Yesterday, during a round of disc golf in the rain, a friend and I had a discussion about the plight of young Americans. Actually, it started out more along the lines of two late-middle-aged guys bitching about how the kids these days don’t have any ambition, but I think we both had a little attack of empathy when the conversation drifted to how young people are turning out by the thousands to listen to, and vote for, Bernie Sanders.
I’m not sure about my friend, but I flashed back to the ’80s and how discouraging it was to be 20-something with a load of student loan debt and not much for prospects. At that age, I too would have supported someone who promised to stop letting the billionaires run the world. Hell, I like the idea now. It’s just that three decades of accumulated (earned) cynicism won’t let me even imagine the possibility that it could happen. I just hope they stay engaged in the political process when Bernie inevitably flames out.
I remember a few years ago, when my oldest daughter was busy dropping out of the U.S. Naval Academy, trying to talk her out of making the biggest mistake of her life by explaining to her the fiction of America as a class-less society, the myth that unlimited opportunity exists for all who want it and all it takes to move up in class is hard work. She was 17 and clueless. The only lesson learned was my own; the wisdom and life experience of one generation is largely meaningless to the next.
Our kids may be selfish and spoiled, but they are not blind. If they are paying attention at all, today’s youth cannot help but see that the baby-boomer generation climbed to unprecedented economic heights, and then pulled the ladders up after themselves. In the quest for corporate profits over all else, the boomer generation shipped millions and millions of manufacturing and entry-level jobs overseas, decimating the middle class and, more importantly, the path to that middle class.
What looks to us old folks as laziness and a conscious choice to live their lives at a lower socioeconomic level than their parents may not be a choice at all. Maybe it is just resignation and acceptance that they lost a rigged game. After all, what other options do they have? The America where someone could just grab a piece of land and carve out a living from it no longer exists. Even if it did, life would very much resemble that described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Also the cell phone coverage would be pretty iffy.