The Side-Takers by Tom Kendall
I know there’s an entire type of annoying article that just yells at the culture for using the terminology it commonly uses. And I know that in terms of effectiveness it’s about like bowling with a croissant. But damn it, listen to me for a minute.
As we near another September 11th, I got to thinking about something. Why in the Hell do people call my generation Millennials?
I get the theory. The turn of the Millennium was, in theory, the defining event of our generation. But—why? Because it’s a big round number? Neat. And? So, what? Does the number do tricks or something?
I think part of what happened is that the romantic ideas of what the 2000s would be like, which were sold to the Baby Boomers en masse, gave the number 2000 an emotional imprint way outsized to its actual significance. When the year 2000 actually came, the number of personal robot servants was zero; the number of flying cars was one, technically, and the FAA refused to let it fly; the number of physics-violating food pills was—and will remain—zero; the number of moon colonies was—and I would like to imagine won’t remain, but who knows—zero. You know what 2000 actually brought in practice? A misinformed scare about some badly-written computer code and a party that took a week to clean up from. As I recall, that was all.
If you are a Baby Boomer and you feel I’m just joining in on the perpetual train of blaming your generation for everything, well, speaking as a “Millennial”, I’ve got apologies for some of you, ’cause I know, it sucks to be typecast. Believe me, I get it. And then again, certain others?—what goes around comes around, that’s all I’m going to say. I’m guessing y’all know exactly who you are, yeah?
Anyway, honestly, I don’t think Gen-X bought into the hype nearly as much, though it seemed from my underage perspective like the average Gen-Xer put more stock in the Millenium bug as a trade-off.
But the point is, that’s all there was to 2000. Reheated nostalgia, half-baked fear and an indelible stain on the couch from your co-worker drinking a bottle of cheap champagne with only supermarket caviar and Ritz crackers to line his stomach. Not to say that it’s not cool to see the turn of the Millennium, but in retrospect it seems like a big gimmick. In case you didn’t notice, nothing else happened.
You know what the actual defining cultural event of our generation was? Hint to Mr. Soetoro, it has nothing to do with his election. Frankly I hope Trump buries his legacy so deep that the poem “Ozymandias” is retroactively dedicated in his honor.
As far as I’m concerned, it was September Eleventh, Two-thousand and one. You know why I think it?
Because the days immediately after were the last time we were all Americans, all in this together. In some ways it was a reality check. Not— as the crazy Libertarians and Radical One-World Leftists say—because 9/11 was the day we reaped the fruits of our imperialist ambitions, but because in the aftermath we reaped fruits of Soviet imperial ambition. It took, as I recall, all of between two weeks and a month, for most of the Left in the country to make a decision— and they chose very wrong. Three generations of ongoing psychological warfare, agitprop and behind-the-scenes work to degrade our culture culminated in that moment, when the American Left decided that between standing by their country and standing by utopian idealism, it was utopian idealism all the way.
At first, that was a nearly undetectable fracture line. But the talking heads on television could call Iraq Bush’s personal vendetta, and they could rewrite history then only a few months old about how much international support we actually had going into Iraq until they were blue in the face. They couldn’t shut up the blogs. Republicans already mistrusted the media and were going to the blogs to be around people who seemed sane. It only intensified. Democrats felt the media had to pull too many punches and went to their blogs to be around people who were properly fired up about their causes. And I was still sort of peripheral to politics at the time, but all I can infer is the talking heads got scared, and they got scared fast. I have to assume that because Dan Rather disgraced himself doing something that only a desperate person would do: pushing a bogus document on George Bush that was, oh, how did he put it?: “fake but accurate”. Newborn new-media got one look at that document and laughed ’til they wet themselves. New media went toe to toe with old media and won. Now Conservatives knew what they had only suspected—media integrity was in the toilet.
Having failed with Al The-Internet-Inventor and John “Rice Ass” Kerry, the old media arrayed for one last huzzah, working American guilt over race like an aging mother working her kids’ guilt over not visiting. They got what they thought they wanted—Jimmy Carter, terms two and three.
But in that time the Right also saw Journ-o-List, “Hide the Decline”, and reporting on the Tea Party so disingenuous that you could only conclude the media was either thick as a post or active enemies (or you could embrace the healing power of “and”). We saw all ZIRP all the time in the midst of the largest expansion of debt in our history with bupkis to show for it, Solyndra, and gas prices “necessarily skyrocket”, which put paid to the belief that Democratic ideas worked even a little bit at getting the economy running. Not only that, we saw Operation Fast and Furious, Benghazi, a truly idiotic Iran “deal” penned largely with a figurehead dictator and having nothing to do with the people actually running the country, “more flexibility” for Putin out of Obama (supported wholeheartedly by the same people who would be seeing Russians under their beds at Hillary’s bequest in 2016), and Chinese expansionism completely unchallenged. By the way, we also saw Angela Merkel decide to turn her country into a giant homeless shelter for the third world, with predictable results. If anyone thought globalists had an iota of a clue how the world worked or were ready to defend the country, the idea started died right there. But probably worst of all, we on the right saw Prism—the program through which major US companies partnered with the government to install backdoors in their systems allowing utterly unwarranted and largely undetectable spying—not to mention the IRS intimidation scandal used to illegally neuter the Tea Party, and the Net Neutrality bill which, in a roundabout way, put who got what internet access under governmental jurisdiction.
All this, but especially the last part, conservatives heard loud and clear—and in 2016, they voted in the election heard ’round the world. And then something amazing happened. Incensed that eight years of bungling, mismanagement, decline, insults, mischaracterizations, slander, lies, theft and voter intimidation had somehow failed to win hearts and minds, the Left decided at last it was time to embrace the inner communist they always had wanted to be, and went full potato. In one decade we went from a Left that insisted vehemently that Republicans were only calling them socialists as negative spin, to one with so many declared socialists it looks like the Berkley faculty lounge. Gone are the days of hiding the tax’n’spend policies behind centrist platitudes. The Left has a very cohesive platform, just not a coherent one—billions in taxes, trillions in spending, government healthcare, government transportation, government income, government spying, racially based reparations, open borders and a brand new Llama named Jimmy for every little girl. I made the last one up. It’s too sane and fiscally feasible. Also it assumes there’s such a gender as “girl”, bigot.
All this against a background of silicon valley oligarchs straight out of a James Bond film, constantly collecting everything on everyone to sell to G*d-knows-who while preaching equality out the other sides of their mouths; censoring in the morning and bleating about tolerance in the afternoon; quietly helping Communist China develop the tools they need for oppression and genocide and knowing the old media won’t even ask them to pinkie swear they won’t use them here. Because really, who the Hell would believe them? After Rather lying about Bush; the media lying about Obama’s economy so hard they had to change the methodology for counting jobs statistics to prop it up, then having Candy Crawley prop up his ass on a debate stage (though given the nightmare Romney has turned into maybe I ought to send her a thank-you card); THEN handing Hillary the debate questions in advance; not to mention lying about the climate, lying about Benghazi, lying about the effects of mass immigration on the 1st world; maybe lying about how Trump was really polling; and definitely lying, all these years, about being socialist, unless they’re trying to sell me on the idea they only just heard about this Marx guy in the last three years but they think he has a point—come on, who the Hell would trust the Left? Why the Hell would we?
Somewhere in this maelstrom, either at its early end or its late end, “Millennials” came of age. It hasn’t been a good era for being a squish, let’s put it that way. Being Left or Right, for many of us, was a point of sufficient vehemence that it defined your whole social world. I am just old enough that I barely have friends from the early part of that period. After about, oh, 2008, I largely didn’t have— or want— a liberal friend. Democrats just couldn’t help but see Republicans as utter monsters. And republicans had to stick to one another and start socializing in secret or out of the way as a matter of basic survival, because of the sheer zealotry of the Left and their willingness to abuse their waning cultural power. I can’t say if we’re the most polarized American generation ever—for a start, I doubt good statistics were done on the subject before the modern and post-modern era— but we’re certainly up there, I think.
How’d we get here? You ask. I often hear it asked. But that’s the hard lesson 9/11 had to teach us, I think. We didn’t “get” here. A friend asked me what I thought would have happened if 9/11 hadn’t. Would we just have gone on? Well, maybe we would have. Maybe nothing would ever have brought the Left’s deceptive reporting and dark aspirations into sharper focus. Maybe we’d have just been eaten by the snake whole, and we’d go the way Germany is going now—and watch that country closely, buddy, I betcha it isn’t done going and it’s not going to be pretty when it is. As it was, that wasn’t how it worked out, because through a twist of fate, Leftists got put to the question of whether they were loyal to America or loyal to socialism. The answer was always going to go only one way—you could tell because every time the question was America’s position or someone else’s they always stood up for the latter—but finally, after 15 years, they’ve come around to actually admitting it. Trump didn’t unmask the Left—he just showed up to give them what they’d asked at such length for two terms of Obama. It was 9/11 that unmasked the Left.
“Did you go crazy, or did you report/ on the day they wounded New York”, as Leonard Cohen put it, and Sarah so often quotes.
So don’t tell me my generation was defined by a big round number that had the lasting cultural impact of a marshmallow peep dropped from knee-height onto a pillow. I mentioned the Millennium Bug to a friend my age the other day and they had to think about what that even had been. But you bet your ass they know what 9/11 was. 9/11 was the day we learned who our countrymen actually were. It shaped our foreign policy and changed the face of who got to make our domestic policy. Without 9/11 it’s possible we’d be too far gone even to think of electing Trump. The snake would be up to our necks and we’d hardly know it.
The event was horrific. It’s impossible not to feel at a gut level that I’d turn it back and stop it all from happening if I could. It shocked the American psyche, we still don’t know if reparably. We lost thousands of irreplaceable young men, among the best our nation had, in the war that followed. I’m not glad it happened. I wish there was another way to test us, and maybe in another world there was.
But what happened also happened. Having a catastrophe befall you and learning nothing, taking nothing at all from it, isn’t one tragedy, it’s two. What we got was a chance to glimpse the truth about our slow cultural erosion. That was almost harder for us to face up to. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll see it through, or if we’ll chicken out halfway and even that terrible sacrifice on a clear September morning in 2001 will be in vain. I really hope not, but I guess we’ll see.
So if you want a pithy term for us, something that quickly defines us, the thing that our lives bent on, don’t call us Millennials. The turning of the millennium only mattered from the cozy confines of the 1990s, looking forward unaware of what was coming. Nobody who actually lived through that time can still honestly believe that’s the most important thing that occurred. But don’t call us 9/11ers either, obviously, or nobody in our generation will ever get to fly on a plane again.
No, call us the Side-Takers. We’re Generation Faction, Gen Polar, the Pick-A-Team Kids . We showed up to a cold civil war that far predated us just in time to pick our friends. 9/11 separated the future Tea Partier and MAGAmerican from future Anti-fa terrorists, because it was the moment we truly became aware that there were two very distinct kinds of Americans and the two did not reconcile easily. It shaped our whole lives, and I suspect that long after we’re all dead, we’ll be remembered— not for organic gluten-free soy infused everything, stupid haircuts, excessive beards, phone addiction or the social media epidemic—but for that.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
In closing, lest we lose sight of the day, today:
Stay safe this 9/11. Pray for the souls of the departed.
And Lord of our fathers, be with us yet, lest we forget, lest we forget.