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Searching for the missing, mythical ‘adult’

A few years ago, when Illinois was deep in the throes of its budgeting experiment called “Nah,” it seemed every story I wrote somehow involved the lack of money coming from the state of Illinois’ coffers. I would speak to people in state government, and the response would inevitably devolve to either “It’s the Republicans’ fault” or “It’s the Democrats’ fault.”

It reminded me of a past career and of the year I spent teaching middle school. I was always tempted, but to my great regret I never asked “Is there an adult in Springfield I can talk to?”

Maybe I was afraid I already knew the answer.

In the years since, it seems the plague of Adult Onset Adolescence has lessened in Springfield – we have a budget at least, although I’m not sure if that’s because grownups have prevailed or looming elections are to politicians what counting down from three is to children.

However, AOA has since cropped up all over the place, in the highest reaches of not just our government, but in governments around the world.

I would ask the Centers for Disease Control to look into it, if they weren’t so hamstrung by funding issues.

For instance, after President Donald Trump seemed to irk members of the G-7 at its recent conference, some leaders said behind his back maybe it should be the G-6, implying the United States could be removed from the group.

Are presidents and prime minsters really gossiping behind each other’s back? Yes. And if that doesn’t concern you, remember that at least eight leaders across the globe have access to nuclear weapons, and not every country has the stringent rules about becoming leader that the United States has.

In our own country, shining city on a hill that it is, the president gets in Twitter beefs on a regular basis. Now, I may be biased, but I think people on both sides of the aisle and in all four quadrants of the political spectrum should be able to agree that exclamation points have no purpose in civilized discourse. That particular punctuation mark is best saved for middle schoolers texting in class.

Yet, a recent exchange included a tweet from the president that said simply “CHANGE THE LAWS!” This invitation to deep discussion was followed by an equally well-thought-out and eloquent “CHANGE THE PRESIDENT!” from Ana Navarro, a CNN commentator.

There’s a lot to think about there. At least a middle schooler would have thrown in an emoji or some sort of gif that was tangentially related.

I want to say things were different once upon a time, but they probably weren’t. Listening to a history podcast recently, I learned that Darius the Great, whose titles included King of the Universe and King of Persia, claimed he didn’t come to power by killing the legitimate king but rather a magician impersonating the king.

To make it more official, he carved that story into the side of the mountain, which is how it came down to us. I can’t read ancient Persian, so I can’t tell you if it was in all-caps or not.

Maybe we shouldn’t be asking where the adults are. That’s a bit like asking why I can’t ride a unicorn to work, or have a pet talking dragon. Sure, having adults would be nice, but they’re really just fantasies.

There’s a quote attributed to Pope Julius III that might sum it up well.

“Do you know, my son, with what little understanding the world is ruled?”

One complaint you might hear, when someone is playing favorites or gossiping, is “This is just like middle school.” I think we’re looking at it the wrong way, though. When the world devolves into cliques and gossip and backstabbing, that’s just how the world is.

My theory: Middle school is actually the best arena to learn how the world works. Watch how middle schoolers handle a situation – not just when they’re at their best, but when they roll their eyes so hard you can hear it, and their sigh reaches an octave that sends the dog running into the other room – and I’ll bet you, somewhere in history, Kissinger or Metternich or Solon responded in an analogous way.

So let’s stop pointing fingers and blaming everyone else. The adults aren’t coming to fix it.

• Kevin Solari is news editor for Shaw Media’s Morris Herald-News.

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