Joe Biden’s massive surge into a near-decisive victory on Super Tuesday is a sign of the times, bright and fell for us in the spring or summer of life. The stranglehold of old lower-case-c conservatives around our politics remains strong, and they’ll not release it until Death comes reaving. With it, they’ll do whatever they can to meet their priorities, the chief being soothing their own anxieties, between which and ours yawns an unbridgeable chasm. In this endless war for a better world, they are now and forever allies, never friends. Amen.
The climate collapses. Siberia melts. Australia is scarred. Moscow and New York just had their warmest winters, California among its driest. Pestilence rides again with a just-forged scythe, honed to eviscerate the fraying fabric of our patchwork, racist healthcare system that has suddenly found socialized medicine quite reasonable and not at all communist. Of course, the work will lean towards the aged and white, the affluent and advantaged, Floridian retirees in their hideous walled gardens, quarantined from Zeit & Zeitgeist, while the young, the brown, and the poor will be left to toil and twist for themselves in the wind, their agony dissipating into the Void, or (with luck) becoming a joule or two of economic heat for a yacht or McMansion. But wait: the data points to this plague strongly favoring them in its harvest while sparing us. Finally some justice, perhaps. I, one of those narcissistic Millennials I’ve heard so much about, will do my civic duty, but shed no tears for any general havoc among older demographics. If that’s what it takes to bring you a twinge of fear and helplessness, to feel what we and so many others are now old friends with, to put the shoe on the other foot for a little while, to remind you of what you truly are and what you’ve forgotten with such conspicuous glee: amen. War is hell, and all’s fair in’t.
Over here in Blueland, we started this primary with the most diverse cast in history. Hundreds of burnt millions later (get it?), before us stands a bowl of familiar pale gruel. Wow. That was all worth it, wasn’t it? The dozen debates, the viral moments—remember when Kamala Harris clawed Biden’s mumbling eyes out for his centrist racism on national television? She’s now being floated as his VP according to some!—, a year spent wolfing down hot dogs across Iowan plains? Why bother? Bring back the smoke-filled rooms and save us the circus. In its most desperate hour, the Party Decided it needed Joe Biden after all to beat Sa—I mean, Trump. Yes, that’s it. Unfurl the banners. See how they read in bright, bold letters: we have to beat Trump. Not understand Trumpism, still less what made and allowed it, still least the growing titans stirring in the world below, shifting the ground beneath our feet. Indeed, what business of ours are they? We’ll not see them, let alone fight them, these vague threats on a distant horizon. As much as Death takes, it grants, and to us? A final privilege.
“There’s no substantive difference between the two parties” remains a blatant falsehood, but the grain of truth at its core is much larger than I thought. With Biden and (mainly) co. at the helm, focus will shift back to the sensibilities of his generation. Take any issue—healthcare, housing, taxes, welfare, the economic contract—the priority will be on defense and preservation, not expansion or improvement. Conservatism. There is no emergency, no real challenges looming over the ORDO SECLORVM, no climate catastrophe worth tangible sacrifice. What separates the two parties is the allocation of leftover resources to those outside the gardens: the Republicans a miserly pittance, the Democrats a respectable tithe. A sizable difference in substance, one that does help many, many people, but meager in spirit. The reliable haves, however defined, are the priority, the rest an afterthought. I see now what they mean.
This battle is lost. My advice is to stop caring, to save your strength and spit. Don’t follow the rest of the primary or the general election. Do your duty and vote Democrat in November, but do not spend your time agonizing over stakes or margins beyond that. Whatever activism you find appealing ought to be focused on the state or local level, where individuals and ideals have much more power. The national level requires a machine and operating, like Sanders has, in its presence. The moment it realized he could actually win, it moved. He cannot win now, even if he somehow recovered a lead over Biden. What’s left is the sound of Joe and the fury of Bernie. Conserve yours. Nurse and shelter it in these looming years of famine. Remember who sowed its seeds.
This is the lesson: Boomers don’t care about us, have no reason to care, and have far more power to resist being made to care than we can hope to muster. Microsoft Word yet baffles them after thirty years of our tutelage. They cannot be taught to heed much greater things that directly implicate them and their stewardship. They will not listen, nor is any revolution coming, not yet, and not in the guise you crave. Sanders has succeeded twice in decisively winning the youth vote, but not in expanding it. There are too many systemic barriers to that. Youth have to spend their youth getting their lives in order, while the American political system caters to older, established members of society with lots of time and clout on their hands. In this place, they’ve the mastery.
To salt the wound, Biden still sucks. He failed upward in a classic manner. He did nothing to earn his new position. The party pulled off an impressive comeback for one of their own without considering the cost, or the properties of the actual values they were inputting into the equation. Biden is a terrible candidate who hadn’t even won a primary until a week ago, after my lifetime of trying. He needed all the help and luck he could get too. The man has no pitch besides “Frontrunner,” which leans hard on “REMEMBER OBAMA?!!!” He is a counterpart to Trump, not an answer or antithesis, an embrace of the selfsame nihilistic creed: the candidate doesn’t matter, their values or vision don’t matter, nothing matters. What matters is winning, gaining power. In this brave new age, the best way to do that is to appeal to the feelings and fears of the old (a return to normalcy, amity in politics, bipartisan cooperation, deliberation), not those silly feelings and fears of the young (calamitous climate change, the ballooning inequality of wealth and opportunity, racism and bigotry). This sad truism shall remain true until the scythe reaps enough of them out.
Here’s a bitter bow to wrap up the pill: even if Biden wins, even in a landslide, he and his host have no desire to understand the world that is and is becoming, no reason to alter their course in its looming wake, no impetus to care about its residents, and no vision to meet that challenge should they, by some weird serendipity, overcome the former three. They live in a bubble, a glass dome suspended in the 60s and 70s, when they were young. Through this pleasant, pleasing lens they will govern, biding their time, idling, fiddling while Rome and MVNDVS burn, as if they’ll live forever. They’re not wrong: life and death are two sides of the same coin, infinite in their own ways. Maybe this agitation will work. Maybe it won’t. It’s their problem, not ours. War is hell.
Our priority is to survive and prepare for the future they’re abandoning. The best revenge is a life well lived. Go forth and meme. Improve your station. Foster hobbies. Find friends and keep them. Exercise. Play video games, draw, write, live, love. Claw forth and build a foundation for yourself in the fight against the true enemies that wait in the dark. These are more edifying than internet cheerleading and investing yourself in idols. The kids are all right. They understand that our politics are out of their hands, that there’s nothing they can do until they are rooted and established themselves, so they turn to higher things, those that girdle and transcend life’s foibles: the enjoyment of its pleasures and kindness towards others. In this, based on my own experience and so many of my peers, I have endless faith and hope. We are a great people, gentler and nobler, standing far above these powers that yet be. Their vanquishing shall be deafening.
In the political arena, even in this terrible defeat that will reverberate for years and years, there is a victory: Sanders’ critique is proven correct. The parties exist first and foremost for their own sake, and good causes and passions must be subsumed to this while bad ones play by different rules. The progressive pressure of the past three years has evaporated, slain with purpose, and already come the calls for unity for the sake of victory in this round. If that’s true, then it too is a transaction, something that goes both ways. For those of us youngins lucky enough to be in safe enough positions to engage in politics, it ought be only as necessary for the true cause, to force history to spring back towards its long arc. No allegiance to a banner is necessary, nor desirable.
The old have taken the reins, so let them feel the fatigue of holding them. Let them fight among each other. Let them angst and squirm and tremble. Let them fret over small things and bumps in the road: shifting the frontlines of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, efficiency percentages, funding for more highways and roads for automobiles into further-flung subdivisions. Meanwhile, beat the drum about climate change and the American dream. Scream in protest. Remind them of the sins they are committing, aiding, abetting, and abiding. Let spite sharpen spite. Set before them, again and again, the simplest and most bitter of truths they’re desperate to deny: they have failed us; they could have done better.
Oh yes, they know. “OK, Boomer.” “How dare you!” Observe the ire such little words have ignited. If there’s one thing the human brain excels more at than rejecting information that clashes with its core beliefs, it’s noticing such information, a perfect cradle for cognitive dissonance. They have drawn a line, their pending corpses as material. It’s tempting to think their malice is invincible, that you cannot defeat someone ready to drag another down into flames just for the kicks, but it is not so. All it takes is a mustard seed of doubt, planted in good, tempestuous soil, waiting for some small, quiet hour—minute, second, moment—to sprout and bloom. Age has a funny way of eroding the mightiest delusions. Some will escape that erosion, as most cells in the body escape a victorious pathogen. No matter. We’ll take some of that final privilege back, so that they might go to their graves with even a kernel of doubt planted in their hearts, pilfered of the satisfaction of their smug certitude in their beloved advantage. That “fuck you, I’ve got mine” might be ruined a little, and ruined in total.
Good and truth are more powerful than any evil or lie. The only reason we think it tilts the other way is we’ve been taught—and teach ourselves—that the latter is exempt, the magic exception to Things Fall Apart. It is a passing thing, their shadow. Yes, others will come, and we’ll bring ours with us. Some caution that “they’ll die out” is something they’ve heard for a long time. I’m sorry to respond that this time is different. We have never seen this kind of stark political and ideological polarization based on age. Not only is their order far diminished from the last time in the cycle, there’s strong evidence it’s failing—spectacularly—to reproduce. Loops are both strong and brittle. They need break only once. Ishamael’s Wager is sound.
Take heart. One day, soon, they will lie in the dirt, and upon that dirt we shall stand, smiling upon the epitaph, trophies in hand, a better world won, with all the time to spit.