When a politician’s own ill-considered utterances come back to haunt them it is generally considered an issue of authenticity no matter how strenuously they claim to have since changed their views.
We love the idea of authenticity in politics, but authenticity also happens to the cri de coeur of another broadly despised and disparaged class of citizen: Millennials.
Our erstwhile candidates’ unwilling embrace of political authenticity is the flip-side of all those “snowflakes” who seem perpetually offended by everything even as they offensively complain about the work-life deal on offer to them.
Authenticity comes from the Greek roots autos meaning “self” and hentes meaning “doer, being”, with the sense of “acting on one's own authority”.
In that sense, the eight political unfortunates have been undone through their own authentic action, while in a different sense the authenticity of Millennials is on display in their unwillingness to simply accept conditions of work, life, culture and society on someone else's authority.
A more authentic era?
I used to laugh along with derogatory stories about Millennial “snowflakes” who think they deserve special treatment in every walk of life just for being born.
But after a while I began to see it as morbid, like hearing an old man rail against his “useless” offspring, and all you can wonder is whether a good tree produced bad fruit.
Finally I discovered I'm actually a part of the Millennial cohort myself, and if I take off my scratched and dented hand-me-down grey-coloured Gen X glasses then what seems like cringe-worthy sensitivity and emotional weakness among my younger peers begins to look like something very different: authenticity.
Or at least the desire for it.
It's a cliché for each generation to think themselves tougher than the next for having the strength and resilience to make it.
It's also a cliché for the next gen to look at their elders and wonder “Dude, was it even worth it?”
It might feel satisfying to accuse others of lacking resilience for refusing to buckle down and make the sacrifices you made. But that's like resenting your kids for having access to resources you only dreamt of when you were young.
We're all snowflakes
Authenticity means wanting to do what seems right to me. It doesn't exclude taking advice from others, but it does preclude unthinking conformity to what others proffer.
Every generation is heir to the hopes and aspirations of those who came before us. And I guarantee that everyone who thinks disparagingly of “snowflakes” wishes they'd had the opportunity or the encouragement to be more authentic themselves, or else to be lauded and praised for having shouldered burdens and agreed to conditions they didn’t really want.
It can be galling to take pride in your struggles, your resilience and endurance and then see some pasty kid acclaimed for simply saying “no” to the whole deal, seeking to have their cake and eat it.
But regardless of generation, the happiest among us have made peace with our choices anyway. Authenticity might be the catch-cry of Millennials but we didn't invent it.
Everyone who's ever lived has faced difficult choices where their own judgement and wishes have set them in conflict with the status quo or received wisdom or authority of others…or the flavour of the month, the latest fad, the spirit of the age.
So don't despair of children or grandchildren who seem to lack the grit or determination to live the kind of life you've espoused. If you could see the bigger picture, feel the forces hidden and overt that pull at young people today, you might recognise your own hopes and aspirations at work in them after all.
Being sensitive might sound like a weakness but insensitivity is the true failing. If younger generations seem especially sensitive then give thanks for it and pray it's enough for them to sense what's truly important in life and find it for themselves.
As for greater authenticity in politics, I won’t hold my breath. Expect future preselection processes to include deep-dives into would-be candidates’ social media footprints.
Hypocrisy is, à la Rochefoucauld, the homage vice renders to virtue, and when it comes to getting elected, political expedience doesn’t discriminate between authentic authenticity and the mere appearance of it.
But who knows? Perhaps the next generation will surpass even the yearning for authenticity of their Millennial parents and come to fulfil a way of doing politics that leaves the jaded, the cynical and the hypocrites speechless?
Zac Alstin is associate editor of MercatorNet.