Of all the things to have come out of the Parkland massacre, perhaps the stupidest and most counterproductive has been the elevation of children and very young adults to the forefront of our political debate. A number of the students who witnessed the massacre firsthand have turned into media darlings overnight, and like most media darlings they know instinctively how to stoke the fires of popular sentiment. “If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a ‘terrible tragedy,’ I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the NRA,” said 18-year-old Emma Gonzáles. David Hogg, 17, said to politicians who accept money from the NRA: “If you can’t get elected without taking money from child murderers, why are you running?” Stoneman Douglas high school senior Tyra Hemans said: “I want our politicians to stop thinking about money and start thinking about all these lives we had lost.” And so forth.
As my friend David Marcus points out, it is an open question as to whether or not this kind of politico-celebrity lifestyle is psychologically unhealthy for individuals who have just gone through a major trauma. Yet aside from that, the simple fact of the matter is that it is stupid. It is a dumb and silly waste of a critical political dialogue, a debasement of what should be a serious and consequential debate (“child murderers,” good f***ing grief).
Yet a lot of people seem to have been swept up in this: Laurence Tribe, for one, made the astonishing claim that “teens between 14 and 18 have far better BS detectors, on average, than ‘adults’ 18 and older.” This is just so patently false that it is hard to know where to begin. Youth has a lot going for it, but on average young people are gullible, easily duped, underinformed, inexperienced and given very easily to fashionable zeitgeists. To honestly believe that a teenager is some sort of font of policy wisdom is to stretch credulity beyond its most tensile breaking point.
Take this matter of the NRA and campaign finance, for instance: This seems to be the talking point a la mode among these newly-minted teen activists. But you’ll notice that none of them ever actually cites any hard data to back these wild claims up. Why not? Well, the data themselves don’t pack much of a punch: In the last election cycle, for instance, the National Rifle Association donated $5,950 to Paul Ryan’s campaign. That constituted about 0.03% of the $20,000,000 that Ryan raised during that time. Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock received around $10,000 from the NRA in 2016, which constituted around 0.18% of the total amount of money she raised. This is not something to get alarmed about.
There are plenty of adults, of course, who get this kind of stuff wrong,. But adults are properly, and appropriately, considered to be agents of their own intellectual sorties, while we assume as a matter of course that high schoolers, who tend to not know very much, are entitled to a bit more circumspection on the part of adults. Years from now this could be a deeply embarrassing thing for these youngsters to look back upon: They’ve been turned into national celebrities, plastered across 24-hour news networks, dominating news cycles, railing and yelling about subjects in which they are not even remotely well-versed. I get embarrassed looking back at my old high school era Facebook notes; I cannot imagine what it would be like if those ramblings were pasted on the front page of the New York Times.
The obvious explanation is that the media are populated largely by progressives, progressives tend to really hate guns, and so the progressives who run our media are seizing upon these teenagers and their righteous anger in order to advance anti-gun narrative. As someone pointed out, after all, you never see survivors of European Islamic terrorist attacks being held up as immigration wonks; that’s not the kind of indignation the Left is after. Eventually, of course, this furor will die down, the debate will become more staid and placid, and these teenagers will have been left behind by a news cycle that will have moved on to the next eye-catching controversy. It is sad to think of, but not quite as sad as a media complex that feels it necessary to exploit unlearned kids to further its own political ends.