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What can we do to help young people become independent and analytical thinkers?

This column originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Thinking Minnesota, now the second largest magazine in Minnesota.   To receive a free trial issue send your name and address to info@americanexperiment.org.

The earnest children who skipped school the other day to protest our government’s handling of climate change might be surprised to learn that their revered Green New Deal has at best a tenuous connection to climate. Just ask Saikat Chakrabarti, the man who was chief of staff in the office of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she first hatched the idea. During an interview with the Washington Post this summer, Chakrabarti openly admitted— bragged, really—that his boss’s legislation was not primarily motivated by climate.

In an on-the-record conversation with the Post, Chakrabarti turned to a staff member from the presidential campaign of Washington Governor Jay Inslee—the most fervent of the climate candidates—and said this:

“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” Chakrabarti said, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all. Do you guys think of it as a climate thing? Because we really think of it as a how-doyou-change-the-entire-economy thing.”

By Chakrabarti’s lights, climate change is a subordinate tool in an overall campaign to restructure society. The emerging class of progressives, it seems, are not motivated by policy as much as acquiring the kind of political power that will enable them to tell the rest how to live.

I’m not arguing against the merits of climate change—not here anyway—but how the New Left deploys it as a political weapon. Long gone are the days when James Carville coined, “The economy, stupid” as the compelling phrase that propelled Bill Clinton to the White House. To the Left, it’s not about economics anymore. They’ve lost that battle. Capitalism has brought unprecedented access to prosperity to Americans of every class. So, the New Left has abandoned the economy and anointed climate as their pathway to political power.

It’s worth discussing. My wish for these protesting students is that someone—anyone—within their spheres of influence would help them develop a sense of political discernment so they become independent and analytical thinkers. It doesn’t look like it will happen in today’s public school classrooms, also known as the Grand Incubators of New Left instruction. I am haunted by a taunt issued by Vladimir Lenin, no stranger to political manipulation. “Give me four years to teach the children,” he said, “and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

Let me suggest dinner table conversations. A good start would be this edition of Thinking Minnesota. Our staff has prepared an especially relevant issue (as always!), but three stories in particular shed light on the emerging tactics of the New Left that might provoke meaningful discussions.

Tom Steward, American Experiment’s government accountability reporter, uses his story, “The Masquerade of Good Government” to expose astonishing levels of arrogance, ineptitude, and dishonesty in the halls of Minnesota’s governing administration. The significance of Tom’s report is not that he breaks new stories—he doesn’t—but that he for the first time aggregates 10 years of appalling failures in Minnesota government for which there have been virtually no public consequences. The dinner table topic: Why don’t we care? (Our newest Thinking Minnesota Poll, by the way, shows that we don’t.)

The challenge of this issue is generational. Older folks, long steeped in Minnesota’s reputation for squeaky clean political leadership, won’t let go of that proud perception, despite facts frequently laid out on their nightly news. Many younger people, on the other hand, exhibit little sense of that history but also seem short of political curiosity that goes beyond the sloganeering of their classrooms. The follow-up question: Why should this matter?

Which brings me to Katherine Kersten, American Experiment’s senior policy fellow, and her story, “Change the Name. Rewrite History. Redefine Politics.” Kathy once again uses her methodical approach to render how the Left is trying to reframe the histories of Lake Calhoun, Fort Snelling and four buildings on the University of Minnesota campus so they conform to the Left’s own political worldview. The source of a fascinating dinner table conversation will be how Kathy draws on themes of George Orwell’s 1984. The ruling party in the fictional country of Oceania preserved its path to political power by changing the past and restructuring society. They created a clean political canvas by destroying their history and then rewriting it to suit their oppressive political agenda. Kathy shows in fascinating detail how that is happening right here in Minnesota. The questions: How important are cultural traditions and historical roots? Under what terms should they be reexamined?

And speaking of history, John Phelan, American Experiment’s economist, uses his keen sense of reflection to bring new relevance to America’s past. In this issue, he writes a cautionary telling of Prohibition, the grand failure in social engineering with roots in Minnesota. Prohibition’s failure, he writes, lies in the fact that you can’t force a social outcome on a free society that doesn’t want it. It intended to make its citizens safer and healthier by forcibly removing access to alcohol. The result was cultural chaos. For the dinner table: Where can we apply this lesson to 21st-century politics? Environmental constraints? Second amendment rights? Talk amongst yourselves. Please.

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