Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has always been a favorite movie among civic-minded and nostalgic Americans, especially Baby Boomers and early Generation X. Now a new generation of Americans — millennials — are taking leadership roles in our government. But rather than mimic the admirable participatory citizenship of Mr. Smith, one prominent millennial congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is living up to the worst stereotypes about the “participation trophy generation.”
Ocasio-Cortez is not the first or only millennial to serve in Congress: In 2014, the first millennial was elected to Congress, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. In 2016, seven other millennials were also elected. In the same way that the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992 represented a generational shift in leadership, these last three elections cycles have signaled similar transition.
It is not without concern that Americans witness this change. After all, the millennial generation is also known as the “participation trophy generation,” used to being fawned over without doing a whole lot to merit it or being given participation trophies instead of rewarded with blue ribbons based on merit.
Perhaps nothing better embodies this phenomenon than Ocasio-Cortez’s signature Green New Deal plan.
The plan is presented as a means to live with dignity in a sustainable environment to disguise what it really is: a full overhaul of the American economy and the rewarding of laziness.
The most troubling aspect of the entire boondoggle is found in the fifth goal listed in the overview of the resolution on Ocasio-Cortez’s website. It clearly says that the plan will “build on FDR’s second bill of rights by guaranteeing … economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.”
The dignity and importance of work has long been a point of agreement between conservatives and progressives. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1968 speech to the trash collectors in Memphis, said, “So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in the so-called big jobs….whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”
Being unwilling to work is entirely different from being unable to work. As a woman with a lifelong disability, I understand what it is to not be able to work at certain jobs or during certain times of illness, but I have always done my best to be a productive member of society in jobs that I could do. As a result, I have always had a certain level of self-confidence, dignity even. My first job was licking stamps and envelopes in an office where my dad had responsibilities. I was paid three silver dollars for a half day of work. Even as a child, this instilled a work ethic in me that continues to this day because I came to understand that if I produced, I got paid.
For those who are truly unable to work, we should offer help: Churches, synagogues and other charities work with the citizens in each local community to provide a safety net for those who have material needs. It was never intended to be the job of the federal government to provide an income to anyone simply for just existing.
We need to open our eyes to what the Green New Deal really is. It is soft-pedaled socialism that strips us of our basic human dignity of being productive. It is the giving over of the free market economy to a bloated federal government that thrives on overregulation. It is based on the bad idea that we should replace the American Dream with meaningless participation trophies for everyone.
We need to get back to the things that matter: an honest day’s work for a fair wage in a competitive market that allows for the increase of skills and the opportunity to earn more money as a result. All Americans — regardless of ability — have inherent worth and have a role to play in our society. The most important thing we can do for those around us is to help them be the best they can be. The Green New Deal squelches the motive to do so.