The Fourth Founding of America: a Plea to Gen Z
Biden’s State of the Union address this year was like watching a bad adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play, CATS. Yes, Joe did an exceptional job of playing cat-herder-in-chief in the pit of feral felines who seemed confused throughout the performance as to whether they should fawn, preen, or claw in response to his many entreaties. Marjorie Taylor Greene purred in her white Persian kittycat costume, but cuddly she was not. She hissed and pounced and clawed at every opportunity. As a cast, the mostly old tired politicians—both toms and queens—appeared either bloated by catnip or suffering from frequent regurgitation of hairballs, or both. Yes, as most pundits concur, Biden won, even while I struggle to understand exactly what he won. Savior of democracy (and Democrats) or modern-day Saint Sebastian, only time will tell. The entire litter box last Tuesday evening constituted exhibit #1 in making the case for what America needs most.
America needs a reboot.
Unsettled is an understated term to describe the way most Americans feel after years of Trumpian dystopic vandalism and a global pandemic that compromised any and every anchor of continuity and security we have enjoyed since we emerged from the Great Depression and World War II. So much damage has been done, the toll of which we may not know for years. After the Great Depression and World War II, we declared victory and moved on swaddled in the presumption of prowess; the confidence of the victorious. I am unsure we even know what victory looks like, today.
Americans are just plain worn out. We are tired of being afraid and angry. We are tired of being lied to. We are tired of being treated as if we are stupid. We are tired of watching the slow but certain normalization of inequity and injustice. We are tired of enduring the abuse of our environment sanctioned by people who know better, but whose craven desire for power and money remains unbridled. Perhaps most of all, we are tired of having the promise of America established at our first founding—the right of self-determination—be trampled on by all three branches of our federal government, but especially and most egregiously by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The first thing we must accept is that the cast of characters we call our national leaders—the pit of feral felines we were forced to watch this week—will never affect the reboot we need. The truth is both Republicans and Democrats have it half right. The Republicans want to tear our government down, while the Democrats want to make it work—bigger and better. The solution lies in the middle: a government repurposed and reimagined to serve Americans again and regain our footing on the world stage. But neither side can find a way to do business with the other. Sadly, many were elected with the mandate to assure nothing gets done. At best, they may be forced into compliance if we are successful at asserting our will as the American people, which is exactly what we must do.
Fortunately, the change that is required does not include a dramatic upheaval that will create more chaos and disruption in our lives. What is required is a thoughtful and deliberate dismantling and reconstruction of our norms and institutions instigated from the ground up. We must begin by recognizing we have, to echo the words of Thomas Paine, the power to begin America again. To gracefully and conscientiously affect a fourth founding of America.
Yes, we have re-founded America before. We do so after every period of crisis. The first founding that we all acknowledge followed the American Revolutionary War. The second founding followed the Civil War, and the third founding followed the Great Depression and World War II. In each of these periods we re-booted America. We stripped the house of America back down to its foundation and structural bones, and we re-designed then rebuilt it to meet the needs of the next several decades. In fact, we do this about every eighty years. Like the second and third founding, the fourth founding will not be nearly as dramatic as the first, nor will it become the fodder for fable and folklore. And, it will most definitely not be led by people of my age or older. The people who should lead this fourth founding are known as Gen Z, and perhaps the few millennials who remain unaffected by entitled dispositions and who retain a healthy sense of agency and responsibility.
The process is fairly simple: assume nothing and question everything. Most importantly, come forward with constructive recommendations for the America you want to design, build, and pass on to your own children. Start locally with town councils and school boards, and move up the ladder from there. Ignore for the moment the noise from Washington D.C. They are well on their way to establishing their own irrelevance. Tame that monster by starving it of attention. They barely have more substance than the air inside a Chinese spy balloon. At any and every opportunity, act to affect the return of authority and financial resources to the local level. To be fair, over the last seventy-five years we have pushed way too much authority and responsibility up to our federal government, it is time to pull much of it back down to the state and local level. We should also carefully consider what public goods should return to the realm of private enterprise. Remember, the power resides in the people from which financial resources also emanate.
Let me be clear to our young adults: you are those people; you have the power!
This is a once-every-eighty-years opportunity. Pursue it with a sense of calm determination. There is no reason to yell or scream like a backbench congresskitty. You don’t even need to march, or be tear-gassed, or be locked up. And, no, TikTok performative activism doesn’t count. You must show up, sign up, and step up. You must act. At neighborhood and town or county meetings. Later, state caucuses. Eventually, as congresspersons, senators, judges, justices, and presidents. Your future is in your hands, which is an unusual and huge opportunity. Few generations get this opportunity. Don’t squander it. Assert yourself. Seize the day. Take control of your destiny.
America’s fourth founding is up to you.