I keep reading political pap about the next political generation being the one that saves us. I don’t believe it for the reasons the people saying it do; I used to believe it for a different reason; I’m starting to believe it again for reasons I’m still forming.
There are a lot of young people I cherish for their political involvement when they could be making a lot more money doing something else. I’ve been lucky to know them. Their generation also includes Roberto.
Roberto is someone I read about who died in a jail somewhere of a drug overdose this week. He was 19.
Many of the people predicting a great political generation speak of the idealism, energy, and commitment of the young people in politics, as if the Clean for Gene kids in ‘68 or the McGovern students in ‘72 didn’t have those attributes.
In journalism, I called it the feature cycle. I’d give a reporter a feature idea, they’d ask where to find background, and I’d point them to the same story from two years ago. The feature cycle in politics is writing about the young women working for Hillary in ‘16 the same as they wrote about the idealistic, energetic, committed people working for Obama in ‘08, as if the latter hadn’t beaten the former the first time around.
Idealism, energy, and commitment work sometimes, but they’re not new enough to save us. (Let’s forget “save us from what” and stipulate the possibilities are endless and multiplying.) One thing I used to think might work was privilege. This was the most spoiled generation in a long time, I’d tell my fellow Boomers, adding that we should know because we spoiled them. The last time we had a generation this privileged, this sheltered from war and disease, this educated, they came up with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Reality kept today’s idealists from that once they got into real-world politics. They’re in their 20s and the average age of a U.S. Senator is 63. Younger than me, but still. By the time they have any influence as insiders they’ll be 63 and they’ll have been in the shit for 40 years. They won’t be the generation that is angry enough in great enough quantities to change things.
Except that they have some people coming up behind them who’ve had a little more. If they can join forces, there will be enough of them. Maybe that’s why we call them GenX and Millennials and Generation i. Make them think they’re separate groups and they won’t bitch about paying my exorbitant retirement because they hope to get their own one day. But then the people naming the generations would have to be that smart.
What’s going to unite them is the pandemic, I hope. I think about three young women who want to be, respectively, a writer, an immigration attorney, and I-don’t-know-but-I’m-really-smart-and-I-want-to-help-people.
The writer had to take a gap year before starting college. A year of illness in high school left her even further behind her age cohort. She’s 50k words into her sci-fi novel and says she knows a lot of people have lost more than her to the pandemic.
The attorney-to-be missed out on her semester in London. Her younger sister missed all the traditions of her senior year of high school and spent her freshman year of college in a dorm behind a computer Zooming. She says she knows a lot of people have lost more than her and her sister to the pandemic.
The one who could be anything also missed out on her semester in London. Her younger sister also missed all the traditions of her senior year of high school and spent her freshman year of college at home behind a computer Zooming. She also says she knows a lot of people have lost more than her and her sister to the pandemic.
You can almost see a theme.
They’re all smart, kind people. Something about the way they’ve all focused on their misfortunes through the filter of others who’ve had it worse makes me think they learned that young enough to use it. Despite their privilege, what we used to call luck, maybe Roberto won’t be invisible to them.
I want to believe that this will be the generation that sees the people behind the bad luck that dogs the vast majority of humanity. It’s more than having a little bit of bad luck themselves. It’s actually having something in common with those who live with bad luck. It’s bringing them a gnat’s ass closer to “there but for the grace of God.” They’ve known the lyrics, but couldn’t carry the tune.
Roberto’s all around them, but he looks like everybody else. Part of him not being invisible is the privileged and the lucky perhaps learning to look for him so they’ll understand their own lives and world better. Maybe they’ll find a way to share what they don’t deserve.
That’s the chance the next generation of Robertos might have. Their luckier peers might stop looking at them and thinking, “I should find a way to help.” The lucky, the well-raised, the well-educated, and the privileged can look at Roberto and think, “Damn. That was close.”
It’s not that Roberto didn’t have a chance. He had a 1-in-100 chance, and the assholes and whores who keep all the chances for themselves can point to the 1 who made it and claim that’s proof the 99 have only themselves to blame.