By Robert Mann
Near the end of a brutal election season that reminds me of a bad episode of Wrestlemania, I wonder if our young people think their elders have gone mad? Do they see them acting like 2-year-olds and respond, “Politics has nothing to offer my generation”?
I suspect many teens and those in their early twenties look at this election — likely the first to which they have paid close attention — and conclude that politics is a bizarre blood sport and a depressing, dispiriting one, at that. Could the worst consequence of this sorry election be its role in suppressing youth civic participation when we most need it?
Many young people now believe politics is a poor way to advocate for change. Some of the most civic-minded opt for careers with nonprofits or nongovernmental organizations. Better, they say, to give oneself to a worthy cause — helping the poor, protecting the environment, advocating for social justice — than entering politics and laying bare one’s life for personal attacks.
Surely many who consider politics ask, “Why put my family through a meat grinder of press scrutiny and political invective to win election to a legislative institution that is paralyzed and gridlocked? Why seek a job that requires my perennial humiliation and debasement to keep it?”
One of the many blessings of youth is optimism and the knowledge that the future belongs to them. I love they reject the notion that society should be ordered on terms dictated by their elders. I love that the wisest of our youth know they have it within their power to fix our politics and reshape our society.
They see far more clearly than their elders the value and necessity of change. They are impatient for it, which is one reason so many of them reject creaky, hidebound partisan politics as a vocation. And who could blame them?
Many young people I know are also repelled by leaders who project a dark vision of America’s future. They don’t want to make America great again; they want to make it greater than it already is.
Like the founding fathers, they understand that this country is not a place but an ideal. They know their role is to foster the perpetual process of its perfection. That is why so many of them turn away, disgusted, from older leaders who cynically exploit fear and despair for political gain. They know that’s not patriotism but, rather, its opposite.
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