Your Grandchildren, the Millennials, are Watching American Politics Unfold

My grandson, Aiden, is one of the Millennials, just turning nineteen today. He is perched on the arm of a chair in the front room, his long legs reaching halfway across the carpet, blond hair punked in a short cut, a shadow of a beard on his chin. He takes his eyes away from his iphone momentarily, and asks me,

“Gramma, what do you think is going to happen?”

“About what?” I ask.

“About what’s going on now, across America, across the world.”

I feel a little twinge in my chest, something that always happens when I know I have to dig deep and find a difficult truth that needs to be spoken. Here is my grandson, who I have watched grow and turn into a beautiful young man, with his whole life ahead of him, having worries no young person should have. We grandparents, like their parents, always want to say to the young people in our lives, “You are safe”.

This, I know, has led to the ugly descriptions of Millennials, deemed to be over-protected, weak, selfish, undisciplined, oblivious, lazy, thin-skinned, spoiled, and most offensive of all, “fragile snowflakes”. I choke with frustration and anger when I find these words online and in the media. My eyes sting with tears of injustice and rage.
We might think they are self-absorbed, having trivial conversations with their friends, exchanging snapchat jokes and images, taking selfies, but they are actually doing something else:

Today, only two weeks into America’s confusing presidency, they are as anxious as we are. Because their phones are constantly with them, they check for news obsessively, aware of every political twist and turn. There is no escape.

But I can’t go there now—Aiden is looking at me expectantly, his eyes full of concern.

I swallow, and try to give him a few wise words, something to reassure him. In a moment of inspiration, I recall an article by Michelle Maltais in the LA Times, and paraphrase:

“We are Canadians,” I tell him. “And Canada is a democracy. We believe democracy is the best and finest form of government, but because everyone can participate, it gets messy, it’s not perfect.

America is a democracy too, usually civil and fair, but over the past few months, something changed. A veil was pulled away, and what we saw underneath were some human values that are normally hidden, but apparently always there—misogeney, xenophobia and racial hatred.”

I pause, as Aiden quickly googles misogeney and xenophobia.

“And somehow,” I continue, “A candidate for president, who has many undesirable characteristics, like vulgarity and bullying behavior. seemed to come out of nowhere and caught people unawares. He was clever, and used the media and people’s worst tendencies to get elected. So we are stuck with this for the next four years, living next to this monster.”

“But listen,” I tell him, “It doesn’t have to stay that way. It can change, and it will. But for now, this is what you need to know:

1. In America, as in Canada, everyone over eighteen gets a vote, it’s their voice, their chance to speak up. but if their choice didn’t win, they have to honor the results of the election. There is always a peaceful transfer of power. So no matter who becomes president, and no matter how much some citizens don’t like them, they must respect the office of the presidency.

2. Americans have always shown they respect this transfer of power. Even when most of the people seem to believe in things they can’t stand, they try to remember that half of the country feels the other way, and they try to respect that.

3. Most Americans know they can’t just quit and go on with their lives when it gets hard. They have a responsibility to participate. They have to check in and watch how the new government they hate governs their country. They have to stand together and work to make things better for all of them.”

“All of those protests, then, you think they are working?” Aiden asks.

“That brings me to my last point,” I say, “And this is the most important thing they have to do:

4. They have to stay in the know, and they have to speak up. They need to say what they believe out loud, and they have to take those beliefs out in the media and in the street so everyone can hear them and join in.
Because this is what Canada and America are—democracies. And democracies like ours are fluid, always changing and adapting and trying to be better. ”

I take a breath, and watch Aiden take this in.

“I know you admired President Obama. when he was in office,” I say, “Remember what he said on the morning after the election: The sun will rise in the morning.  And I like to think, just as he was getting ready to leave, that he added, ‘Now it’s morning in America.'”

“Cool,” Aiden says, as he reaches out and taps my shoulder. Then he gives me that smile that has melted my heart for nineteen years, and walks away.

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33 Responses to Your Grandchildren, the Millennials, are Watching American Politics Unfold

  1. Rummuser says:

    Great response from you and your grandson.

    Apart from the entire North and South American continent, the entire world is watching what is happening in the USA. There are other things happening in other parts of the world which are as interesting to an observer like me. My response when asked for a comment, “We live in interesting times.”

    • I could do with less excitement, couldn’t you, Rummuser? Waking up every morning, and listening to the news along with my morning coffee has become a habit, and doesn’t do much for my blood pressure! But I do want to be informed, and these days, being ‘in the know’ requires a steady diet of the news, I’m afraid.

  2. The short attention span of the millenials that I know personally is unsettling, and makes communication difficult. The millenials I know talk down to me, and they do not ask my opinion. I don’t know any millenials like your Grandson, lucky you!

    • I had to consciously work on having an open mind regarding Millennials. I had an opportunity to be with several young people this summer, at a family reunion, and have to admit I was confused by them. So I read, and listened, and talked to other grandparents, and I think now I understand. They have been raised in an entirely different context, with many new challenges, and requirements for survival in a difficult world—so it’s not wonder they are different!

  3. Janis says:

    Although I mean to imply absolutely no comparison to Trump, your previous PM was quite conservative and polarizing, wasn’t he? I find that oddly comforting since the switch to Trudeau illustrates how the pendulum can swing from one election to the next. Your grandson sounds smart and thoughtful – just what the world needs more of.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Harper was all the things you say. I didn’t like him at all (controlling to the nth degree!). But Trump seems to be much more of an authoritarian—which could have happened with Harper, if it hadn’t been for our many checks and balances. Trudeau’s instincts are good, but he has much to learn. And thanks for the comment about my grandson…he is very loved!

  4. Sorry for the garbled reply, I had exported it, edited it in larger print, then imported it imperfectly. Here is again, to replace the above reply (which you could delete if you wish).

    Just to clarify, when I speak of Millennials I am using this definition:
    millennial; plural noun: millennials; noun: Millennial; plural noun: Millennials
    1. a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.

    The short attention span concerns me. It concerns me in that I am concerned for the Millennial generation, and those generations to follow, our children, our grandchildren. To speak of this is not to criticize, but to acknowledge a tendency that has developed as a result of unprecedented technological change.

    “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

    Critical thought is necessary for independent thinking, and adapting to the world. Critical thinking requires self-discipline and commitment to pay attention to details that don’t fit easily together, in order to define issues and solutions to those issues. Without it people are at the mercy of those who interpret facts and events for them, which is increasingly done not by community members or family, but by big corporations. What I am observing in the world today is a decrease in the ability to think critically, to consider possibilities, to process information using one’s own intelligence. Our children, grandchildren, and future generations need to be able to think critically so that their beliefs and actions are not dictated by a corporate entity with short sound/video bites that capture their attention and provide superficial snapshots of reality, accompanied by magic bullet solutions created by corporate entities.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      You make such good points, Maggie! I especially agree with your comment about critical thinking, so important! BTW, I’m using the age criteria as people born between 1980 and 2000…but there are some variations.

    • Great point about critical thinking, our views are being shaped by so-called news organisations and business-backed scientific studies in an unprecedented manner. It is not just a problem for millennials however, my poor 86 year old mother is in a constant state of panic by what she reads in her tabloid newspaper, even down to their annual predictions of severe arctic weather that never materialises but send her into a tailspin worrying about not being able to get out of her house etc. whilst they also convince her that the government is after her pension!

      • Still the Lucky Few says:

        I think that would go under the heading of ‘too much information’! Sounds like you have her best interests at heart, and are able to reassure her!

  5. What a beautiful statement of your beliefs (and mine!) about the current state of affairs in our two nations. Yes, indeed: the sun will rise in the morning, or “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow; bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun” as Annie would sing in the musical play on Broadway decades ago.

    I am heartened by your grandson’s interest. He represents the best of his generation. They will inherit the world we are creating each day by our actions.

    You will excuse me – I have to make some more telephone calls to my Senators about the cabinet appointees they are being asked to confirm!


    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Keep at it, Dr. Rin. You are joined by hundreds, thousands, and maybe millions of people who have taken on the mammoth job of bringing the politicians to task. I applaud you. And yes, the millennials will inherit his society…I hope some of the damage done this year can be mended in time!

  6. I, too, have Milennial grandchildren, so your story with Aiden was meaningful to me. And, I believe we have the responsibility to act…hopefully, in a mature and respectful way. It’s why I’ve been writing the posts I would normally avoid. It’s simply too important now despite the possible discomfort. My oldest daughter has begun to blog–passing on articles she believes are important, and my younger daughter is calling our Senators and Congresspeople daily on issues with which she’s familiar. I can’t not act! Thank you, as always, for a timely and so nicely done post.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Thank you for acting on behalf of the world. Those of us from countries other than the US can only watch, join in with social media, and walk with others during protests. You are doing what you do for all of us.

  7. Cathy says:

    What I see, and I have had no children is that many parents – both Mum and Dad – are in the workforce. The kid comes home school and no one is home (that’s called latch key kids in UK); or they are bundled off to after school care (that happens here a lot) – so they might not see parents until late evening – or heaven forbid well after meal time.

    I on the other hand growing up in the 50s had either of my parents on hand when I got home from school – they both worked as such, but mostly Mum worked in the w/ends…I had someone on hand to talk with me when I got home, made me get out of school clothes etc.

    okay I lived in a rural town and probably not a lot to do after school (other than go across the road to Mary Anne’s, I wonder what she doing now), the phone was on a party line, we didn’t even have TV!

    By the time I went to high school, I was bundled off – but to a boarding school, but I had companionship, regular meals and regulations… but still no TV and definitely only a pay phone…

    The telecommunications have rapidly descended upon us – and it seems every kid “must” have the latest phone, connectivity. But still many do not see Mum or Dad after school…

    I don’t click on everything to do with world affairs, as there seems to be so much from all angles, but I get the gist of the big-ticket items. I quite like my company and no extra noise – and I don’t even watch the news (no TV, nothing to do with childhood!) – but I watch ondemand if I want…

    Today is basically silent here, the family in the other unit went out earlier on, it’s a public holiday/Monday, the sun is shining…I’ve been out on the porch fiddling with some dyed fleece locks but decided my arm was directly in the sun (I’ve had my VitD for today)…

    I’m probably saying here, there are few of us in the world, who let the majority float away and stay in a zone that says “well if something really affects me, I’ll deal with it then…”

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      You have a peaceful life, and you are fortunate. It is always interesting to me to see how similar our childhoods were in those days, even though we were brought up on opposite sides of the world. Thank you Cathy, for your generous sharing!

  8. The scary thing is a lot of people, youngsters especially, don’t think democracy is important and they don’t bother to vote. Does your grandson? That’s important even in Canada. Some people are proposing to lower the voting age to 16 because kids that age would be more apt to vote, and it’s important for them to get in the habit.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      It’s true that young people may not have seen the importance of voting. The events of last fall and this winter will have changed all of that, I am hoping. I did a fair bit of research about this topic two years ago, and will go back and read it. As far as I know, all of the young people in my family vote—we were immigrants in the 1930s, and heard many stories about living in an oppressive country, and don’t want to have that repeated here.

  9. PiedType says:

    What wise words. I hope I can do as well when or if my grandchildren, now 10 and 14, start asking those questions. It’s going to be tough because their parents are very conservative and the kids are already absorbing a lot of conservative ideas. It distresses me.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      PT, you are their window into a more liberal view of the world. Of course, we are not always right, but we are more concerned about issues that bind us together (care for each other, education, communication) than issues that pull us apart (financial self interest, traditional values). Funny thing—the ability to text helps me stay closer to younger members of my family. They will always respond to a text, whereas phone calls and emails are usually ignored!

  10. Cookin Mum says:

    Again a beautiful article. My youngest is 19 suffice to say I am also deeply concerned, but hopeful.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Cookin Mum, I’m glad this article was relevant for you. Nineteen year-olds are almost grown up, but we remember them so well as little kids, and worry about them! I’m hopeful too.

  11. Big John says:

    “A veil was pulled away” .. True, but then again it was always partly open, so I’m not surprised that so many Americans voted the way they did. As an Englishman I’m no expert on US Presidents, but I must say that those people ‘across the pond’ sure have made some strange choices since they kicked us out.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’ve always believed that Britain, (not Greece) is the cradle of democracy. But recently—not so much!

  12. Karen Moore says:

    I’m sorry you think my President is a monster.
    Beware of being too critical, it a sign of old age.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      Well taken, Karen. Name calling isn’t my usual practice, but in this case, I broke my rule of being as respectful and objective as possible. Emotions are running high in the current political debate, and I am not above allowing myself some good old-fashioned anger—and please note my use of the word ‘old’!

  13. Joared says:

    Lovely thoughts you expressed to your grandson. U.S. is very fortunate to have Canada as a neighbor. I probably have Canadian ancestors who immigrated there after our Revolution because they had fought for The Crown. My direct ancestors stayed in the U.S. to help build this nation. I don’t know, but would like to believe these brothers were able to renew their family connection eventually.

    I have been shocked and disappointed to learn there were so many people who supported the candidate who was elected our leader though he didn’t win the popular vote. There has been a renewed interest in our government by all ages, so we can hope to preserve our democratic republic eventually. In the meantime, we have real concern for the preservation of integrity in the Judicial branch of our government. I know many of us will exert every legal means at our disposal to prevent acts counter to the ethics, morals and values our country has stood for.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      If the current president does the world any favors at all, it will be, as you say, a renewed interest in government, and in supporting democracy. The US, as the most powerful democracy in the world, has always been a beacon of light for other countries struggling under autocratic rule. Many people have noted how integrity is taking a beating from this leader and the people surrounding him. So many of us, observing the events in America, are shocked by the use of falsehoods and outright lies being used to gain control. Thank you for your astute comment, Joared.

  14. Joared says:

    I am referring to the recent 2016 election in my second paragraph above.

  15. Lovely post and great response to your grandson’s inquiry. It’s not easy, is it, being cast in the role of Wise One! We have a responsibility as parents and grandparents to discuss events in front of our children and grandchildren, not as steongly-worded diatribes involving name-calling but to make them aware of the other side and of the argument and how this is backed up, demonstrating how social nedia as well as news outlets are used to sway public opinion and so on. I find my middle grandchildren, those on the cusp of being teenagers, are the more aware, the 11 and 13 year history olds, whereas the 19 and 23 year olds are too involved in either making ends meet while still maintaining a social life or focused on end of course exams/dissertation etc. Politics for them is to nebulous and they don’t yet appreciate how it will affect their lives as adults with families in the future.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I was very apolitical during my early years, always so intent on my most immediate concerns—I think nature intended it that way. But I grew up in a different era, when news was reported once a week in the village paper. Todays’ children are so bombarded by it! So we need to give them the nurturing and armor they need—which is the skill to sort the real from the fake.

  16. Aunt Beulah says:

    You are a good grandmother, Diane, and your grandson is lucky to have someone like you in these troubling times. I, too, have millennial grandchildren who care, pay attention, and have protested. Thank you for explaining what is happening in America so well to your grandson, me, and my grandchildren — because I will share this post with them.

    • Still the Lucky Few says:

      I’m flattered that you would do that, Aunt Beulah! The more I read about this new generation, the more hopeful I am about the future, particularly as it pertains to this planet. Our awareness about the damage corporations (and ordinary humans) were doing to our earth was slow to develop, but now that we know more, we are 100% in. The Millennials, however, seem to have known about it from their very early years.

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