I don’t like generational sniping. First of all, there’s no contest to win Greatest Generation, pace Tom Brokaw. Second, I think it obscures complexity and makes it easier for us to fetishize the good old days while dismissing the contributions of the young (and thereby letting the young off the hook in the process), butthere’s something in this otherwise messy piece that I’ve talked about a lot:
We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told togo shopping.
The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.”Not exactly Churchillian stuff.
Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.
We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.
I can see where you’d read that and say, look, don’t wait for a leader, just be one, it’s not magic. I think a lot of our problems have come from the idea that we have to sit around and wait until just the right, perfect, sinless person comes along and THEN we’ll get off the couch. THEN it won’t be a risk of any kind to do what we’ve known for years we should do, which is fight for the powerless against the great. Just get off your entitled ass already, Generation X/Y/Whatever.
This is speaking to something else, though, and it’s how the leaders we do have underestimated us at a critical point in our history. They took people who were, by and large, willing to do just about anything after 9/11. Those who weren’t taking the opportunity to be bigoted assholes and burn down Pakistani-owned gas stations were as ready as anyone sitting by the radio listening to FDR to be called upon to serve. And when no such moment came, the adrenaline and energy went directionless, turned inward, became exhaustion and fear and despair.
We fear asking great things of others because we’re afraid we’ll lose them. If you grab your pennant and jump on your horse and yell, “This way!” and no one follows you, you’ll look like an asshole, right? Better to mill around in the field with everybody else. I think, and I know how ridiculous this sounds because how much power do these people have, that they’re actually afraid tolead. Look at the way Democrats always back down, at the first sign of opposition. “Ooh, it’s about to go bad, better cut our losses now.” Even look at the way Republicans always run back to the safest parts of their orthodoxy, to old ideas that even they know won’t accomplish a fraction of what they say they want.
And it’s HORSESHIT. You never lose people because you ask too much of them. You lose people because you ask too little. Eventually everybody’s going to get sick of camp food and sleeping outside in the rain and go home, if nobody says, “this way!” and sounds the call to arms.
Hell, if nobody follows you at leastyou’re going somewhere.