Letter to the Editor: How do Our Childhoods Affect Our Politics?
Over the past few years, a phrase has been repeated to me: “Youth are the future.” However, I haven’t truly contemplated these words’ meaning until now.
Perhaps it is the hours of time quarantine has freed up, or the gravity of our country’s politics right now, or more likely a mixture, but the future of our world is up in the air. So, for answers, I turned to our past: what did our leaders’ childhoods look like, and how did they shape the present?
Let’s start with two of the most prominent American leaders today: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Both men grew up on the East coast in the 1950s, a time of suburbia, economic prosperity, and comfort, though only for some. Women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and others were subverted or discriminated against; hence, the Civil Rights movement and Second-wave feminism were born. Still, for these two presumptive presidential nominees, childhood was uneventful in the grand scheme of events. The Cold War did loom, but its existence did not seem attributable to our government’s failures (until the Vietnam War, which Trump famously avoided).
President Trump longs for the 1950s; in fact, it is the period he thinks America was last “great.” This is not surprising, as the president’s obsessions include industrialism, overt masculinity, and “America first.” Although it is true the 1950s yielded one of the strongest economies in our history, America was only truly great for those who could reap the benefits: almost exclusively wealthy white men.
Biden’s pitch is for a return to decency and normalcy- probably the time just before Trump was in office. Yet, few ask for whom this period was normal; certainly not for the 27 million uninsured Americans, or the black families whose communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis and redlining, or the dozens of other marginalized groups who face daily systemic prejudice. In my eyes, normalcy means not relying on politicians for fiscal security or personal safety. Although some politicians pose much bigger dangers for some, America has been, for the most part, normal for adult white men.
There is another group that does not know true prosperity: us. The truth is, our generation (Generation Z, that is) doesn’t have a semblance of “normalcy.” Our childhoods have been composed of post-9/11 wars, recession, gun violence, and the existential threat of climate change. Our sense of urgency not only makes us more pessimistic, but more pragmatic. As our nation’s and our world’s problems escalate, the solutions to these problems rise to meet them: there’s a reason why former Democratic presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were so popular among millenials and youth.
Our generation doesn’t experience normalcy, but we know what it should look like. Achieving normalcy is ensuring healthcare as a human right, and fighting climate change with bold, green policy. Normalcy is addressing our system’s deep flaws in the criminal justice system, and understanding that many issues at the border stem from colonialism and exploitation in South America. Normalcy is not speculating whether there will be a future, but planning the future we want. As long as America is abnormal for some, it will never be normal for all. I know Hopkins students- we’re hopeful, and we’re ready to work in the public’s interest in future times, to help make our country “normal.”