Generational Change: The Game of Democracy
Democracy is not being tested. It's not on trial by fire. It is gasping for air and it's on life support because democracy is actually in danger.
Editors note: This article is part of a Serial for members only "How Generational Change is Changing America". You can read the original post "Is It Really Okay Boomer?" here.
I entered into political journalism back in the late 80s, which I guess makes this the fifth decade for me in the field. I started by writing a local newspaper covering the issues that mattered to any bratty little kid playing tag through the neighborhood. It was only distributed to like ten 8-year-old neighbors, but it was one of my first steps in thought-provoking journalism. Even then, I knew the pen was mightier than the sword, as was the dot matrix printer I used mightier than the projectile balls of dirt piled in my dug-out fort. I don't know if Edward Bulwer-Lytton thought about dot matrix printers when he coined the famous phrase but would have agreed.
I was politically active off of the page too. I was a likely ring leader among my neighborhood friends and siblings, so if I wanted to make the rules for our dirt ball war games, I could. But I knew that I needed to consider what every other kid wanted. Not only because I would have to face them every day, but because our games were far more fun when everyone compromised enough to agree on what the game was, and a basic set of rules. It was our little form of democracy, and we liked it for the most part because even if everyone didn't get their way, we all had a voice in the outcome. For most generations in living memory, this philosophy has been the prevailing idea.
In the 90s, Generation X lifted up democracy by creating entire music festivals and TV marathons where everyone lauded the fact that the power of one's vote mattered. To Gen Xers, democracy was celebrated like the life-changing innovation of email, something you would go out of your way to get 180 hours of access to, or at least to the mailbox every couple of weeks. Email at the time may have only been an easier way to turn a business rival into an online romance, a-la You've Got Mail, but we all knew it would become something we couldn't live without. Your voice mattered whether it was expressed in an AOL chat room or through the chads on a voter ballot, hanging or otherwise.
To the Boomer generation, Democracy was so popular, it was as ubiquitous as SPAM in everyday life. The two were nearly synonymous. One had a shelf life of hundreds of years, and the other was bursting in flavor thanks in part to salt. Either way, we knew we would never starve in the event of a nuclear disaster if we stocked up on both, and we were certain that should that day come, we would do whatever it takes to keep both in supply.
The Greatest Generation knew what it was like to fight for SPAM and democracy. The USA in the era of World War II presented itself as the Arsenal of Democracy, arming those fighting for the same. Eventually, while hesitant, America supplied its soldiers with the "Special Army Meat" and joined the world war. We joined for the sole purpose of defending the ideal of democracy or removing those from power that wanted to destroy it. Democracy wasn't just a game played among kids any more than SPAM was ham that didn't pass its physical. It was our whole economic focus and it was life or death.
Times have changed. Today, email has turned into the giant plant from Little Shop of Horrors and is screaming "feed me!". We're approaching it every day, with full intent to walk away from it for the weekend, only to find out it just keeps getting bigger. And SPAM has turned into more emails, never satisfying the salty cravings of our inboxes.