The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis Clipper.
I work with several “millennials,” all relatively suspicious of “facts” from the government and question the benefits that the government provides.
They are amused when I tell them that in the past, Americans generally didn’t think that way. Growing up in the 1950s and1960s, government was often seen as our friend. It was the government that constructed highways and made travel more convenient. It was the government that provided Medicare, easing the fears of our grandparents. It was the government that laid the groundwork and paid for us to visit the moon. It was the government that built safe and healthy sewage systems and helped make if financially feasible for us to attend college.
We didn’t always agree with the government. My uncle complained that there was no such thing as a patriotic Democrat. But neither were we suspicious that government consistently lied to us.
In my view, the chance came from the Vietnam War. (Two-thirds of the country was not around when it occurred and about the same number of millennials admit they know nothing about it.) Vietnam was an unpopular war, one that also saw the Administrations (both Democrats and Republicans) playing around with the real facts, including estimated body counts and the Gulf of Tonkin episode which widened our involvement.
It was also a war in which our military didn’t come from the broad population. As Karl Marlantes, a Vietnam War Marine and author of the acclaimed war novel “Matterhorn,” said, “men who could afford to go to college did not get drafted until late in the war when the fighting had fallen off.”
And like me, he points to the war as a shift in trust of government. Wrote Marlantes in a New York Times editorial, “It was a war – not liberalism, not immigration, not globalization – that changed us…It made us cynical and distrustful of our institutions, especially of government.”
In a time when Pres. Trump’s cohorts spin the concept of “alternative facts,” I appear naïve when I say government doesn’t purposefully lie. What it does at times is release reports that don’t necessarily reflect reality.
As an example, the Obama administration was correct when it released figures showing an economic rebound. The problem was that the figures were national, not regional. While the economy was robust in Seattle, it was stagnant in rural Pennsylvania…the high wages in Silicon Valley didn’t help the unemployed in Nebraska…the cash registers were jingling in Denver, but not in Milwaukee. In fact, the economic rebound from 2008-2016 occurred in only about 25 percent of the nation’s ZIP codes, urban areas with large populations.
The government statistics were accurate; they just didn’t tell the whole story.
I tell my millennial friends that we Baby Boomers weren’t confused by a flurry of conflicting “facts” and conspiracy theories from the Internet. We trusted newscaster Walter Cronkite to separate the wheat from the chaff. When he told us that the Vietnam War was unwinnable, there was a major decline in support of the war. Today, in contrast, the majority of Americans neither trust the government nor the media, and more Americans get their “facts” from biased talk radio hosts or late night comedians.
That’s a shame. As Marlantes wrote, “Vietnam still shapes America, even if most of us are too young to remember it.”