The Generational Crisis Behind Cancel Culture

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, deadly riots, and murder hornets (don’t ask), Americans are facing a cancel culture that roots out any dissent from far-left Marxist orthodoxy. Recently, a professor faced an investigation for reading from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, a church lost its lease because the pastor “liked” a couple of tweets, a professional soccer player got fired for his wife’s tweet, and former New York Times opinion editor James Bennet resigned amid backlash for publishing a senator’s op-ed. I could detail many more examples, but you get the gist.

Why is all of this happening? Why does it seem the inmates are running the asylum? Well, I’ve been doing some reading about my generation — the millennials — and I think I’ve cracked a little bit more of the code.

Millennials — born in the 1980s and 1990s — came into the workforce seeking not just a paycheck, but the ever-elusive “meaning.” Our Boomer parents had told us to find fulfilling work, so we looked for it.

Books like Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman’s The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace rightly advised companies to cater to millennials’ desire for meaning at work. Unfortunately, it seems they took the easy way out.

Millennials are not all crazy leftist Marxist nuts obsessed with intersectionality — but thanks to the Twitter echo chamber and the influence of left-wing institutions like universities and the mainstream media, it seems that way. Rather than engaging millennials on a person-to-person basis, it seems much of corporate America decided they would throw millennials a bone by donating to far-left causes and promoting leftist ideas.

The millennials who really do believe in climate alarmism, anti-capitalist nonsense, race-based identity politics, and more are not satisfied with mere contributions, however. They want real change, and they will fight to get it. These true believers found their way into powerful institutions like The New York Times and turned them into a living hell.

Bari Weiss, a Jewish writer and former editor at The Wall Street Journal, joined the Times in 2017 in order to help address the blind spots at America’s newspaper of record. She resigned this week and in her resignation letter she exposed the “new McCarthyism” at The New York Times.

My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.

Why do the vocal leftists get away with this kind of harassment? Older generations have allowed millennials to set the tone for meaning at so many major companies and institutions. While Boomers led the 1960s “Consciousness Revolution,” when it came to the workplace, they followed the rules and worked their way to the top. Meaning in work was something you earned the right to pursue, not something you demanded.

Members of Generation X sought meaning outside the workplace. As a “Nomad Generation,” they grew up with few expectations and have worked hard to achieve success.

Millennials are often seen as entitled, but this isn’t, strictly speaking, accurate. My generation is painfully aware of how hard it is to find and keep a job. We’re willing to work hard, but we also have inflated self-esteem. We want to find work that fulfills us because we saw our Boomer and Generation X parents seeking meaning outside of work or frustrated with the demands of work. We came of age thinking that if we found the perfect job, we’d be happy. And we know we can find the perfect job — we’re all straight-A students, after all.

Millennials aren’t quite entitled. We are smart, adaptable, and innovative. We seek meaning, and we want to know we’re making a difference. We are a “civic” generation, primed to face a crisis and create new institutions. As America became more socially fragmented and polarized these past few decades, millennials have been longing for unity. We’ve been wanting institutions to actually work, to address big problems. Many of us are wrong about what the big problems are (institutional racism and climate change, for example), but we’re right to long for a new era of American action.

About every eighty years, the United States faces an era-defining crisis: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II. Millennials are waiting for the next crisis, and longing to meet it. We’re a generation raised on the premise of giving back, and many of our most ridiculous excesses trace back to this positive desire to make a difference.

None of that excuses the excesses, however. The antifa/anarchist/Black Lives Matter riots and violence have caused serious damage to America’s cities, and the cancel culture is undermining America’s free speech culture, a vital part of what millennials should be destined to defend. In order to rise to our place in history, millennials have to reject the noxious Marxism, climate alarmism, and identity politics that has been drilled into us.

It is important for Boomers and members of Generation X to stand up and become the adults in the room. Corporate America should inculcate a sense of meaning among millennial workers — but that doesn’t mean companies should kow-tow to anti-American Marxism. Sustainability and recycling are important goals, but that doesn’t mean American culture should buy into the ridiculous notion that THE WORLD IS ENDING BECAUSE OF FOSSIL FUELS.

Boomers and Xers need to take courage — you are still the boss. When the loudest millennials pressure corporate execs to write a fat check to the official Marxist Black Lives Matter organization, you can say no. When they urge the company to oppose “systemic racism,” you can explain why that notion is problematic.

When loud leftists demanded a boycott of Goya Foods following the CEO praising Trump, the boycott backfired. The CEO of Goya Foods became the adult in the room. As a millennial, I’m asking my elders to please stand up as he did. My generation needs a reality-check, and it’s your job to give it to us.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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