Full transparency: I’m the worst of the worst – a boomer. I didn’t choose to be born at the tail end of the 1950’s, it’s just the card I drew. But, having drawn that card, I grew up in an America that had become the world’s Superman. The generation before mine – “The Greatest Generation” – had just helped save the world for Democracy. Good had triumphed over evil because of their grit and determination and self-sacrifice.
Having done something mythic (won a World War) The Greatest Generation mythologized itself and its version of America. We were their offspring and who were we to disagree? Our worldview oscillated between patriotic, communism-hating hopes for a golden economic future and a sneaking suspicion that this worldview was bullshit.
That’s why we protested Vietnam and rioted outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago (in 1972). On the downlow, we were at war with ourselves; still are. I suspect it’s because we had no larger war on our radar.
Boomers like me grew up middle class. Back then the middle class was huge and covered a wide swath of Americans. Gen-Xers – in essence, our progeny – grew up hating us and our conflicted values. Bill Clinton was the perfect Boomer president. He felt youthful and leaned to the left (but not too far). We forgave his lack of integrity because we were so conflicted anyway.
How did Gen Xers turn out? On Indeed-dot-com (the employment website), Gen Xers “grew up with minimal adult supervision, quickly learning the value of independence and work-life balance.” They’re informal, flexible, highly educated and technologically adept. Gen Xers themselves say “We cared too much. We saw what was happening in the office and wanted to shake things up with some change and improvements that would help everyone.”
As much as Gen X resented my generation for screwing things up, they still ended up in a similar place – at war with themselves (and their work-life balance). There was no “larger war” per se. No existential crisis that would take us all outside our own heads for two minutes. Millennials came along. So did a war.
Millennials began reaching adulthood when September 11, 2001 happened.
Stone cold fact: one third of America has always loathed democracy. They’re racist down to their core. And violent. On April 19, 1995, American terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. September 11 shut our minds to domestic terrorism. All we could see thereafter were the foreign-born terrorists.
Though foreign terrorists scored a victory on our shore, we’ve always seen our “war on terror” as a “distant war” for our volunteer army to fight. It’s always someone else’s problem.
From Indeed: “Not only are millennials open to change and adaptive, but they also seem to possess an extraordinary passion for learning new things. This generation exhibits deep curiosity about the world and displays the desire to further develop skills and knowledge that can help them within their professional lives.” All great traits; there’s still a wide beam of hope for the future.
On the national stage, eight years of George W. Bush created an opening for change: Barrack Obama. Now, let’s take a step back. Generations don’t necessarily create their own history. Most – like mine – simply live through it. Nothing has forced us to do anything larger than our own lives. We’ve gotten to live our lives servicing our desires.
But the America The Greatest Generation imagined was mostly an illusion. A very white illusion. They stopped fighting one war – WWII – but never stopped fighting in another. The Civil War. And, America had to fight a Civil War because it made a devil’s bargain with slavery. Our original sin.
Donald Trump did not lead the GOP astray. Quite the contrary. Trump has taken the Republican Party to its ultimate destination – white hegemony. He gave its white supremacist heart justification to be itself. Gen-Z arrives – with political power – at this moment.
America is at war with itself. It always has been. But, now that war has gone from cold to steaming hot. Has Gen Z shied away? No, they haven’t.
Just as The Greatest Generation didn’t create the war it had to fight, neither did Gen Z create the culture war they must fight.
Make no mistake: Gen Z is actively engaged in fighting the culture war others declared. And this war is as violent as any. One side’s armed to the teeth – with military grade weapons!
Who is leading the battle charge against the gun lobby and its entrenched interests? Remarkable Gen Zers like David Hogg, Alex Wind, Cameron Kasky, Emma Gonzalez and Jaclyn Corin – eyewitnesses to a school shooting. They’re active, unwilling combatants in a war they never declared and don’t want to fight.
Other Gen Zers are fighting the wars against racism and bigotry. Gen Zers embrace gender fluidity. They understand how hard it can be if a person feels “at war” within themselves. And they don’t want anyone to have to fight a war.
Then there’s the climate. Talk about a boss battle’s boss battle. The ultimate war on anyone’s health, happiness and future.
I’ve got two Gen Zers (having parented kinda late). My generation can’t promise them any kind of future. Neither can Gen Xers or Millennials. Geez, it’s like those poor kids will have to to go to war with the future itself.
Or those blocking their way to it. That’s not going to be a small war. It’s going to require greatness in order to win. Gen Z knows if they don’t take up arms and go to battle, they won’t have the kind of future they want – and deserve. Or perhaps any kind of future whatsoever.
I have nothing but faith in Gen Z.
While my generation and the two that followed mine looked down at Gen Z as uninterested, disconnected and remote, in the last two elections, Gen Z has showed up and made the difference.
That’s not going to change or diminish.
Photo 209526352 / Gen Z © Irinayeryomina | Dreamstime.com