Most demographers say that the millennial generation began in the early 1980s, and according to a series of polls conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics, in those near-30 years since our generation began, we millennials have become intensely cynical, distrustful of every government institution except for the military, and increasingly partisan in our politics. Even worse, these polls indicate it may become permanent. They worry that the constant demonstrations of greedy partisanship and mindless incompetence by our elected officials is having a long term negative effect on the millennial generation. You don't say?
They're just now realizing that between successive presidencies that spent their entire time lying to us, two major wars (both of which have proven to be completely unnecessary and have lived up to the old Hemingway quote, “You will die like a dog for no good reason at all”), bailouts that have shown that the politicians we elected care more about Wall Street than anyone else, a hyper-partisan and hyper-useless Congress, and an economic forecast that looks so horrible it resembles the average Seattle winter, we millennials might be just a little bitter and cynical? Well guess what, we have every right and reason to be.
It's anecdotal, but I can attest firsthand that I have become far more cynical about politics in the past three to four years than I had been before. If I listened to my finer instincts right at this minute I would unplug the computer I’m typing this on, drive to the home of the nearest politician (any politician), and throw the damned thing through their front window as a show of basic contempt and loathing. Let’s be honest, just counting the past 13 years we have seen some vicious and unforgiving events go down, chief among them being the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center that rang in the start of this current era of Western civilization. Every year since then we have been subject to more and more heinous activities that have shown more and more that we have little to no reason whatsoever to trust anyone over 33.
The first serious political incident any of us would have really been aware and understanding of would have been the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and watching one adulterer getting chased out of power by a group of “Family Values” politicians who also turned out to be adulterers isn’t a very promising introduction to politics. Following Clinton was George W.Bush and his gang of neoconservative quasi-fascist thugs who were quite happy to pervert America and turn it and all it supposedly stood for into a pus-oozing, cowboy-hat-wearing eyesore that much of the world felt embarrassed about being seen with. After him came Obama, the one we as a generation played kingmaker to, who has spent the last four and a half years proving that we were damned fools for believing anything he ever said.
Moving onto Congress and the Senate. Both bodies are the most partisan they have ever been, so divided and fanatical that it’s doubtful that they could even come to a consensus on what kind of whiskey was to be served at a social event without hours of debate, threats of filibuster, and declarations that Obama’s whiskey of choice is clear evidence of his hatred of America. From 2001 until 2007 Congress was a rubber-stamp factory for George W. Bush and the Republicans until the Democrats seized Congress during the 2006 midterms. What did they do with their new congressional majority? Pretty much this. Once Obama won? This. In fact they kept doing that until the 2010 midterms, when they did this. The Republicans stormed back into control, with both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell making their intentions very well known.
Tuesday saw the Dow Jones close over 15,000 for the first time. It’s a good change from 2008 when we saw the economy collapse like a flan in a cupboard. When the Great Recession hit, here's what millennials saw: The housing market collapsed due to a combination of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the greed of the big four banks, said banks declared that they were too big to fail, and then these same banks were given a taxpayer-funded bailout that they used to give their executives bonuses and pay packages while they cut jobs and foreclosed on homes whether they owned them or not. Economic recovery was a slow process, but with the Dow where it is, you'd think that’d be a good indicator right? No, not actually. Unemployment lingers at 7.5%, still painfully above the 5% it was pre-recession, and it’s not going down fast. For millennials it’s worse, hanging at 16%. Wages and household income are down and corporate profits are up. And the financial regulations that were put into place to try to rein in the institutions that helped bring about the recession? They were de-fanged, and all we have now is the word of the same Gordon Gecko bank executives behind the first crash that they won't have another fit of greed and wreck the economy again.
To summarize: Our future economic success was thrown away on endless war and bailing out greedy Baby Boomer bankers. Oh, and speaking of baby boomers...
...It seems they love nothing more than to whine about how we millennials are nothing but lazy, self-obsessed, shiftless and entitled little bastards who do everything they can to shirk responsibility and blame everyone and everything but ourselves. If you’re a Baby Boomer, what I’ve written so far probably hasn’t changed your view on that. “Take responsibility!” you’ve said. “Get a job even if it’s flipping burgers!” you’ve said. “You should’ve studied something worthwhile!” If we’re guilty of anything you’ve accused us of, we have learned it from a very knowledgeable source: our parents, guardians, and role models. If we complain about work it’s because we watched you live this Homer Simpson quote and then come home and gripe about it. If we shirk responsibility and blame everyone else for our problems it’s because we watched Baby Boomer politicians make careers out of doing so. We don’t want a low-paying job like flipping burgers or washing dishes? It’s because you turned such jobs into symbols of failure at life. Narcissistic? You told us growing up that we were the “Special” generation. Entitled? We’re the ones paying your Social Security and Medicare since your politicians saw fit to pillage both programs to pay for other things, and both will be bankrupt by the time we come of age to be eligible for them.
Student Loans, the Job Market, and Unpaid Internships
Most millennials were told one of two things as children: that if we wanted to be successful in life we had to go to college and get a degree, or that since you (our parents) didn’t go to college it was really important that we went. Either way, all that we were told was get a degree — any degree. Well okay, we went to college and most of us graduated. Know what you forgot to mention while you were drilling your “wisdom” into our impressionable minds? That some jobs were more in-demand than others. Also that the cost of a college education would skyrocket twelvefold between the time you went to college and we went to college, so that graduating debt free isn’t just a daydream, it’s damned impossible unless you were born rich.
And don’t you dare try and scapegoat this onto people studying “useless” degrees like photography or history or philosophy, as opposed to law or business or medicine. I know plenty of millennials in all categories who can’t find work because no one is offering any kind of job aside from the kind that requires two to three years of experience. And the answer you give us to this employment quandary? Unpaid internships, or should I say labor exploitation. Your average college graduate with a five-figure debt to pay off can’t afford to work years for no pay just so they can get a bottom-rung job. Paying jobs and internships are needed for us to live outside of our parent's homes, yet the number of decent-paying entry-level jobs is really low.
I’ve saved some of my choicest venom for you, my brothers and sisters. We have put up with and endured our share of crap, and the groundwork for many of the problems vexing our generation was laid long before we had the power to vote and let the politicians know just how we felt about them. We have no such excuse now that most of our generation is of voting age, and yet we’ve opted to join America in becoming part of the reason Congress sucks. And beyond that, what do we do to let the country know we aren’t content with our lot? Numb ourselves with horrible TV, play Xbox Live, and generally engross ourselves in something else. Occupy Wall Street had the potential to be our vehicle of change, but guess what happened to that? We blew it. We didn’t organize beyond the bare minimum, and let it become a circus. We were too accepting. And once it failed what did we do? Went back to numbing ourselves.
People our age in Spain and Greece are rioting over their lot, and while I don’t think that rioting and destruction will do anything to get their point across they’re at least letting their government know that not everything is okay. Not us though. We're sullenly sitting down and accepting whatever rotten scraps get thrown at us like a failed court jester. All those things that people say have made us endlessly narcissistic have a grain of truth to them. We are special, the first generation of our species to be so interconnected with each other and the world we live in. We can change the world for the better, but it's something that we as a generation need to work at instead of sitting back and letting it come to us We have the power, the potential, the far-horizoned possibility. All we need to do is act upon it.