This is Chapter 4 of Millennials Rebuilding America: A Manifesto for the Future

IV. Identity

Don’t be shocked when your hist’ry book mentions me
I will lay down my life if it sets us free
Eventually, you’ll see my ascendancy
And I am not throwing away my shot!
I am not throwing away my shot!
I am not throwing away my shot!
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot!
It’s time to take a shot!
-Alexander Hamilton (in Hamilton), Hero Generation
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What makes a generation’s identity? A generation’s destiny? Who Are We American Millennials?

We’re also the largest generation in the developed world, and the largest of its Millennial generations, by far.

source: UNData

We’re remarkable in another important way. America is a rare country: Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers

We have grown up in a different America than the generations before us. Our country is changing.

source: Brookings Institute

And we’re young. We’re still very young! The oldest of us have just crossed 35, the very first year a Millennial can be President. The median age of an American is 38, of an American adult it’s 48. We’ll likely have the longest lives in human history. There’s a long road ahead.

So what has been the road so far? What experiences have shaped us — what experiences unite us?

The biggest ones will certainly leave an imprint on us for the rest of our lives: 9/11, the Financial Crisis, the election of Barack Obama, the election of Donald Trump. But no event happens in a vacuum. How do we place these events in the broader contours of our history?

Let’s check out Strauss and Howe’s Generational Theory one more time.

The charts are complicated, but the takeaways are simple: We grew up in an Unraveling, a time when our Baby Boomer parents, who had attacked America’s institutions during their Awakening during the 60s and 70s, graduated into their height of power and influence. Society became more and more defined around their ideal of the importance of the individual, with government viewed as the source of what was wrong with society. Lower taxes, culture wars, increasing government debt, globalization, the birth of the internet. It was a boom time, but it was also a time of decreasing social cohesion. Toward the end of the Unraveling, a vast study of interviews of how America had evolved since the birth of Baby Boomers concluded:

Americans sign fewer petitions,
belong to fewer organizations that meet,
know our neighbors less,
meet with friends less frequently,
and even socialize with our families less often.
We’re even bowling alone.
— Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000)

But while our parents’ America was unraveling, what about us? We grew up with the internet, with computers, with smarter and smarter phones, with social media — connection is in our blood, technology in our brains.

Our schools increasingly emphasized teamwork, and we were generally “good kids” —

with lower drug use,

source: UMich, Monitoring the Future study

decreasing rates of teen pregnancy,

decreasing levels of,

source: Center for Disease Control

and exposure to, youth violence

and fewer high school dropouts.

Demon child in The Exorcist (1973)

During the Awakening, before we were born, society neglected children as the large Boomer generation left childhood.

Hit movies reflected that mood, even starring monster children

Boy Antichrist in The Omen (1976)

But by our childhood, Boomers had moved into their prime parental years, births had risen, and Hollywood began reflecting society’s renewed attitude toward children as special, to be protected:

Three Men and a Baby, the #1 Movie of 1987

Our childhood marked the rise of helicopter parents, tiger moms, and participation medals. While our parents fought with each other, they increasingly cherished us. So much that in 1996 the Simpsons created a whole character around the idea:

Were we raised to be high achievers? Were we overcoddled, overpraised? Maybe all of the above.

We’re much closer to our parents than our parents were to theirs — in some cases literally, with an increasing number of us living with our parents.

Our generation was nurtured during a boom-time, which made the next phase of our lives all the more a shock.

We’ve been faced in early adulthood with the shadow of the Great Recession, with a long period of high unemployment that hit young people hardest, and a real chance of being worse off than our parents.

The American Dream, at the very least, means doing better than your parents. But these wounds runs deep. So deep that the American Dream is now the American Coin Toss

Child’s earnings compared to parents, at age 30 for each (by child’s year of birth)

This even though we’re the most educated generation in American history

But at every education level, whether we have debt or not, we’ve fallen behind where our parents were at the same age

Source: Young Indivisibles

Why has the American Dream gone dormant? On the surface it’s simple: lower income, higher student debt, higher cost of living, and much more concentrated wealth.

Ultimately all those factors reflect the world created by previous generations during the Unraveling.

Just like the Greatest Generation, our childhood was an Unraveling of American social and economic cohesion. And just like the Greatest generation, our early adulthood has been a Crisis.

While we’ve witnessed the collapse of civic engagement, the collapse of American unity, the stagnation of the American Dream, this wasn’t our generation’s doing. Though we bore the brunt of it, we didn’t cause it.

With all the simmering tensions in the world, it’s hard to think that this Crisisperiod will be over anytime soon. But Strauss and Howe define a “Hero” generation as one born during an Unraveling era of weak institutions and societal decay; that comes of age as team-oriented young optimists as that Unraveling culminates in a Crisis, and emerges as energetic and vigorous institution builders of a new American High — champions of economic prosperity and public cohesiveness.

Are Millennials the Next Hero Generation?

We’ll remember this period of Crisis our whole lives — and out of its scars, its setbacks, its institutional decay — out of its lessons! will be born the the next phase of American unity. After all, our ideals are teamwork and connection.

What will be our generation’s legacy?

Rebuilding America.

Happy will it be for ourselves, and most honorable for human nature, if we have wisdom and virtue enough to set so glorious an example to mankind!
-Alexander Hamilton, Hero Generation


You’ve come this far. Join something that, together, can be bigger than any one of us can accomplish alone:

Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world
-Roald Dahl, Hero Generation