Growing up as a member of the Millennial generation is tough. Not tough in the sense of grit, but in the sense of not knowing our place in America.
The Millennial generation, or the “me” generation, has been labeled as lazy and selfish, but has also been labeled as educated and philanthropic. A strange dynamic to be labeled as competing stereotypes, and it adds to the confusion about our generation.
Every generation alive today has a distinct defining moment. The Greatest Generation stopped the advance of the Nazis in World War II. The Silent Generation created traditional American values still popular today. The Baby Boomer Generation created Rock & Roll, the Civil Rights movement, and were the first generation to grow up with television. Generation X largely dominated, and still dominates, the “start up” field that created technology like Google and YouTube.
While the Millennial generation is responsible for world changing technologies like Facebook and Uber, something is still missing from this generation, specifically, the sense of what it is to be an American.
I believe the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, predicted perfectly what has happened to this generation in his farewell speech in 1989: “Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.”
The Millennial generation is the generation President Reagan was speaking of, and it is true, this generation was taught by many parents that America, while unique, is not special or greater than other countries. In fact, even the popular culture has turned being an American into something that is to be ashamed of.
Millions of Americans have seen The Newsroom’s “America is not the greatest country in the world” speech through HBO, Facebook, or YouTube. Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) makes some excellent points. Many countries have followed in the American experiment’s footsteps and now have freedom, which is no longer unique to America. However, we are deficient in many categories compared to other nations who followed us like education and science, but McAvoy follows up his bashing of America with memories of past generations and their great deeds.
“We stood up for what was right…We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors…We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy…We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.”
Before the show The Newsroom, President Reagan also advocated for an ‘informed patriotism’ in his farewell speech. “So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important-why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant…If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”
The rhetoric nineties children grew up with, that America is not unique, coupled with the lack of American history and civic duty, has started the revolution of blotting out certain parts of our history, good or bad.
Censoring speech on college campuses, tearing down confederate monuments, discriminating against certain religions, are all examples of us trying to forget where we came from. It is my hope that this ‘informed patriotism’ can return to the Millennial Generation along with new revered journalists, like the great ones of the past.
The Millennial generation, and generations that come after, will be shaped by the current practices of today’s politics, but in the end, being an American means being informed, and always will be. It is what we all should strive for this Fourth of July.
One of the final memorable quotes from Ronald Reagan’s farwell address is that “all great change in America starts at the dinner table.” I encourage all Americans, whether it be with family or friends, to speak to one another this Independence Day on what it is to be an American. “It would be a very American thing to do.”