by Willem Lange
EAST MONTPELIER – Living alone as I do, with relatively few opportunities for conversation (I couldn’t help but notice, for instance, how little my life changed during the early COVID lockdown), I tend to chat with my household appliances and cars. They rarely answer. I also take note of phenomena that to others might seem trivial: how many seconds it takes my microwave to perform one rotation (eleven seconds, which means that if I put in a cup of coffee to warm up and push a double number, like 77, the handle of the cup will end up in its original position); the percentage of times my clothes dryer leaves my undershorts inside out, and the possible relation of that figure to the phase of the moon (results so far inconclusive); and whether watching the Patriots play has an effect on their performance (they’re on their own this year. I’ve stopped watching).
This sort of apparent obsessive-compulsive attention to trivia might be considered a precursor to insanity (as no doubt it was not long ago), but it does populate my personal space quite pleasantly. The week just past, leading up to the national, state, and local elections, produced a phenomenon that I chose to think of as a good omen: the first four eggs in my current box of jumbos (I get them because it takes only one to make an omelet that, by the time I finish adding to the mix, is justifiably called “Would You Like Egg with That?”) were all double-yolked. Could this mean, I wondered as I listened to the television pundits going on and on about the impending tsunami of red votes and the end of democracy, that they’re wrong?
Whether the eggs portended anything or not, the chattering class was wrong. The red tide fizzled, and, among my acquaintances and friends, at least, there were broad smiles of relief. Alternatives to the two presumptive presidential candidates have emerged. The eggs may have been right, but here we go again.
The most encouraging thing to me – beyond the relief that the ship of state is probably good for another two years and that the voters in large numbers, apparently, have “spoken” – is the arrival on the scene of the first so-called Generation Z member. Maxwell Alejandro Frost – Afro-Cuban and of the minimum age (25) to serve in Congress – was elected to represent the Tenth Congressional District of Florida. Fittingly, he campaigned on issues most important to his similarly youthful constituents: climate change, abortion rights, gun violence, and Medicare for everyone. At the moment he’s only a chip washed up on the shore and not at all a threat to the ponderous institution of the House of Representatives. But how I wish I could whisper in the poobahs’ ears, “Here they come!” I suspect, however, they know that already.
Just as many military officers, directing operations, appear to be fighting their last war instead of the one in front of them, so, too, do many members of Congress seem to fail to accommodate the prodigious changes in American society triggered by the Vietnam War, the collapse of faith in government authority, and the availability of modern birth control. People once without voices have become vocal in their demands for the rights and privileges currently available to the wealthy and connected. An old white guy like me can only imagine the outrage a young woman, for example, must feel when a bunch of old (usually all white) guys in dark suits soberly declares what she considers her right to bodily autonomy an illegal abomination. It must be intense, and I doubt it’ll go away. Don’t those old guys see it coming?
In response to the “youth” turnout in the election still being counted or run off, current legislators at both ends of the spectrum have suggested lowering the legal voting age to sixteen or raising it to pick-a-number. One argues that, since young people have such an increasingly large stake in new legislation, they should have a voice in its creation. The other suggests that young folks are too green, too innocent of the important lessons of adult life, and can’t be trusted with such a sacred thing as the franchise – as if those who’ve had it for decades have done such a wonderful job with it.
The notion that “the younger generation” will be the ruin of civilization is as old as at least the ancient Greeks. It’s still alive and well in the entries on Facebook. Many of the (thankfully brief) statements claiming the kids can’t be trusted are written in English that would flunk any kid in fourth grade. They ignore the fact that the Generation Zers have dodged semi-automatic weapons fire in their classrooms and wept over the maimed bodies of their classmates. Or if they’re as naughty as their parents or grandparents once were, there may be no legal way out of their predicament – unless, apparently, you’re a congressperson.
One elderly woman on Facebook took pleasure in that she could “read a clock with hands and add a column of figures.” (She was, of course, implicitly putting down the cellphone generation.) Very nice, I thought. I can do it, too. But who does that anymore? Each generation learns and does what it must to get along in its own time. The coming generation of lawmakers will be, I earnestly hope, less focused on their own reelections than solving problems complicated by powerful lobbying interests. They might even do the unthinkable, and enact at least part of my list: term limits, guaranteed annual income, Medicare for everyone (like our civilized neighbor countries, and including themselves), congressional pension reform, and control or elimination of personal weapons designed primarily to kill and maim human beings. I could go on, but they’ll have enough on their agenda for a few years, just cleaning the cobwebs out of the closets.
I wish them all the luck in the world. They’ll need it. We oldsters can help that luck happen by not only getting out of the way, but by welcoming the fresh energy they’ll bring. Be assured of one thing: They’re coming! I often remind people who post nasty things about them on the internet to be kinder to them; to remember how short are the years of our active adulthood; to consider that the kids we’re refusing to rescue from the fear of death will in hardly any time at all be wheeling us around and changing our diapers.