Clayton Mitchell: The Torch is in the Hands of a New American Generation

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By Clayton Mitchell: 

At the occasion of my oldest son’s graduation from college, I had the honor and privilege to converse with many young graduates. While some of the now former students were full of hopes and dreams, for many there was an underlying anxious tone regarding their future. 

During the prosperous post-cold war years of the 1990s, this new American generation watched “Barney the Dinosaur” and played with video games while their parents were building homes, developing businesses and climbing the lower rungs of corporate ladders. The stock market was hitting record highs and the nation was running budget surpluses “as far as the eye could see” as the 21st Century began.

However, as they began fourth or fifth grade, on a clear Tuesday morning in September 2001, school administrators abruptly informed these “Millennial Generation” children that they would be going home – that “something bad” happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and that they would need to be home with their parents. The innocence of a safe and prosperous world, a peace dividend that had been bestowed at birth upon this young generation, was suddenly removed from their lives. It was a harbinger of things to come.

The nation called upon some of their young parents and their older brothers and sisters to avenge the aggressors and vanquish the terrorist threat on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq. For more than half of their lives, the Millennials have known nothing but a country at war. In an attempt to sidestep the economic impact of financing the wars during the previous decade, the country fueled its economy with unregulated mortgaged-backed financial derivative instruments that no one understood. As the Millennial generation graduated from high school, the highly leveraged economic house of cards collapsed, and millions of their parents lost their jobs, their homes and their businesses. Simultaneously, the Millennial generation was destined to experience war and economic depression.

During their college years, the media reported on an America quite different from that of their childhood. The media informed these young men and women that fifty percent of college graduates could not find a job in the first post-graduation year – let alone one in their field of study. The media told them that the social safety net (the programs that have assisted Americans since the dawn of the New Deal) is approaching insolvency and will disappear years before they will need it. The Millennials have witnessed division and partisanship in Washington not seen since the late 1960s and early 1970s with the country’s partisan population evenly divided within “red states” and “blue states”.

With all that being said, the young graduates’ despair is understandable. However, I am here to tell them that the machines of change and righteousness in America have always worked and are working today. I can say with absolute authority that whenever the government, the economy or society gets out of the mainstream, the collective forces of the American people aggregate and take back control.

Within my lifetime, there was time when white men in the southern states aimed fire hoses and rifles at African-Americans merely because they had the courage to demand equal treatment in the voting booth, at lunch counters and with employment opportunities. There was a time when American cities literally burned with rage and hundreds of thousands gathered in peaceful protest against racial discrimination and an unpopular war. There was a time when a sitting President, fearful of losing power, covered up a scheme to burglarize his opponent’s campaign offices. There was a time when ten semi-savage countries, who cartelized the oil that was indispensable to the entire might of the country, embargoed the United States causing severe gas shortages, runaway inflation and double-digit unemployment because we did not have a governmental policy to do anything about it. Notwithstanding all these tragedies and crises, and in the face of inaction by elected leaders then in power, the American people independently organized, stood together and made change happen.

Today the seeds of change are in place and taking root in the public square. The Tea Party and The Occupy Movement are just two contrasting examples. While our leaders engage in “gotcha” games and gridlock, the American people are the ones who will ultimately cause the inevitable correcting change. Every generation, however, engages in public debate with a socio-economic narcissism intended to promote their respective self-interests. For example, the World War II Generation does not want Social Security touched; the Baby Boomers want everything the prior generation received and to pass the invoice for its public debts and deficits to the young; the members of Generation X and Generation Y desire free healthcare, student loan forgiveness and other public benefit giveaways without regard to cost.

Ultimately, the bill for the 20th Century party will have to be paid. We have repeatedly kicked the nation’s debts down the road and, unfortunately, they will fall on the Millennials’ shoulders. However, before the youngest generation is paralyzed with despair, I can say to the Millennials with absolute authority that you will have a brighter future.

Just like previous generations, the Millennials face an enemy abroad, difficult economic conditions and social discontent. However, if necessity is the mother of invention, you are equipped with the tools to solve any problem. The technology you played with as a child has trained you for the digital future. Unlike any other generation in history, you were born in the age of the internet – the rest of us are mere digital immigrants. Through technology, you will have the opportunity to recreate the world with new industries and unforeseen invention. Nano-technology and biotechnology are creating new products on a daily basis. The World Wide Web has removed political barriers and gives young entrepreneurs instant access to new markets with rising classes of people with increasing economic influence. With a website and a lot of effort, you can sell products on a worldwide scale only available to the largest corporations just a generation ago.

Some of today’s problems are indeed dire. Admittedly, they are tribulations not of your making. However, the current political, social and economic problems are your generation’s challenge. If history teaches us anything, it tells us that any American generation can overcome any challenge if it puts its collective mind to it. Older generations tend to create new problems while solving others. While defeating tyranny, winning the Cold War and putting men on the moon, my generation and my parent’s generation has made a mess of things. Notwithstanding, we have created for you the tools to solve the problems that we are unable or unwilling to remedy out of myopic selfishness and political paralysis.

Millennials, at your graduation America passed its torch and the nation’s eyes are now upon you to improve the country. To paraphrase President Kennedy, “The energy, the faith, the devotion which you bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” If history repeats itself, you will rise to the challenges and develop an American future that makes us grateful of your efforts, envious of your talents and unworthy of your sacrifices.

Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney in Stevensville and regular contributor to Center Maryland.

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