The American Spring
The system will ignore the wrath of young, debt-ridden and disenfranchised voters at its own peril.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Enraged young people, The New York Times worries aloud, are kicking off the dust of phony democracy, in which “the job of a citizen was limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote” while decision-making remains in the claws of a rarified elite of overpaid corporate executives and their corrupt pet politicians.
The rage of the young is real, and it’s just beginning to play out. The political class thinks it can ignore the people it purports to represent. They’re right – but not forever. A reckoning is at hand.
Americans’ pent-up demand for a forum to express their disgust is so vast that they are embracing slapdash movements like Occupy Wall Street, which reverses the traditional tactic of organizing for a demonstration. People are protesting first, then organizing, then coming up with demands. They have no other choice. With no organized Left in the U.S., disaffected people are being forced to build resistance from the ground up.
Who can blame young adults for rejecting the system? The political issue people care most about – jobs and the economy – prompts no real action from the political elite. Even their lip service is half-assed. Liberals know “green jobs” can’t replace 14 million lost jobs; conservatives aren’t stupid enough to think tax cuts for the rich will help them pay this month’s bills.
Here in the United States, no one should be surprised that young adults are among the nation’s angriest and most alienated citizens. No other group has been as systematically ignored by the mainstream political class. What’s shocking is it took so long for them to take to the streets.
Every other age groups get government benefits. The elderly get a prescription drug plan. Even Republicans who want to slash Medicaid and Medicare take pains to promise seniors that their benefits will be grandfathered in. Kids get taken care of too. They get free public education.
Young adults get debt.
The troubles of young adults get no play in Washington. Pundits don’t bother to debate issues that concerns people in their 20s and 30s. Eighty percent of recent college graduates, staggering under soaring student loan debt, are moving home after graduation, according to The Baltimore Sun – and no one even pretends to care. Young Americans tell pollsters that their top concerns are divorce, which leaves kids impoverished, and global warming. Like jobs, these issues aren’t on anyone’s agenda.
Un – and underemployment, the insanity of a job market that requires kids to take out mortgage-sized college loans just to be considered for a low-paid entry-level gig in a cube farm, and the financial and emotional toll of disintegrating families has left many Americans feeling resentful. Young adults turned out big for Obama in 2008, but he didn’t deliver for them. They noticed: The One’s approval rating has plunged from 75 percent among voters ages 18-29 when he took office in January 2009 to 45 percent in September.
The entire economic, social and political order faces collapse. Young people may choose revolution rather than poverty in a state dedicated to feeding the bank accounts of the superrich.
In February, Martin Wolf theorized in The Financial Times the Arab Spring rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia owed their success to demographics; those countries have more young people than old ones. On the other hand, the “middle-aged and elderly rig political and economic life for their benefit.”
Right here and right now, the young and the old are on the same side: Both are getting screwed, though the young are getting screwed the hardest.
And with unemployment at an all-time high, the young have a lot of free time to rise up.
Ted Rall’s most recent book is Wake Up, You’re Liberal! How We Can Take America Back from the Right (Soft Skull Press).