The Observer’s weekly column in the November 17 2016 CE edition of the Arkansas Times
Dear young people,
You’re probably not reading this. Not many of you, anyway, because you don’t read newspapers anymore. You get your news from the Twitter or the Facebook or some website I’m too old to have even heard of yet. But I have something I want to say to any young person who might be reading this.
I’m sorry we stood by while your generation’s hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
I’m sorry I scoffed at the Occupy movement, when all you were doing was trying to fix some of the inequality that led to a country where tens of millions of people came to think that throwing in with the preferred candidate of David Duke and burning down the casino was the only way to share their pain with the people in thousand dollar suits at the blackjack tables.
I’m sorry I said Bernie Sanders was a cantankerous old crank with no shot, and that your support of him was proof you didn’t understand how politics works. It’s clear that you understood it better than almost anybody.
I’m sorry that I tut-tutted about the Black Lives Matter movement and their tactics, when all they wanted to do was point out that this country, even after eight years of a black president, was still shot through with murderous racial resentment.
I’m sorry that the country that once saved the world for democracy has voted to turn over the keys to the White House and our $600 billion per year military to a man who couldn’t be more of the textbook definition of an authoritarian if a supervillain cloned Benito Mussolini in a secret lab.
Sidenote to that last: I would invite any of the Republican grayheads chuckling at Chicken Little right now to watch the coverage of the inauguration on Jan. 20 very closely. The Observer has been to a presidential inauguration before, and I can tell you from experience that the National Mall is kind of a free for all, where you can wear or do anything you like within the bounds of free speech. And on Inauguration Day, when you turn on your television in Smackover or Bentonville or Cabot and see neo-Nazis Seig Heiling in the crowd, not 10 blocks from the National World War II Memorial, I want you and the salt of the earth people of Arkansas who voted for this man because you wanted to piss off liberals and “shake things up in Washington” to understand what kind of scum you are in bed with now. But I digress.
This morning, Spouse — my best friend, who has been my rock of love and rationality and optimism for over 20 years — came to me with fear in her eyes and said: “Please don’t say anything on Facebook that gets you on a government watch list of some kind. You probably already will be. But just be careful, OK?” In America. That statement was spoken in the United States of America. That is where we are now. That’s the kind of beasts that have been loosed from chaos, to stalk the land. The day after the election, my son — who is 16, and who has never seen his old man cry, ever, because being a good father or mother is about being The Strong One — came into my bedroom to find me standing in the door of my closet, my eyes full of hot tears. Not because I was sad about Team Democrat losing a goddamn election, but because as I got my shirt down from the closet, I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass and Harvey Milk and Martin Luther King Jr. and the unknown man who died fighting fascism who lays with his brothers in their stately tomb at Arlington, forever guarded. I started thinking about how this country has, for the moment, let them all down. How we have let you down, my friend.
But I want you to know that the night after Junior found his father there in my despair, he came to his mother and said that he had decided to go to law school. Now he wants to be a civil rights attorney and fight for those who have no voice. On Friday night, the kid who normally doesn’t leave the house unless he’s promised tacos insisted we go to the protest at the state Capitol. That is what his father apparently purchased with his tears. No more memes or hashtags. No more pointless arguing on social media. He has his boots on and his shield up. He is ready to fight the dragon. I hope you are, too.
I was wrong and you were right, young people. I see that now, and millions of other people do as well, and I think I speak for a lot of them when I say: I am profoundly and deeply sorry. If I don’t miss my guess, the next four years and maybe more are going to be terrible. But I want you to know that time is on your side, and I am proud of you. I also want you to know I’m off the bench and want to work to fix it. Not with you as foot soldiers or water carriers, but out front and in the lead. We can do this together. My hair is gray and my feet hurt, but I’m ready. And if you will stand, my friend, I will stand with you. Whatever comes.
A fellow American