The polite thing to say is that young people are the future of America, and in a purely biological sense, of course, they are. But implicit in that statement, like a Chinese fortune fit for a cookie, is a certain amount of hopefulness. On the basis of the evidence at hand, however, things don’t appear all that rosy.
Not that my own generation, the Boomers, haven’t made a royal mess of things. We have. But the errors we made were committed more stylishly. Consider, for instance, political discourse.
Back in the day, Boomers were shaped by a political and policy class distinguished by persons of erudition such as Wm. F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Milton Friedman, and, on the other side of the ideological aisle, John Kenneth Galbraith, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Norman Cousins.
Who are their successors today? Markos "Koz" Moulitsas and Rachel Maddow?
Even journalism’s most redoubtable outposts can’t be relied upon. Writing from their sandbox at The Washington Post, the exorbitantly youthful Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent pontificate as if in a coffee klatch, with their most frequently used pronoun being “I.” Reading them, you sometimes get the uncomfortable feeling that you’re peering, against your will and better judgment, into their diary.
Or what about pop culture, music especially. The Boomers perfected rock and roll. What have the newer generations perfected? Rap?
Never mind that, as a group, the Boomers are the most selfish, self-centered, and overrated people in the history of the world (can you just imagine how much the young must hate us now – and how much more they’ll hate us in the future?), the inescapable truth is that the younger generations are not sufficiently endowed intellectually even for their own good, much less to outclass their elders.
Whether you blame this state of affairs on the collapse of the family, the public education system, the rise of political correctness, or other things entirely, it is what it is. Relatively speaking, not only are the Boomers world-class wordslingers, we have bent pop culture, and even sciences like Freudian psychology, to our generational benefit.
So what, you might ask, does this portend for the future? Well, like Gertrude Stein’s query, “What is the answer?” it depends on the question.
If the question is what the future looks like for the Boomers, things look pretty good, provided we all develop thick skins and live in gated communities. If the question is what the future holds for the young, the answer is a life of greatly reduced expectations, partly as a consequence of their own shortcomings and partly as a result of the mess we’ve left them.
If, however, the question is what it means for America, the answer is positively grim. Put it this way: In a world shrink wrapped by trade and technology, who do you think is going to ascend – the children of those nations who are pushed from birth to excel, or those, like our own, whose entire vocabulary of wonder is the word “awesome”?
Uh huh, I think you’re right.
*with apologies to The Who
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.