Young Americans

Young Americans

I want the Young American all night. She wants the Young American, all the way from Washington.

I used to be young, so I would think the young might want to hear from someone who has been there. Laugh if you must, but I met a few young Americans today, and I have to admit that in my jealousy over their youth and promise, I still have a lecture to give. I hate lectures. It’s the prerogative of youth to reject the words of the old. But in the words of David Bowie (who was young once):

Do you remember, your president Nixon?
Do you remember, the bills you have to pay? Or even yesterday?

I do. Barely. But listen up, our beautiful future, and let me tell you about the Albanian revolution.

If you haven’t noticed, many people in America are generally up in arms about the current state of our democracy. There’s talk of the republic under threat from within, as we have a sitting president under investigation for who knows what all (I’m just guessing it includes money laundering, election tampering and obstruction of justice), and that very man is trying to discredit, hinder and otherwise put an end to the investigation into the things about which he seems to be under suspicion. And in doing that he’s pretty much destroying the rule of law to get away from scrutiny. The three houses of government were established to put checks and balances on the powers of each branch of government such that no one body could become too powerful, and it appears as if the system itself is being put under stress as the congress (part of the Legislative Branch) is literally failing to perform the duty it was empowered to do, and part of that duty is to check the power of the Executive Branch (the branch where the President is chief executive) with oversight. Sure, he can declare himself innocent on television. He can say anything he wants, for yes, it is still a free country. But speech, while free to emit, is never always true. By one person attempting to place himself above the law by any method of circumvention, that person is defiling a principle we hold dear in our country of the basic idea of being equal under the law. That principle guarantees equality and fairness for anyone. If the laws apply to me, they must in turn apply to you. It keeps the streets safe and creates order. I know young people love wild times, but trust me on this—order is good. Clean your room.

If you missed out on the last general election in 2016, a foreign government made all kinds of attempts to interfere in it, and it looks as though they picked a candidate. That candidate won, and now he seems to be very corrupt, and he certainly is using his social media presence to launch daily assaults on the people he’s meant to serve. He’s engaged in what people call ‘culture wars,’ pitting people with different ideas and beliefs against each other. He’s refused to sanction this country (in violation of his sworn duty to uphold the law and the Constitution) for interfering in our elections despite the fact that both houses of congress overwhelmingly voted to impose these sanctions. He’s destroyed our standing on the international stage with his trade policies, his childish obstinacy, his anti-globalist doctrine, his inexperience and his insults. He’s stirred up division among races domestically with his travel ban, his Great Wall idea, his rescission of DACA and his spineless alignment with white nationalists (i.e. racists). He’s engaged in flagrant and obvious corruption with his personal business’ acceptance (and otherwise taking) of all kinds of money from foreign governments, taxpayers and campaign donors, defying the people to do something to stop him.

Despite all the disgraceful assaults on so many of the American people, despite the Special Counsel’s investigation, despite the outpouring of popular opinion against Trump and his party faithful, the reality today is that the process by which he could be brought to justice if in fact he is guilty of any crimes is going to take time. Time enough that he could delay any real consequence for the remainder of his term. The reality is that the division in the country under the culture wars he is waging will continue to be sown, and the chasm will grow deeper and wider. That’s actually really bad for the country, and it’s damaging to the process by which justice can and will be served. The more the president and his loyal minions are able to sow this division, the more he can stir up conspiracy theory against the very institutions that will ultimately rely on the public faith when the truth, whatever that may be, is finally summarized to the American people—the more likely it is for him to evade facing the consequences of his actions.

In the face of this untenable and repulsive reality, it is the democratic process that can be the most powerful weapon against it. And that brings me to you, you Young Americans. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a few young people in my city in Southern California, and I have some horrifying insight to share, as well as some opportunity. While I am gathering from anecdotal evidence, I can say that there is a contingency of young people who are awake to the situation. At the same time, however, there is a problem to solve for young people. It is a nihilism, and a sense of futility and disenfranchisement, as well as a youthful wish to pursue youthful promise without the interference from the system and from politics. Many young people feel that involvement in the political process is futile, that they are not represented at all, and that abdication is the best form of their expression. This is a big problem, and one that needs to be reconciled by people who can guide young voters to the polls, and to inspire them to engage with the democratic process.

A younger man than I told me today that he blames my generation for this phenomenon, and while I don’t know whose generation he’s attributing me to, I can say that the counter-culture movement that grew before and during Nixon’s era is partly responsible for the willingness for young people to abdicate their franchise, despite the paradox that the counter-culture movement was political activism and was largely responsible for the impeachment of President Nixon as well as the end of the Vietnam War. The ethos of the time sent a message forward to other generations that the system was the problem wholly and without partisanship, and thus began a movement that would ultimately disenfranchise voters because the political fray would always be a lesser of evils equivocation. One might think that the decision in 2016 was empirical proof that one evil was really evil and thereby made the choice easy. But not so. At least not for the young man with whom I spoke today. Despite the burn-it-to-the-ground passion of youth, it is incumbent on people looking to energize the youth vote to engage them to join the system to create the change they want, and to ensure that they believe it is both possible and probable that it can be achieved. I don’t have the remedy for that, but I believe that revisiting the founding principles of democracy and helping all voters to understand exactly why democracy is the imperfect promise we need to reinvigorate in order to ensure we have a viable future for our children and their grandchildren’s children’s children.

The people most engaged in the fight for our democracy today must be focused on the power of that democratic system to put that system to work to do what it was meant to do. And that means the midterm elections. That means getting people to the polls to exercise their franchise, to speak for themselves, to seek representation for themselves and to believe that their one vote matters, really matters. And that means we don’t have a generation to accomplish this imbuing of sentiment into the millions of young voters eligible to vote in the primaries, and to show up in November. We have weeks, not generations.

I am not going to be able to solve that problem by myself, but I will do whatever I can to reach people who feel that nihilism and cynicism, who have surrendered their right to vote voluntarily because of a feeling of futility or disenfranchisement or apathy or self-centeredness. The power of the people is what democracy is. It is the power to put down tyranny. It is the power to seek and procure adequate representation for our interests. It is a right and privilege people in many parts of the world do not yet have, and many have died for. And now, it is probably the one time in our lives when voting really does mean life or death for our country and its democratic values. If you need more reasons to vote, here are 50 more.

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One Reply to “Young Americans”

  1. Excellent and frightening. The earth and her inhabitants need the youth to engage if we are to survive.

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