On Monday, I read a 2009 book by sociologist Christian Smith and his research team, called Lost In Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. It talks about the inner lives — the moral lives — of young adults 18-23.

We are failing to teach them how to deal constructively with moral, cultural, and ideological differences. We are failing to teach them to think about what is good for people and in life. We are failing to equip our youth with the ideas, tools, and practices to know how to negotiate their romantic and sexual lives in healthy, nondestructive ways that prepare them to achieve the happy, functional marriages and families that most of them say they want in future years. We are failing to teach our youth about life purposes and goals that matter more than the accumulation of material possessions and material comfort and security. We are failing to challenge the too-common need to be intoxicated, the apparent inability to live a good, fun life without being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And we are failing to teach our youth the importance of civic engagement and political participation, how to be active citizens of their communities and nation, how to think about and live for the common good. On all of these matters, if our analysis is correct, the adult world is simply abdicating its responsibilities.

Moreover, if our analysis is correct, we in the older adult world are failing youth and emerging adults in these crucial ways because our own adult world is itself also failing in those same ways. It is not that the world of mainstream American adults has something great to teach but is simply teaching it badly. That would also be a problem, but at least a remediable one. Rather, we suspect that the adult world is teaching its youth all too well. But what it has to teach too often fails to convey what any good society needs to pass on to its children.

In short, if our sociological analysis in this book is correct, the problem is not simply that youth are bad students or that adults are poor teachers. It is that American culture itself seems to be depleted of some important cultural resources that it would pass on to youth if it had them — and yet not just for “moral” but also for identifiable institutional reasons, as repeatedly noted above. In which case, not only emerging adulthood, but American culture itself also has a dark side is well.

That’s the heart of it. The book is filled with sociological data and personal interviews with the 18-23 year olds the team studied. If I got started writing specifics, I would be on this blog all day. It’s a fascinating book. In this post, though, I want to focus on a particular aspect of the study: the thorough emotivism of that generation.

Smith et al. found that most of the emerging adults (EAs) they studied have no way to think through moral and ethical dilemmas. None. They go with their gut. They are terrified of proclaiming moral rules that everyone should follow, lest they seem judgmental. Broadly speaking, they believe that if an action makes you happy, then it is good, for you — even if they themselves could not imagine doing the same thing. “Moral individualism” is the rock upon which their inner lives are built, with “moral relativism” a significant additional source for many of them. If they feel something is true or right, then it must be so.

This is emotivism, and it is impossible to reason with. As MacIntyre has said, you cannot have a cohesive society built around emotivism. Public rationality and deliberation become impossible.

Smith et al. stress repeatedly that this did not come out of the blue. The individuals and institutions (church, school, media, etc.) that formed these EAs are to blame, because these EAs cannot have what they were not given. The authors also stress that older adults who say that kids will be kids, and that they will grow out of it, are engaging in a dangerous “complacency” about the situation. The point, as the authors say above, is not that there is something wrong with the Millennial generation (though there is); the point is that the moral vacancy of the young indicates that there is something wrong with America. We have become the sort of country in which most people decide right and wrong based on what they desire. Reasoned deliberation based on an objective set of principles is not what we do.

Which brings us to this Scott Adams blog post about Donald Trump. Excerpts:

Donald Trump is a con man. He’s also a fraud, a liar, a snake-oil salesman, and a carnival barker. Clearly he is running a scam on the country.

Trump calls himself a “deal-maker.”

I call Trump a Master Persuader.

It’s all the same thing. Trump says and does whatever he needs to do in order to get the results he wants. And apparently he does it well. Given the facts, you can either see Trump as highly skilled or morally flawed. Maybe both. I suppose it depends which side you are on.


The evidence is that Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal. Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence. Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. He understands humans as 90% irrational and acts accordingly.

Rand Paul, on the other hand, treated voters as if they were intelligent creatures who make decisions based on the facts. His campaign didn’t last long with that message. Rand Paul knows about a lot of stuff. He’s a smart guy. But apparently psychology is not on the list of things he knows. And psychology is the only necessary skill for running for president.

Trump knows psychology. He knows facts don’t matter. He knows people are irrational. So while his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks – Trump knows that is a waste of time. No one ever voted for a president based on his or her ability to name heads of state. People vote based on emotion. Period.

You used to think Trump ignored facts because he doesn’t know them. That’s partly true. There are plenty of important facts Trump does not know. But the reason he doesn’t know those facts is – in part – because he knows facts don’t matter. They never have and they never will. So he ignores them.

Right in front of you.

And he doesn’t apologize or correct himself. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks stupid, evil, and maybe crazy. If you understand persuasion, Trump is pitch-perfect most of the time. He ignores unnecessary rational thought and objective data and incessantly hammers on what matters (emotions).

Read the whole thing; it’s seriously good.

Trump is the Uber-American, a man of his time. When you look at him, America, you see yourself in the mirror. We made him. He is us. Crass, passion-driven, materialistic, vain — this is who we have become.

There is not a lot of difference between Donald Trump and the campus Social Justice Warriors who base their thinking and appeal entirely on emotion. Except Trump is a lot better at it, and there are a lot more Trump supporters in this country than there are Social Justice Warriors. The difference is that the SJWs stand a good chance of moving into the institutions through which power flows in this country. But guess what? Trump stands to seize the most important institution: the presidency of the United States.