Arise Young America!

When I was growing up in Minnesota there was a town named Young America. I thought that was a curious name for a town, but as I was born in 1945 and there was no way I could satisfy my curiosity.

Once the Internet and Wikipedia arrived decades later it took me no more than a few keystrokes to find the truth. It was named after something called The Young America Movement, better known as The YA to its followers, most of whom were indeed, young. It began in the 1830s as a reform movement advocating free trade, social reform, support for democracy, and efforts to compromise sectional differences in America. Later it became a faction of the Democratic Party and was considered rather radical. Still later, in the 1850s, it switched over to the newly formed Republican Party where it was considered even more radical for advocating land and labor reform…and abolition.

It was a diverse group including everything from middle-class old-line white folks to newly immigrated “subhuman” Irish Catholics. One thing that held them together was that they were all young, and loud, and strident. If they were still around today, Trump and his followers would be calling them “socialists” and “terrorists” and “undocumented rapists” and “murderers”; and his Attorney General would rage that they were trying to overthrow the government and charge them with sedition.

I wish they were around today. America needs them, even more, today than it did then. It’s high time for today’s Young Americans to step up to the plate. America was great once. In the years during and after WWII. And if it wasn’t good then, it was at least trying to get better. The folks they call “The Greatest Generation” were behind that, but now all but a few of them are dead.

They were followed by my generation, a generation some would call “The Worst Generation.” The generation of the Vietnam War and the turbulent 1960s. We’re dying off now. We did some good things during the 1960s but fewer since then, and none at all since Donald Trump took office. We, or rather Trump and his Republican stooges, are hard at work now reversing all the previous good that was done all the way back to WWII and before. All the previous reforms that we had a right to be proud of are under attack. They’re turning the clock back to the days of white racist, anti-immigrant, sexist, monopoly capitalist America. The days of Black slaves, and poor white laborers struggling to survive 14-hour days six days a week in perilous factories for wealthy plutocrats who built themselves vast mansions on the sweating backs of their labor. And almost no middle class.

Do we want to return to those “good old days?” More importantly, do you, Young America, want to return to them?

It won’t make much difference to me if we return. I’ve only got a few years left, if that. But if you return, you’ll be stuck with Trump’s phony-baloney “Great America” for the rest of your lives. Yes, the rest of your lives, Young America, the rest of your miserable lives, because the first thing that will happen if Trump is re-elected, or finds a way to steal the White House, is that the days of American Democracy will be over. From then on, we may have people who call themselves “presidents,” but they will all be dictators. We may still have the trappings of Democracy…a Congress, the Supreme Court, the cabinet, but it will all be window dressing. A false-fronted stage set for Imperial Trump and his successors to parade upon.

Think I’m wrong? An alarmist? Look at what’s happening in the rest of the world and think again, Young America. Democracy, real true functioning Democracy, is dying everywhere. When the Soviet Union fell in 1989 then-President George H.W. Bush optimistically announced the arrival of a “New World Order” of Democracy and free trade that would make the world a better, safer, and richer place. For a few years it looked like he might even be right, but in the end, he was wrong, way wrong. What’s left of the Soviet Union is now Putin’s Russia. New World Order, my ass.

So now it’s up to you, Young America. If anything good is to happen in this country from now on you will have to make it happen. Unfortunately, the desiccated relics of my generation are still running things. I’m sure that even those of you who hate Trump’s guts can’t get excited about Joe Biden. I wouldn’t have been able to get excited about him either when I was your age. But he’s a good man, and he’ll do at least some good if elected. Four years of him would be enough. If he lives that long.

In 1968 I was 23, in the Army, and about to be sent off to the Vietnam War. It was an election year. LBJ had bowed out of a chance to be re-elected depressed by the failure of our misbegotten invasion of Southeast Asia. His Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was his last-minute stand-in. Hubert had been a Senator from Minnesota so I knew that he was a good and capable man, but he refused to break with LBJ and announce that he would dedicate himself to ending the war. That pissed me off so I, young and hot-tempered as I was then, pouted and sat out the election. And Richard Nixon became president. He said he had a plan to end the war “with peace and honor.” I knew his plan was bullshit, if indeed he even had a plan. So the greatest pre-Trump crook and liar in American history became president. And it took him six years to end the Vietnam War with the kind of bombing and bluster that Trump would surely have used in the same situation. Six years and more young American men dead than in the previous four years of LBJ’s war.

So take it from me, Young America, the worst thing you can do for your country is to sit on your ass on election day because losing this election to Trump and his minions will be far worse than losing the Vietnam War. We survived that loss. But the loss Trump will bring if you don’t act will kill the best things in America and erase all hopes of better days. And you, Young America, will have to deal with that crippled America for the rest of your lives.