I remember from 50 years ago all the talk about a "generation gap," a conflict between young and old over fundamental issues of life and identity. I see the same thing now, only it is the old who are full of rage and aggression and the young who remain strangely quiescent. The right wing air waves crackle with hatred for the young, and that hatred is expressed in government policies such as ever more punitive rules and drastic cutbacks for student financial aid, in a burgeoning expansion of the prison system, in an eagerness to treat juvenile offenders as adults (the USA is the only country in the developed world that makes juvenile offenders liable to life in prison without parole). The young, together with minorities, are the primary targets of new state voter ID laws intended to suppress left-friendly voting.
The old folk, folk my age and older, are on the war path collecting scalps. The young remain oddly quiet and resigned. There was a very brief springtime when the young stirred from their resignation with Occupy, but with police crackdowns and police raids (including several here in Brooklyn on the morning of May Day; we're beginning to look more and more like Putin's Moscow), a resigned quiet seems to have settled upon the young once more. They are back to looking for scarce work, or working in low-paying jobs (even professional jobs) trying to sustain huge student loan debt burdens.
My students aren't exactly politically indifferent, but they are a little more self-absorbed. Perhaps that is understandable since the whole business of going to college, even community college, is so much more complicated and difficult (and higher stakes) than when I was a student. They are absorbed in the demanding task of jumping through those fiery hoops to get that ticket into the professional classes that college promises them. They simply don't have time or energy to devote to political activism. Amazingly, despite the gloomy prospects for their futures, they remain hopeful if not quite optimistic.
I see my future and theirs as a tyranny of low wages and debt peonage in an imperial oligarchic state indifferent and contemptuous to all except its owning elite. We will all be prisoners to an all powerful rentier class managing an economy driven not by productivity and profit, but by share price. My students don't really disagree, but don't see the situation as quite so hopeless. They remain confident that somehow sometime in the future they can set things right. They may have a point. Time is on their side, and it is not on my side or the side of the angry old cranks.
The USA at its best is Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for all guaranteed by Equal Justice Under Law. America at its worst is the Empire of the Frightened White People. Today, the Empire of the Bitter Old White People clearly is getting the upper hand, and is fully prepared to devour the future in order to preserve and expand its power and privileges.
My 63 year old friend David Kaplan says that it is up to the young to save the day.