The Young Are Watching Us

AP Photo/John Minchillo

We all have heard the expression said when parents find themselves too often arguing with indiscriminate tempers and careless timing:

The Children Are Watching Us

(Sorry for those who may not want to be reminded of that fact and particularly for those who certainly do not want me to be the reminder of that bad news). Our youth have taken the nuances of the events of January 6 into their psyche. They have etched them into their growing views on everything from the duality of race when protests are addressed by police in America to the delicate beauty and fragile nature of a democratic republic. They continue to absorb “lessons learned” such as this reality: our nation works best when respect and trust are interwoven and ever-present, for it is when our nation is most effective and strongest overall. Truthfully, some of them have not believed – in American equality, in doable respect within debate, and in the American Dream itself — in quite some time. Simply put, they do not believe that America is a nation that wants to be united. They do not think that America is interested in living up to its collective promise as put forth by the Constitution. A growing plurality of them already believe that the free markets system of economics is immoral and that only socialism provides the path to opportunity.

Of course, they are wrong, but after the year that was 2020 and now this past Wednesday, they are more afraid than ever as they watch us collectively tear this nation apart at the seams. That is why, even in the immediate moments after Wednesday’s day of infamy, it was important to remind our youth that all of it is part of the American experience – good and bad – as we continue to push towards being “…a more Perfect Union…”

“The necessity of hope, of learning from our mistakes, of getting better after both small missteps and big mistakes – they are all vitally important in growing, healing, and improving ourselves, our communities, and our country. Collectively, it’s something we do every single day,” I wrote to Pennsylvania students on Thursday morning. “…(walking) that path…is something all of us as Americans are required to do ourselves – every day. And in moments like this, we feel everything you do. We are scared sometimes. We are angry sometimes. We hurt sometimes. We are confused sometimes. We feel like we’re living a dream and walking through a fog. We look around and simply don’t recognize parts of our world anymore. And yet, like you, we have to continue moving through it so that we can learn more so that we can do more to make things better.”

Yet, it is so much more than just the children who are watching us. The young – here in America and around the world – are watching us as well.

I said it in 2020. I say it again: we have a moment of truth for the modern conservative movement. Those who “became conservatives” due to the bailouts by George W. Bush, the election of Barack Obama, or the election of Donald Trump are now (ideally) investigating what the definition of conservatism in America was prior to 2008 and what it is today. Perhaps they are formulating a viable, modern definition of the philosophy. Perhaps they are creating a shallow replacement for their tenets. Their elevation of the purest understanding and form of conservatism – or their bastardized and grossly misinformed leveraging of it – will make a difference in how the American Experience will play out over the next 10 days as well as the next 10 years.

We again have a moment of truth in politics, just as we did half a century ago. After the radicalized racism of domestic terrorism and segregationist policies for a century of political life, Democrats had a choice to make moving out of the 1968 election: remain on the wrong side of history in a blood-soaked legacy of failure and shame or reform. Within a half-century or so, the Party of Jim Crow transformed itself into the Party of President Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Will Republicans and conservatives take this page from the history books and re-write our playbook in turn?

We have a moment of truth as a force for good in the world. Young democracies around the world – ones that have extolled the United States as the strong democracy they wish to be — have watched with bated breath over recent years as we have toiled with racial divisions that have included turbulent protests and controversial adjudications of justice. They witnessed political brokenness that led to a drop in America’s credit rating and the creation of ISIS. Through this, Russia continues to project strength and China continues to gain ground as the world’s second-largest economy. Our recent actions as a democracy highlight to nations just years removed from bloody civil wars and the Arab Spring America’s worthiness in their eyes to remain the leader to follow in the coming years – or if the socialist-communist hybrids of the former Soviet Union and “Red China” are the new voices of leadership worldwide.

The young within the geo-economic communities of the world are watching us as well. Over the past decade or so, they felt already burned by the US-led Great Recession and further impacted by the recent Trump-led tariff war. Now, those obligated to newly-minted economic deals – from the USMCA here in North America to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (crafted in the ashes of the Trans-Pacific Partnership) aboard – watch to see if they should acquiesce to the emergence of a new world order in economics, international decorum, and geopolitical leadership. Most hope that America will find its bearings and remain the global force for good in this realm as well – as do we here at home.

The events of January 6, 2021 – and, quite frankly, many American-led events over the past 15 years both domestically and internationally – will resonate with the emerging set of cultural, economic, political, and military leaders that will guide our nation and the world for coming decades. If we choose to be the America we believe in and the America the world needs, we need to be ever vigilant in knowing – and always remembering – that they are watching us, but not just our youth and the young. The annals of history are watching – and currently being written – as well.