It is common that older generations frequently look at the new one as creatures from another planet. Every new generation develops its own slang, has its own cultural heroes, and most importantly has been imprinted by the events of their early years as well as the kind of care they received from their parents.
What distinguishes the Millennials is the way that technology -- not just events -- has transformed how they interact with each other and the world. Not only are they computer literate, but the Internet has allowed them to have friends from around the world who are available at the touch of a keystroke.
Events, of course, are important. My generation grew up during and after World War II. It was a time of enormous economic growth, of the U.S. ascendancy to being a superpower among nations. We lived through the Korean conflict that followed WWII in the 1950s, the birth of rock’n roll and, by the time the 1960s arrived, and I was beginning my 20s the Civil Rights movement erupted.
Assassinations marked that decade and the beginning of a long war in Vietnam that ended the lives of more than 50,000 young men born barely a generation after my own. Together we witnessed the first and only resignation of a President as the result of a criminal enterprise in the White House.
The Millennials had not yet been born. For them, the Soviet Union with its missiles pointed at American cities would be ancient history by the time they turned ten years of age. Red China would be a nation with which we did an enormous amount of trade. Europe would become the European Union. The Middle East would be a place that exported oil and terrorism
For the Millennials, the great trial their generation would face would be terrorism. For them and older generations, September 11, 2001 would change the entire dynamic of world affairs. The wars they know are the two invasions of Iraq; the latter of which has become their Vietnam. Two other events imprinted themselves, the bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City and the murders at Columbine High School.
While growing up, the Millennials led a busy, structured life in the 90s and this first decade of a new century. Their parents were devoted to them and the feeling was returned. They were told they were smart and to be inclusive and tolerant of all races, religions and sexual orientations. They were accustomed to being team players and they took being connected 24/7 for granted via cell phones and the Internet. This was a generation that was thoroughly nurtured.
It was and is a generation that was deep-fried in every environmental notion, no matter that its science was lacking or deliberately false. Surrounded by the benefits of technology, they have been told that much of it threatens the future of the planet.
In a nation where two percent of the population feeds the rest of us with plenty left over for export, they have no real connection with the Earth they worship, knowing nothing about how crops are grown or livestock is maintained and brought to the marketplace. Instead, they worry about “endangered” species and are fearful of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, all of which help generate an abundant food supply. Foolishly they worry that the poles are melting and the seas are rapidly rising, neither of which is happening.
As their parents came of age in the Reagan era of the 1980s, they grew up during the feckless years of the Clinton administration, questioning their parents about the sexual dalliance of the President while deluged with cultural messages that casual sex called “hooking up” was acceptable.
When George W. Bush became President, they would witness, not only 9/11, but the governmental debacle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the torment of a strange “war against terror” being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. At home, there was no terror, but few would or could make any connection between those active conflicts and the steady degrading of the threat al Qaeda represents.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the Millennials were entranced by the message of “change” offered by President-elect Obama, excited by the prospect of electing the first Afro-American President, and expecting, as my New Orleans friends like to say, to let the good times roll on.
There is, therefore, considerable irony that the Millennials are a generation looking at the same disintegrating economy their great-grandparents lived through in the 1930s and 40s, until a world war provided full employment and the post-war years were an explosion of innovation and growth.
It is presumed that the lessons of the past have been learned and monetary institutions will address the current problems, but underwriting the entire economy is public trust and confidence. If that disappears, so does the economy.
Slowly, the Millennials are discovering that the politicians their parents sent to Congress were so profligate, so stupid, and so intent on their own acquisition of wealth and power that they created the current financial crisis.
And now they are learning that those same people are returning to power! The President-elect is surrounding himself by the Clintonians who failed to comprehend the changing global dynamics, focusing instead on Green fairytales of “energy independence”, “global warming”, and the ill-founded belief that global institutions like the United Nations would or could solve international conflicts.
The Millennials, now in their twenties and thirties, are saddled with debt, watching jobs disappear, and so utterly devoid of any knowledge of their nation’s history that they know the names of the judges of American Idol, but cannot name the three branches of the American government, nor grasp that real enemies do exist and must be defeated if America is to endure. (The exception, of course, are those serving in our military.)
Their grandparents, the “Boomers”, are beginning to retire and will add to those who benefit from the many “entitlement” programs that have been enacted since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and succeeding presidents. Their parent’s primary asset, their homes, are losing value. A university education now leaves them emerging into the workplace with debt.
The “change” that will be thrust upon them is a cornucopia of “sacrifices” they will be required to accept in the name of environmentalism and globalism. Sufficient energy will become scarce within a decade and a government that is rapidly socializing banks, investment and insurance firms, may be forced to let a major industry, the Detroit auto manufacturers, go bankrupt before it can be reformed.
Norman Thomas, a former U.S. Socialist Party candidate for President in the 1940s, predicted that, “The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism’, they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”
That day has arrived. Barack Obama is its standard-bearer.