The Broken American Dream

Millennials are the first generation in living memory to on the whole do worse than the previous generation. America has broken its implicit promise to an entire generation who were told to do well in school, graduate from the best schools, be a good person, and that we would see professional success similar to that found by our parents. So many Millennials have done everything right and have ended up with husbands, wives, and children back in their childhood homes. The topsy-turvy nature of our frustrated lives have driven angry voters to the polls in the vain hope that the identification of a false external scapegoat (be it free trade, immigrants, or any other false pariah) could fix our hedonistic, materialistic, short sighted economic and political philosophies. The populist backlash against the status quo, manifest most clearly in the rise of extremist philosophies on both sides of the political spectrum, is not unreasonable when viewed through the lens of the failure to launch that is endemic to an entire generation including even the most wealthy, well-educated, suburban elite.

Many across our nation feel angry, frustrated, and betrayed. We cannot get ahead no matter what we do. Millennials are sick of waiting for permission to start our lives, delaying marriage, families, and home purchases until our financial situation stabilizes. We are sick of fulfilling our end of the implicit bargain we each have made with America: if we work hard, are honest, do the right thing even when no one is looking, and try to serve others then we will be taken care of. This is too often a false promise to too many Americans. I'm angry and so are the masses around the globe.

I believe Americans are ready and willing to engage in public service in the name of our nation, humanity, and in the name of naked self-interest in the pursuit of fulfilling lives, which is precisely what public service should be about. Millennials as a generation tend to be more interested in service and in working towards fulfilling missions than prior generations though service as an appealing and respected vocation has fallen from the pedestal upon it was placed by Jack Kennedy and LBJ’s subsequent Great Society movement.

Greed is too often placed upon our societal pedestal. Financial success too often is equivocated with success more broadly speaking. Democracy is too often placed on the auction block, for sale to the highest bidder. Money is our chosen metric and the almighty dollar our God. We sell our souls and our elections to the highest bidder. We teach our young not to pity the selfish but to emulate them. What message are we sending to future generations as we pollute our Earth, consume our resources, and leave our vulnerable to fend for themselves?

We teach each other to take not to give. But then what is to come of a society founded upon taking? And what might become of us if we were to inspire each other to give? What if we venerated the director of the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter more than reality TV stars? What if our heroes were quotidian and their missions achievable and able to be emulated? We would create a national community built upon solidarity and mutual reliance. We would be less lonely, less socially isolated, less alienated. The key to reducing mass shootings isn't as much reliant upon stricter gun control (though that would help) as it is upon ameliorating the pain that drives mass shooters to their suicidal and homicidal ends. What if those shooters had felt connected to and valued by their community? Where would violent gang recruitment efforts for MS-13 be if we each took ownership of our neighbors’ welfare? What if poor kids didn't feel as though they needed protection? What if they had an opportunity to belong to something larger than themselves that was productive and may even result in financial and emotional independence with a regular paycheck? Where would ISIS be with their recruitment efforts if minority views, religions, and diverse ethnicities had an opportunity to feel part of our national conversation; if they felt heard? How long must we continue shouting past each other? When will we realize that it's more important to be engaged in dialogue than to win an argument? As the old adage says, no one cares how much we know (or how right we are) until they know how much we care.

That is why we need Congress to enact a national service plan that guarantees that every American has an opportunity to serve their own community, learn valuable skills, and become part of a larger narrative all without ever picking up a gun and joining the military. Such a guaranteed issue plan is currently being considered by a congressionally chartered National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service though Congress has yet to appropriate an adequate funding for public service to be a guaranteed issue opportunity for everyone. We need funding for a national umbrella organization that will allow every American to serve whether that service be in schools, nursing homes, engineering firms engaged in strengthening our infrastructure, homeless shelters, theaters, or anywhere else where future generations of Americans can find inspiration, value, and appreciation for their willingness to serve. Such service opportunities will help redefine success for the Millennial generation and will provide a pathway to independence through real career building experience that is designed to benefit both society and the service member. Ultimately we must ask ourselves, if we will not stand for each other then what do we stand for?