It’s never a good sign when news of racist incidents on a high school or college campus creates a tiny ripple of celebration. And yet I heard more than one Piedmonter admit to a sigh of relief recently, when the Bay Area focus switched from Piedmont’s troubles to more salacious incidents in Los Gatos. Which was followed shortly thereafter by Harvard’s Facebook atrocities, after which it was hard to even remember anything that happened in our little town.
The news in Los Gatos centered on the trend of ‘promposals’ (clever, heart-warming or otherwise over-the-top invitations to prom) that swept across high school campuses everywhere about a decade ago. Eschewing the classic pizza-box-‘I know-it’s-cheesy-but-will-you-come-to-prom-with-me?’ invite, two separate Los Gatos teens decided that nothing says I want to be with you more than a little racist ‘humor.’ One little Einstein created a poster with a crudely-drawn lynching and asked, “Do u wanna be like a n***** and hang at PROM?” Another memorialized his innovative promposal, in which he appeared in blackface to mimic an emoji, in the much-liked Instagram post pictured above.
You might think this is about as bad as it can get. But over at Harvard, our nation’s best and brightest took it up a notch. There, a handful of geniuses invited the ‘cool kids’ from the Facebook group for admitted students from the class of 2021 to join a subgroup they named ‘Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.’ Among the kernels of delight the Harvard Crimson reported viewing in that lovely chat were suggestions that abusing children is sexually arousing; a meme referring to the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child as ‘piñata time’; and images mocking the Holocaust.
In all seriousness, as pleased as we might be to have the focus shift away from Piedmont, there’s not a shred of positive news to be found here. Privileged young people who have been given every opportunity to develop empathy and tolerance instead spew hate and try to play it off as ‘humor’. There are structural forces at work that are starting to seem insurmountable – the trolls are winning. Apparently a not-insignificant number of young adults have learned that within the wild west of the World Wide Web, anything goes. As Joel Stein observed in his brilliant August 2016 Time Magazine cover story Why We’re Losing the Internet to a Culture of Hate, “factors like anonymity, invisibility, a lack of authority and not communicating in real time strip away the mores society spent millennia building.”
You know what else strips away the mores that society spent millennia building? Electing a world-class internet troll who was caught on videotape joking about sexual assault as our President. Then watching with dismay when that same President invites Ted Nugent, who repeatedly ‘joked’ about assassinating President Barack Obama and said Hillary Clinton should be hanged, to the White House for a jolly celebration dinner and photo op.
We can’t blame all the actions of wayward young people on President Trump, or even on the alt-right trolls who paved his way to power. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves, either, that these haters are harmless ‘truth tellers’ who are ‘thumbing their nose’ at politically correct elites who tell us all what to say and think. Something is going very, very wrong in Mayberry, folks, and our kids are taking notes. It’s not an assault on free speech and it’s not political correctness gone wild to take action to shut the haters down. It’s our only hope.