Monday, January 2, 2012

Dear Older Generation: It's Not Just Your America

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The world is not coming to an end. For a while there, it looked like that's all you wanted to focus on, but I think even you have come to realize that that's no more true today that it was when every other generation began to pass into the uncomfortable position of no longer being The Most Important People on Earth.

So that's good. I commend you for that. But now you appear to have taken up a new refrain. Okay, you seem to be saying. So the world is not coming to an end. It'll chug along just fine without me. I don't like it, but I can accept it. But, dammit, America is no longer the America I grew up with. That America, "my America," no longer exists...and we need to get it back!

I'm paraphrasing, I know. But I've been seeing this sentiment popping up more and more in the media you still control. Here's the latest and the one that prompted this post, but it's hardly the only one. You know, some folks have been saying this ever since Obama got elected, but that gives it a partisan slant I'm pretty sure not even you intend. You're just upset and confused. Decisions are beginning to be made that you disagree with, priorities are changing, and it honestly looks to you like the America you grew up with no longer cares what you think.


This is the America whose economic future is still held hostage by the politics of your generation, right? The one in which any sensible approach to Social Security or Medicare reform is doomed before it can even put a press release together? Doomed because people of your generation, who vote more reliably than any other demographic in the country, go apoplectic every time the political opponents of the reformers start demagoguing on the subject? Even politicians of the younger generation seem insistent on reassuring you. Don't worry, they go out of their way to say. We'll make sure you get the money and benefits you were promised even if we have to bankrupt the country to do it.

But let's put that aside for a second. It's really just one of my pet grievances anyway. Instead, allow me to grant you your fundamental premise. You're right. The America you know, love and understand doesn't exist any more.

So what?

It may trouble you to know that America doesn't belong to just you. It belongs to all of us. And if it's broken, I'd first want to ask you to think carefully about how it got broken in the first place. Then, I'd like to ask you to stop clinging so nostalgically to it so we can take a close look at it and maybe figure out a way to fix the damn thing.

There are some of us, after all, who still have careers to pursue and children to raise and dreams for the future, and we're not ready to give up on America just yet. I'm personally less interested in the political rancor that infects all structures built on the ideal of self-determination, but one of the things I am interested in is exploring a new generation of leadership issues. And that's how I want to approach this subject.

Believe it or not, there's a whole new generation of leaders who are standing ready to tackle the tough problems we're facing. But you won't see them in the crowds on Black Friday and you certainly won't see them in your misty-eyed remembrances of Depression-era patriotism and sacrifice.

We have a different set of life experiences than you do, and that gives us a different perspective on the issues of the day. You must know what that feels like. Surely you can remember how square your parents' generation was?

But perhaps most importantly, and the thing that sets us the most apart from you, is that we've grown up enough to know that we'll be here after you're gone. We have to find ways to make America work again because there will come a day, in the not-to-distant future, when we'll absolutely and irrevocably be in charge, and your perspectives and priorities will be the things our children read about in their history books.

Maybe if you look at things from that perspective you'll get a glimpse of why some of us seem so angry--and why the America we'd create seems so different from the one you grew up with. It's not that we're right and you're wrong. Nothing is ever that simple, and I'm sure that we'll make tons of mistakes. But it is our turn, and I wonder if you could manage to step aside and let us lead while there's still something to work with.


  1. It's all a matter of perspective, Eric. And peoples' perspectives change over time.

    When I was in my 20s, I didn't worry about saving money for tomorrow - because I needed it today and guessed I'd get more later (somehow).

    I didn't worry about health care because I was healthy and didn't need (or want) any.

    I didn't worry about social security - that was for old people, and I wasn't old.

    I didn't worry about child care because I didn't have children and didn't plan on having any (that changed later on).

    I didn't worry about taxes because I didn't earn enough to pay much. (And I thought wealthy people should pay a lot more).

    I didn't worry about unemployment because I was employed and assumed I always would be.

    My concerns were ending the military draft, building a society based on public benefits, not private benefits, and electing ethical people to office who would change the way decisions were made.

    You'll find that some things stay with you, but others change.

  2. Thanks for the perspective, David. Do you think America has irreparably changed for the worse?

  3. No, I don't. Everybody thinks those who preceded them made mistakes. Those who follow us will think the same thing about us.

    There have always been problems in America, many worse than we are experiencing today.

    It's our responsibility to try to solve today's problems and make the world a better place for us, for those who preceded us and are still around (even if we think the problems are their fault), and for those who follow us.

    Unfortunately, there will always be problems to solve, many of which we cannot even anticipate today.

  4. Thanks, David. But perhaps my post was not as clear as I wanted it to be. I'm not blaming America's problems on the generation that preceded mine. I'm criticizing those in the older generation who feel that America has irrevocably changed for the worse.