Dear Millennials and Generation Z,
I know it might not feel like change is on its way, but it is. There’s a scene in Donnie Darko I think a lot about these days to helps me remember that. In it, Maggie Gyllenhaal interrupts a family dinner with a pronouncement that stops the food halfway to her father's face:
“I’m voting for Dukakis!” she says confidently, and perhaps a little smugly.
Her father looks stricken for a moment, but he rallies: “Maybe when you have children of your own, and half your husband’s paycheck goes to the federal government, you’ll regret that decision.”
“My husband’s paycheck?” Maggie answers without hesitation. And then she adds: “Anyway, I’m not gonna squeeze one out ‘til I’m, like, 30.”
Clearly, some things change and other things never do. One thing that never seems to go away, though, is whatever happens in a young person’s mind that causes them to interrupt a family dinner with a throaty cry like, “I’m voting for Dukakis!” or “Bernie or bust!”
But how about a more recent example of what happens when old and young folks tussle over the passing of the baton? You’ll understand my meaning when you dive into the appalling media hurricane that followed the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“Generation Z” has chosen to stand up in rage, defiance and, impossibly, hope, following a disaster that left 17 American children and adults unnecessarily dead.
Keep following the narrative, though. Watch the disgusting smear campaign against the kids who chose to speak truth to power — a campaign where Right Wing pied pipers like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh called these children “crisis actors” and worse.
Watch for Conservatives to pivot to “mental health” instead of dealing with guns honestly. We’ll hear all about solving mental health from those hardcore right-wingers, despite the near-certainty that the GOP will successfully carve away a trillion bucks from Medicaid. But it’s such a “nuanced” cut that our generation won’t even feel it until we’re of retirement age ourselves — unless we keep paying attention. Which, of course, we are.
Let’s get one thing straight about the purported “logic” many of our elders have applied to the uniquely American problem of preventable gun deaths. They have chosen to believe, simultaneously, the following two things:
· That America, being the Most Important Country that has ever existed, deserves to have literally the most awesome military the world has ever seen.
· That, as law-abiding gun owners, it falls somehow into their purview to take up shotguns, pistols, and high-capacity rifles — which definitely aren’t assault weapons and how dare you suggest they are! — against the government that wields the military forces you’ve chosen to make totally unassailable by any known aggressor or group of aggressors. Try it. Bring your AR-15 to a drone fight. Think it’ll matter how many rounds your magazine holds?
And what, again, was the government overreach you gun-toting folks have been so worried about? It’s the creep of authoritarianism you chose to vote for. It’s a damned shame that, for all your lecturing to us over the years about “corrupt government,” you failed to identify real tyranny in time to actually do anything about it.
And, meanwhile, if you consulted with an actual authority on American history instead of a textbook printed by a company owned by an oligarch, you’d know that practically everybody in the U.S. fundamentally misunderstands what the Framers even intended when they wrote the Second Amendment.
The emphasis was not at all on the “bearing arms” part and instead on the “well-regulated state militia” part. Some of the Framers, like Madison, wanted to ensure his state’s militia could continue hunting down runaway slaves.
Would somebody my age please preserve this information before it becomes crypto history? Because the Boomers and Gen Xers have handed us young folks a world that seems not to trouble itself much with the difference between fact and fiction. When they think about the world, it’s through a cloud of fear and suspicion. Consider:
· I know a sixty-year-old man who brings a handgun, lawfully concealed of course, to a diner in a small town every time he eats there.
· I know a sixty-year-old woman in that same town who’s literally afraid to — I’m seriously not joking — walk down the street wearing shorts “because of Muslims in America.”
At some point, we’re going to realize that quite a few of the “political issues of our time” are little more than products of fear. Millennials and Generation Z don’t care about rhetoric or “conventional wisdom” — we value objectivity, justice and compassion.
Young people don’t seem to wish to live in a country or a world that’s awash with assault weapons and nuclear weapons. Some old folks and their frail, psychotic president have sadder and darker plans in store: a literal arms race. Again. No, not “again.” Still.
But young folks don’t follow the logic that peace at the end of a gun is something that makes sense, or that arming school teachers isn’t insane in a world we all wish would stop fighting.
We’ve already recognized the importance of holding our teachers to high standards of conduct and academic excellence. Do you seriously believe the handling of a weapon needs to be added to their duties? I believe a plurality of young people, if not a majority by now, think that’s crazy. If guns aren’t allowed on the floor of the American Congress — and they absolutely are not — we cannot tolerate them in our schools.
We’ve also recognized the internet for what it is, just in time for the folks our parents empowered to ruin some of the basic rules that protect it. It’s the means to preserve some of the most vital information and lessons from one generation to the next. Someday soon, we won’t have to re-learn, again and again, something as tragic and banal as what the Second Amendment was intended to do.
No — the future, from where we’re standing, looks bright — and it’s because young people don’t seem to have the time or the patience for bullshit. If we keep up the good fight, we’ll continue a long daisy chain of real social accomplishments. And if recent history is any indication, the next few won’t take quite as long.