Americans Under 30 the Most Cynical Bunch Ever. Good for Them. And Us.

Took a few days off to go canoeing on the Buffalo River in Arkansas -- always a fine way to clear the mind and ease the soul -- and came home to wonderful news: The Harvard Institute of Politics released its 23rd "Survey of Young Americans' Attitude Toward Politics and Public Service" today, finding that Americans under age 30 are more cynical and less trusting of America than ever before.

I knew we'd get there if we just kept trying.

It's the best possible news for the nation as it exists today. Maybe if we stay on this track for another 10 or 20 years, the nation as we know it now won't even exist anymore. After being out in the splendor that nature gave us as Americans, it's hard to imagine a happier outcome.

The survey finds that the confidence millennials have in the major institutions of American government and society has been eroding steadily since 2010, especially where the private sector is concerned. The number who trust Wall Street to do the right thing is now at 12 percent, according to the study.

The only major institutional entity with a lower trust rating than Wall Street is ... let me pause a second and check back with the chart here once more ... it is, uh ... here it is ... oh, well, that's not important. Forget I mentioned it. And, by the way, there's no need for you to click on the link and go looking at page 15 of the executive summary yourself. It's obviously a glitch or something.

Well, wait, anyway, why am I coming back from my canoe trip and rejoicing over a study finding that young adults think their country is a piece of junk? Because it means they're not idiots. That's a good thing, right? Let me offer you just one small for-instance. A year ago Congress and the president passed the "Stock Act," making it illegal for the first time for members of Congress or their staffs to do insider stock trading on secret information they themselves create by handing out government money or by slapping companies down with investigations. Yeah, we'll go over that again.

You know that the federal government sues and imprisons private citizens for using secret proprietary information to get a leg up on stock trades. The Wall Street Journal has reported that hard-time prison terms for convicted insider traders are going up and are now at an average of two and a half years in the joint.

But before the Stock Act, members of the federal government could do the same thing themselves and get away with it. Let's say you were assistant to the chief of staff of a congressional committee, and you found out that Congress was about to push a huge fighter plane contract to XYZ Corp. somewhere. Go for it, man! Get you some stock. And what if you're the congressperson who actually steers the deal from the beginning? You could get in way early. Why, it's so sweet a deal, it's enough to make you think that's why they're where they are in the first place.

As Dallas Morning News business columnist Will Deener observed recently, "I mean, did you ever wonder how so many dimwitted politicians could end up so wealthy on a $174,000 a year salary?"

The Stock Act put a stop to all that. After it passed, the people in government had to obey the same laws used to flail everybody else. Now they can't make stock trades in a company based on their own insider knowledge of what they're about to do to it.

And how would anybody ever know if they did? Did they also create some kind of new FBI to cover this stuff? Did they hire a bunch of agents whose job is to watch the stock trades of everybody in Congress and their staffs? Nah, no need. They put us in charge of that. The Stock Act required all trading by members and staff to be reported in a public database that could be sorted as a spreadsheet.

So we're at home. We see that some committee just announced it's going to hold hearings on insider trading by those bad, bad Wylie brothers from Dallas. We wonder if anybody connected to the committee has been taking short positions on stock in Wylie-controlled entities. Simple. Just click into the database, search by company names and see who you catch.

So you know who Eric Cantor is, right? Majority leader in the House, founding member of the Republican Young Guns, to the right of Speaker John Boehner on budgets and all that good stuff? Did you know that two weeks ago he waited for a Friday afternoon when most of Congress had left town for the weekend, issued a one-sentence email announcement and pushed through a new law gutting all of those reporting requirements?

Yup. No more database. No more online searches from home to see who's been naughty or nice. Oh, you can still find out. All you have to do now is travel to Washington, go to a basement archive and search file folders by name of staff member only.

So, wait. Eric Cantor, Mr. Get-Tough-on-Government, the big integrity dude, the guy who's going to clean it all up: He just pulled a little legislative magic trick he hoped nobody would notice making it way easier for Congress to break the same laws it imposes on the Wylie brothers, the same laws it imposes on you and me?

Again, yup.

Today Harvard announces that millennials are increasingly cynical about the American system. But Harvard, which, by the way, can't make up its mind if politics is a singular or plural noun used the same way in the same paragraph, also can't offer us a possible reason for that cynicism, other than suggesting that things in Washington are just too darned partisan and maybe that's turning young people off.

You know. Like the illennials are kind of ADD and stupid and everything, and they hear a bunch of arguing, and it's too much for them to figure out, so they just get cynical, meaning even dumber.

But what about this, instead? What if it's not that the under-30s think Washington is too partisan? What if they're not stupid and ADD? Maybe they look at Washington and perceive correctly that it's corrupt to the bone, as in cripplingly crooked, as in utterly vile, as in our system of government and the crass materialistic culture it supports are a vile betrayal of the trust we received when this splendid continent was bequeathed to us by generous destiny in the first place?

I'm going with that one. I don't see any evidence of stupidity. I see evidence of the opposite. That's why that cynicism makes my heart fly up. First, the cynicism. Then, the anger. Finally, a revolutionary commitment to a remade nation. It all starts here. Thank you, Mr. Cantor. And, again, no need to check to see what that institution is that Americans trust even less than Wall Street, because I think it's a typo or a joke or something.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze