Oh This ‘American Dream’

When the adults are ready to hand it down to the next generation, do the kids even want it?

Album art by Bryan “Papillion” Kienlen

We have a severe case of broken heart. We’re in a place where a particular dream for all that could’ve been is yanked away and smashed into tiny, little pieces. Where the dawning of a new day does not bring hope and excitement but instead heartache, pain, and mourning.

Kids These Days…

We’re living in the aftermath of another mass shooting in America (Parkland). Happening again in a school where kids were murdered with a weapon of war easily obtained by another student who was mentally disturbed. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see this type of event in this country. Our average for 2018 is 1.4 school shootings a week. But what’s different this time has been the response of the victims who survived. Teenagers who weren’t gunned down in the halls of their school have since taken to the Internet, to the airwaves, and to the streets to demand action by the adults who have seemingly abandoned them. Which has prompted a comforting response by many a commentator. That the kids are, indeed, alright.

At least on the left. On the right, these teenagers have had their emotional state questioned and GPA made fun of. On the kooky right, which how far that is from the regular right seems too close for comfort these days, well, they just can’t be sure these teenagers are real people. Now in the company of Gold Star families, war widows, handicapped people, and child immigrants, these teenage students who lived through a horrific episode of gun violence are just another target to be shut down by conservative demagogues.

Regardless, these teenagers are part of a generation of American students who have only known a world of lockdowns and active shooter drills. Witnessing mass shooting after mass shooting play out in the media, going to school in fear that it could happen to them next, at their school, at any time. And in Parkland’s case, this time, it was their school. They reacted in the days following with teenage angst, sincerity, and an unwavering commitment to do something about gun violence. And soon, they will all be eligible to vote. Their cause of ending school shootings in America with the #NeverAgain movement, and as the March for Our Lives protest took hold across the country, change does seem possible.

But this, of course, is America. Where hope is squashed out in an instant and the kids are told to sit down, shut up, and stop whining. After all, they need to be grateful for this “American Dream” they’ve been so generously deemed worthy of getting at some point, somewhere along the way, to wherever it is they should be going. As long as that destination has been approved of by the “adults” in the room.

Or, what has become common practice in our interconnected age, Twitter puts it a better way:

ADULTS: Kids need to put down their phones and get into the real world.
TEENS: We will ban the guns that are killing us or you will never see the inside of an elected office ever again.
ADULTS: Wait, no, not like that.

Right, not like that. So say the adults who are running the show. The adults who have been telling us that when it comes to gun violence in America, nothing can change, new laws will do nothing, and our fate just needs to be accepted. To which, the kids now reply, “BS.”

Which is a different sort of response than the adults are used to. And it doesn’t just apply to gun violence but to an entire laundry list of heartbreaking issues plaguing the country.

Do we have to accept that we can’t provide health care for everyone? Or that for most, college is unaffordable? Or that a lot of us have to live in a toxic environment damaging to our bodies? No, that is unacceptable, according to the kids. And I think it’s because kids these days are NOT interested in dreaming about a fantastical America. They’re more focused on doing something to fix its real-world problems.

White Picket Nonsense

The “American Dream” means that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, everybody should have equal opportunity to prosper through hard work and determination. A common manifestation of this has been the split-level house surrounded by a white picket fence for the 2.3 children and a dog and a cat and a minivan.

These ideals get taken to another place in our current cultural moment, when aligned with the Make America Great Again crowd. We need to #MAGA because the American Dream is slipping thru the fingers of far too many of our friends and neighbors. America is changing too fast and leaving too many behind. America is becoming too black and too brown for the comfort of its white residents.

It’s easy to buy into the #MAGA slogan. It’s nice to believe that we’re special, and who isn’t susceptible to advertising campaigns? The onslaught of negative campaign ads certainly help get out the vote, and hey, it’s easy to nod along when some random preacher, spokesperson, or cartoon claims something is true that we already want to believe anyway.

Post WWII we built the greatest consumer economy in the history of the world, selling ourselves on any number of objects and ideas. We’ve been sold on cigarettes being safe, car pollution not being a big deal, and white picket fences being the key to all happiness. In recent years, we’ve been sold on the government being bad, global warming not happening, Iraq being home to weapons of mass destruction, and socialism being a product of the devil. Supporting these big ticket items is an infinite inventory of total nonsense that keeps us lurching from one consumable fear to the next—Russians, terrorists, Mexicans, liberals, not Russians.

In this economy, we seem to be just fine with citizens being supplanted for consumers, ready to buy whatever the American Dream is selling at a moment’s notice. Given that, it’s not shocking that a snake-oil salesman who hocks his brand at any and every chance he gets would fool so many of us into falling in line with his bleak view of the current world while pushing for a U-turn to some sort of Morning In America golden age. Pussy grabbing and paying off porn stars along the way? Not a disqualifier.

This, from the adults in the room. The adults, who think America was the greatest nation the world has ever known and the only way to get back to that is to #MAGA. Hence, it doesn’t matter if their guy breaks any laws or was helped by a foreign adversary.

Meanwhile, the kids have some different ideas.

Generation Pepsi

Q) Which is the generation that drives you the craziest, Justin?
A) Oh that’s super easy. The G.D. Baby Boomers.

It was Pepsi that first taught me about the importance of belonging to a generation. (GeneratioNext!) And then The Guardian recently helped me define my generation more. (Xennial!) I’m the son of baby boomers who repeatedly told me when I was in college that I’d soon be over my youthful idealism (opposition to the Iraq War) because I’d eventually have to get a job and pay the bills. No time for idealism then. Because at that point, capitalism rules the day.

I had barely graduated high school when the first mass shooting in an American school happened (Columbine). Since then, the people who have been the adults in the room have done little, to our idealized eyes, to make the country safe from guns. And now it’s the next generation of youthful idealism, tired of being told they can’t be safe in schools, that’s leading the charge for change.

Talk as much shit as you want about millennials, but if it were up to them, we wouldn’t be living through the shitshow that is the Donald “con man” Trump presidency. Instead, it would’ve been a total and complete HRC Electoral College ass whooping.

Although, I feel fairly certain that had Clinton won, this particular version of the Republican party would’ve made that pretty terrible as well. They would have called into question her legitimacy, threatening impeachment, holding more Benghazi hearings, and would’ve pushed that Trump nonsense that the whole election was rigged. Yes, Trump is absolutely terrible all on his own, but today’s Republicans in general do not give a shit about democracy. And the Freedom Caucus? Oh don’t get me started…

If it were up to the millennials, we wouldn’t be talking about building really expensive walls or pushing through really expensive tax cuts for really rich corporations or really rich billionaires.

Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs. — Barack Obama

Good to know Barack is on board.

If you ask me, looking at the people who have been president since I’ve been an eligible voter, I’d say Mr. Obama represents the best in us (thoughtful, optimistic, worldly, wicked fade-away jump shot). Mr. Trump represents the worst (sexist, racist, lazy, doesn’t read, lies constantly, shows only contempt for democracy, only concerned with building his brand), with George W. Bush the most incompetent (ongoing debacle of the Iraq War, bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, etc.) and Bill Clinton the most conflicted (assault weapons ban but also bank deregulation, largest budget surplus and booming economy but also given his past treatment of women is now, for good reason, politically toxic).

As power in America has been transferred from one president to the next, we’re told all the while that the American Dream will continue to be passed along as well. I for one am ready to call bullshit on that entire idea.

To the high school students who will soon be adults, I’m sorry. I have no idea why college is so expensive, why we don’t have universal health care, why we don’t want you to vote, or why we have so many school shootings. We don’t need an old dream, we need a new reality.

Hey There, Culture War

As Joy Reid put it on Twitter, recognize that all this gun back-and-forth is in essence a culture war: youth culture, popular culture and the culture of normalcy vs the paranoid, angry, extremist gun culture.

The culture wars are something I’ve written about before. As of now, I’m thinking I’ll continue to do so in an ongoing series titled What the Fuck America (title still under consideration). Focused not so much on a Democrat vs. Republican worldview. More of an everything you’re scared of is what I stand for type of thing.

Not all that long ago, it seemed like fantasy to think we could be at this stage where our culture is saying in one booming voice that we do not value guns at any cost. The view that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is increasingly seen as toxic. Many, many, many thanks to the youth!

We’re living through the reckoning of a culture that’s still toxic in many ways. We are, thanks to non-baby boomers leading the way, putting a stake in the ground. Gun violence is NOT acceptable, sexual harassment is NOT acceptable, deporting our friends and neighbors is NOT acceptable, people not having health care coverage is NOT acceptable, police killing black men and boys is NOT acceptable, leaving the poor out in the streets is NOT acceptable, teachers being underpaid and undervalued is NOT acceptable, living by cancer-causing industrial plants is NOT acceptable, denying climate change is NOT acceptable, giving huge tax cuts to really rich people and then saying we can’t afford government services is NOT acceptable, and on and on and on.

To paraphrase the great Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, when the youth are confronted with the ill effects of big business monopolizing, commodifying, and owning everything we hold dear, what are the youth to do? We are, of course, to destroy the bogus capitalist process that has set out to destroy our culture.

And the country’s values continue to come into stark relief.

The Fools, the Kooks, and the Crybabys

The right-wing nonsense factory in America is a powerful foe to the efforts combating our culture’s toxicity. They love guns, hate progressives, and are afraid of everything cool. (Especially everything Kendrick Lamar is involved with.) The right-wing nonsense factory peddles distortion and embraces conspiracy, catering to the white 55+ crowd, exploiting anger and resentment where possible, inventing anger and resentment when needed.

This nonsense factory produces some pretty ridiculous statements by people under its spell. Recently, I was told that Barack Obama tried to divide us all because he’s a Muslim, and that Fox News is the only news there is. To those in the factory’s thrall, the kooky conspiracy theories spewed out by the likes of Sean Hannity aren’t kooky conspiracy theories at all but some really concerning issues facing the nation. Like that the government is coming for all your guns. And something about Uranium One and Pizzagate.

The people in my life who are Fox News baby boomers like to ignore a lot about a lot. Global warming? No reaction. Confronted with a 98-percent consensus among scientists that global warming is a major issue, still nothing, which strikes me as more than a little foolhardy. As does the belief that tax cuts for the wealthy, that have never ever trickled down, will somehow, magically, make these baby boomers rich in the not-too-distant future.

The New York Times? Fake news. Racism? Whatabout racism against white people? Political correctness? Ruining America. Which leads us to my new favorite term: Crybaby Boomer.

The Crybaby Boomer I’ve recently discovered thanks to The Outline. It seems to explain a lot: someone who continually votes for people who have made the country sicker, less educated, more divided, more dangerous, and poorer but whose feelings get hurt AF when confronted with these facts. Crybaby Boomers are also condescending AF when people of younger generations try to do anything that fixes the mess we’re all in, in most cases, thanks to the boomers.

Growing up we didn’t wanna be like them
It was tough to know who were our friends
Killing time playing basements way back when
In a lot of ways nothing’s changed from now and then
Some say they have been let down
I wonder why they still hang around
I wonder where all these good things could be
Then I realized that somehow I found them in me
We’re gonna play no matter what they say
We’re gonna play no matter what they say
We’re gonna play no matter what they say
We’re gonna play no matter what they say

The Freaks, Nerds, and Romantics
The Bouncing Souls, 1995

To one degree or another, aren’t we all a freak, nerd, or romantic? Most likely, some combination of all three. I know I certainly was in high school and then in college and now as a Gen X adult.

And we all know who they are in that rousing sing-along outtro. It’s the adults. The naysayers, the assholes, and the people we all generally understand to be “in charge.” The people who are scared of free college and health care for everyone, immigrants and multiculturalism, gay people getting married and women in charge. And, of course, gun control.

PS We Call BS

The rallying cry heard from a teenager, now with 1.36 million Twitter followers, after a horrific shooting in her high school captures so much of our current moment. The We Call BS refrain speaks not only to gun violence but to everything else our current toxic culture has shoved in our faces: Muslim bans and border walls and sexual assault and lying and cheating and stealing. On all of it, WE CALL BS.

As a rallying cry, the power of those few words can be felt in the souls of the part of the population who feels absolutely at a loss for where we’re currently at with the American Dream.

If at some point, the baby boomers are finally ready to hand the American Dream down to us, I don’t think we want it. At least not their version of it.

Parkland, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine. To the mass shootings of terror, we say no more, confiscate the guns.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran. To the Middle East imperial adventures for blood and oil, we say no more, peace through cooperation.

Capitalism, corporate tax breaks, welfare for the rich. To the gatekeeping of opportunity, we say no more, tax the rich to pay for health care, education, paid family leave, an increased minimum wage, solar power investment, police accountability, lead-free pipes, and comfortable living standards for all those baby boomers who are moving into their twilight years, because yes, we do still love them.

And to all the freaks, nerds, romantics, dreamers, millennials, immigrants, citizens, students, teachers, workers, keep your head up. Keep fighting the good fight.

And never forget, we are gonna play no matter what they say. Our new American Dream is now.