Major Vidkun Quisling was a bad guy. Norwegian by birth, during World War II as Nazi Germany invaded his homeland, he betrayed his fellow citizens and switched sides to become the leader of a pro-Nazi puppet government to oversee Norway for Hitler until the Nazi regime fell in 1945, after which he was sentenced to death by his countrymen and executed by firing squad in Oslo. Posthumously, he became infamous. “Quisling” (yes, an eponym) has come to mean a traitor or collaborator who assists an occupying force to the detriment of their country. Today in America, we have about 75 million quislings.
The FBI identifies domestic terrorism as the principal threat on their radar to the safety and security of Americans, also known as angry white men with guns. Even while Tucker Carlson, et al wring their hands at the prospect of al-Qaeda rising from the ashes of Afghanistan to attack the United States again, the reality of the moment is that Jihadists are no match for our own domestic terrorists. Yet, this form of American quisling, while grabbing bloody headlines, doesn’t contribute significantly to the 75 million quisling tally.
There is a more insidious and more pervasive threat that no politician (save Biden’s attempts) will directly confront in America today: the roughly one-quarter of Americans who refuse to comply with masking and vaccines. They don’t carry guns (at least not only guns); they carry the SARS CoV-2 virus and play host to future variants. Their breath, while not as intimidating as an assault rifle, can be just as lethal. They are conspiring (wittingly or not) with an even bigger enemy of our health and safety: Covid-19 disease. Aiding and abetting the enemy that is the pandemic, they comprise the vast majority of America’s quislings. They are the much larger threat to America.
However, as maddening as it is to watch American Covid quislings put the rest of us (especially children) at risk, it is time to let them go; to ignore them as if they were invisible. There is an old rule in strategic planning that has served me well, both in my professional and personal life. The shorthand version is “that if it doesn’t respond to intelligence, discard and move on.” “It” in this case can be a person, company, organization, investment opportunity, or any other entity that does not respond in a reasonable and timely fashion to the truth or, more broadly, intelligence. American Covid quislings qualify. They have proven that they do not respond to intelligence. So, set aside your anger and/or empathy (if you have any of that left). Do not continue your efforts to persuade them, nor fight them, nor appease them. It’s time to apply our time, energy and resources to saving the future for the rest of us.
The epidemiologists I follow suggest will be living with Covid-19 and its many variants for years. Our best hope is to wrestle it into a manageable public health risk like seasonal influenza. That said, I have also learned of mRNA concoctions—currently being developed—that could wipe out all coronaviruses within about five years. That includes everything from Covid to the common cold. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I want to bend the ear of my readers over 45 years of age and suggest that we individually and collectively do everything we can to help younger generations achieve their dreams, the same way our parents and grandparents did for us.
My concern today is less for the physical health effects Covid has wrought than it is for the mental health effects that are just now emerging in the psyche of Americans. Losing the future is completely unacceptable and, currently, that is where we are headed. As one who has spent decades involved with the complexities of strategic planning, Covid is the biggest Joker-in-the-deck I have ever seen. It has proven to be so pervasive and significant in its effects that there is no such thing as long-, or even mid-, term planning. What we are left with is rising every day and reacting to the flames at our feet. The effects of this condition include a loss of control that manifests, ultimately, as hopelessness. Our psychological well-being, which is the core of the American spirit, is at risk of collapse.
If you belong to the Boomer generation, or are a member of Generation X, the country and the world was handed to you on a silver platter. We are lottery winners who had the good fortune of being born at the right time and place. Most of us have done very well. Those who didn’t probably can’t point their finger at many culprits besides themselves. We benefited mightily from America’s ascension to superpower status after Word War II and, subsequently, the rise of the digital age and all of its benefits and opportunities. Yes, we can gripe about our trophy-kid millennials and selfie-driven Gen Z-ers. But, remember this: we raised them.
For someone my age, who is on a (hopefully) gentle downslope coast to the finish line, I must accept that my impact on the future is limited and, frankly, less relevant than a twenty- or thirty-year-old. My contributions to the world have largely been realized. I can coast in the present moment with my Calm app in hand. It’s the younger people I am concerned about. They deserve our encouragement, support, and consideration. Rather than beat our heads against a wall of anger and ignorance behind which the American Covid quislings fester, we need to be there for the three-quarters who are trying to do everything right. Who, but for Covid, would be blazing a trail of success through their own creativity and hard work. Those still in school or just starting out. Those whose canvas still has plenty of white space upon which to paint. Those who are the promise rather than the past.
It is incumbent upon the rest of us with a bit (or a lot) of gray in our hair to assure we lift up our younger Americans. Sure, we may have been ridiculed by older generations rather than lifted up, but we arrived on the scene under very different circumstances. That silver platter was polished to a high gloss before we arrived. The world as it exists now is our doing, and we have failed to deliver it as ripe with the promise of opportunity as the one our parents and grandparents left us. Rectifying this deficit will be difficult, but not impossible. What we must do with the years we have left is to save the future for those who still have one.
All we need to do is ask the question—often and sincerely—is their anything I can do for you to help you achieve your goals—your dreams? Then, follow through. It doesn’t take much: a hand up, a boost, a shoulder to lean on, a piece of wisdom here or there to get them past the challenges of the day. They want to succeed on their own terms much the same as we did. And, as much as you may like hanging out with your peers, helping younger folks may just lift you up too.
Saving the future is not just for those who will live it; it is for those of us who have already had one.