned. One of us even became Eastern Catholic. May our tribe increase. We are, it has been said, a ‘growing number.’
And now it feels like the rest of our generation is finally waking up. After years and years of thinking we were in a bubble and therefore our experiences do not apply to our ‘secular’ friends who don’t go to church and need to be evangelized, it turns out that it was the same in all the institutions and in civil society and electoral politics writ large. But it does feel good to know that I was never in a bubble, and neither were my Asian American evangelical sisters and brothers. Perhaps the micro-authoritarianism – the kind you can’t really call authoritarianism because it’s usually a dictatorship that extends at most to about 200 people and doesn’t have an effective enough secret police or re-education camp system to really alter its people’s consciousness – we experienced had little to do with Korean or Chinese culture. It is a little bit like how it is hard in my current situation to feel completely frustrated with the Ukrainians who don’t like the new people like me in their church. All of this is just a symptom of a larger problem for the last half century or so. We were not living in a bubble. We were just living in America.