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The next greatest generation

| Thursday, October 1, 2020

I have grown up in a trying time in American history. In just 21 years, I have lived through the terrorist attacks of 9/11, grown accustomed to near-constant war in the Middle East, become numb to watching the environment devastate our country through hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts and superstorms, seen the deficit spiral out of control, perfected the art of school shooter drills, experienced two financial recessions and finally peered over my mask as a pandemic claimed the lives of over 200,000 Americans. But these crises are not even the worst tragedy that my generation and I have endured: Our Democracy is being ripped apart from the inside out and is being replaced by partisanship and jealousy. People are becoming more allegiant to their party than they are to their country — that’s a death sentence for a republic.

As a student of political science at Notre Dame, I consider myself very blessed to have access to some of the best professors, resources and facilities in the world, but I am becoming increasingly frustrated with what more and more academics are insinuating or even saying outright. I am repeatedly told that I am witnessing the decline of a once-great nation, an aging empire that will soon be passed up and forgotten. I am told that our institutions have succumbed to corruption, that our leaders and journalists can no longer be trusted and that the American dream (whatever that really ever was) is dead. When I look to the generation before me, I see long faces etched with defeat. I watch what little fight they have left be poured into simply defeating their counterpart across the aisle. Above all, I see hopelessness. 

Now I could dedicate this piece to slamming the current generation of Americans in power for their stunning hypocrisy to sneer at their own youth for being ungrateful and lazy (Talk to me when I’m trying to keep Miami above sea level while paying your social security, Grandpa.), but that would fall on deaf ears (pun intended). I could also try to pick and choose which party has been the most egregious in its efforts to prioritize political gain above the needs of the country, but that would only compound the problem I’m trying to solve. No, in this column, I am going to talk to my peers and those younger than myself. We have a herculean task set in front of us; we are going to have to do something that none of us have seen from our leaders in our lifetime. We have to take the high road. We have to exercise forgiveness. We have to compromise, and for God’s sake, we have to place our country ahead of our party. 

For those of you who bore with me through that bleak opening, there is good news. Our generation is the most well equipped, well educated and the most technologically advanced generation in human history. More importantly, however, we have proven to ourselves that we have the necessary chops to get politically active and fight for what we believe in. Don’t forget, it was students who took to the streets of Washington, D.C., during the March for Our Lives protests to end gun violence. It was students again who pressed forward on climate change and environmental awareness. It is currently young activists who are once again forcing civil rights to the forefront of national politics. The success of these movements can be debated, but the larger picture is that we are a fiery group of revolutionaries who are fed up with status quo partisan politics.

Unfortunately, our youth was the easy part. Soon we will begin to trickle into positions of influence. We will take over as political leaders around the country, replace the current titans of industry with those from our own ranks and become the very professors and academics from whom we now take notes. Suddenly, it will be our turn to lead. I urge you to remain idealistic and compassionate. It must be incredibly tempting to be swept up in superficial victories, personal success and cynicism because we have watched the generation before us fall into that very snare. Learn from their folly. Our country and institutions remained strong enough to survive one generation of such leadership; I highly doubt they can survive two. 

Make no mistake, this is a fight for the survival of America. This battle is not as obvious as the ones America has fought with her military; those conflicts were more direct and immediate. But this fight is equally as important. This is when we determine who we are as a nation. We — you and me — get to decide. The burden of this responsibility cannot be understated but neither can the opportunity. America is down, but she is never out. If we work together, prioritizing the needs of our nation above the needs of ourselves, there is no challenge we cannot overcome. First, we have to believe in America — then we have to save her.

Clark Bowden is a senior political science major. When he’s not sleeping through his alarm or reminding people that he studied abroad, he can be found in heated political debates or watching the Washington Nationals play baseball. He can be reached at [email protected] or @BowdenClark on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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