MUNGER: Political education and the Dodo

THE SPECTACLE of young people protesting the presidential election after Nov. 8 was heartening, in some ways. Some commentators have called the “millennials” disconnected and aloof from politics; but here they were getting out in the street and vowing to change the world.To be fair, this was the first democracy disappointment in their sentient lives. They don’t remember 2004. In 2008 and again in 2012, the Democrats won handily, and the “haters” had been vanquished. It was a shock for many young people to learn that the essence of democracy is to impose — by force — the will of the victors. You can imagine hipsters in their coffee shops asking each other, “Wait, can they do that? Can the world disagree with us?”But there is a second factor, one that some of us have worried about for a long time. That’s the “everybody gets a trophy” phenomenon, first found in Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson’s fantasy, “Alice in Wonderland.” In chapter 3, the Dodo organizes a contest:First [the Dodo] marked out a race-course… There was no `One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked…When they had been running half an hour or so…the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?’ …[T]he Dodo said, `Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’Sounds like our primary system and Bernie Sanders supporters, frankly.The theme of the “No Trump” protests is consistent: “We feel like our views were ignored. And we are going to protest until our feelings are heard.” Kids, I have bad news. Your views were not ignored. You were heard. But your feelings were not persuasive to a lot of people, most of them much older and more experienced in the ways of the world. I’m not sure why you are surprised. Your aggressive “social justice warriors” on campus after campus are not trying to persuade; they are trying to intimidate. It smacks of the Cultural Revolution in China, where dissenters were confronted with their hypocrisies and browbeaten into pretending to agree. You have been busy policing “microaggressions” while most American voters watched in disgust. The fact that you could think you have been wronged by an election is a big part of why Trump won in the first place.I also heard several versions of millennial “Pauline Kael” syndrome in the past week. In 1972 Ms. Kael, a New York film critic, supposedly said, “How can Nixon have won? No one I knew voted for him.” But a little poking around reveals that’s not right; Ms. Kael was actually quite self-aware. Her real words are more interesting, because they reveal the condescension that, even today, also explains Trump’s victory: “I live in a rather special world…. Where they are [Nixon voters] I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Well, can you feel them now, millennials?Lewis Carroll has Alice make another observation later in the story, one that all of us can learn from: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I expect that the hard lesson in democracy in 2016 will have the same effect. In fairness to the kids, this was more of a failure in our education system than it is any fault in their character. Losing is part of living in a diverse republic. And isn’t diversity what you say you want?Michael Munger is a professor of and director of the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke University.