April 18, 2003

The Lamest Generation

Okay baby boomers! It's your show now. You've been handed the fruits of social and technological progress of thousands of years. The achievement of your ancestors was great enough that people could still believe in progress. They thought that things would always get better. They believed in the principle of evolution, that humankind would always lift itself to a higher level of existence.

You received the heritage of a free society, a democratic republic that was the light of the world, the proof that self determination, justice, equal opportunity and democracy had been established, and would only evolve into ever higher manifestations. Things could not fall back to an earlier, more primitive stage of development. Once something is known, you can't un-know it. Or can you?

It's one thing that economic conditions have declined for the vast majority over the last 20-30 years. It was one thing to be the first generation, in theory, whose economic lot had not improved. But it's another to be the generation that gave up the dream of a constitutional democratic republic and let America slide into a totalitarian fascist state.

The Ashcroft plan for a new police state law -- nicknamed Patriot II -- gives "the president" the right to strip any citizen of his citizenship without any due process of law, only "by inference." This is the very essence of a totalitarian state. It was Winston Churchill, the man the Republicans love to compare Dubya to, who said, "The power of the executive to cast a man in prison without formulating any charge known to the law and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government, whether Nazi or Communist."

Don't turn away from that concept. Let that fully wash over you and try to absorb the full historical meaning of it. This is not a dream. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. If it is not already a fact, the passage of that act effectively turns the United States of America into a totalitarian state. There are people who have overthrown despots and kings and established a democratic order. That is the history of the foundation of America, and is the defining principle of the history we have claimed for ours, the history of the West. Now we are on the verge of reversing that progression for the first time in this country's short history. Is this the legacy we leave to history? Is this the world we will leave to our children?

Tom Brokaw is a perfect example of the baby boom generation. Brokaw, the talking head who wrote a book called The Greatest Generation that reads like it was written a talking head -- literally -- a head with no brain. He is worshipful of George Bush, for example. That's fine, but that's not the role of a journalist. And a democratic society does need journalists.

Brokaw -- the prototypic talking head -- is more accurately a handsome face and stentorian voice without gut one, without even a trace of intellectual courage. With barely a flicker of curiosity. He is spoonfed warm mother's milk by the corporate state and he never questions his leaders. He only does his duty as an American. He thinks he does, though he doesn't know what it means to be an American. It is not to be obedient to one's masters. It is to stand for principle. And to be vigilant, and to do and think for yourself.

Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation is about the World War II generation. And that generation did certainly accomplish something by putting down the Hitler drive to take over the world. At least I thought they did. Lately I'm wondering if I even understand what actually took place there. One interpretation of events is that the fascist movement of that era, which included Great Americans like Henry Ford to just pull one from a hat, merely retrenched at the end of World War II and re-emerged in a new form, with its power base primarily in America.

I have by now become accustomed to thinking of it that way, but it is only now that am I seeing what appears to be the ultimate triumph of that fascist drive for power. One can only hope that the movement will, like the Hitler group, bring itself down with its own excesses and misjudgments. What is terrifying to contemplate about that happy ending is the degree of carnage that took place in World War II before that drive was finally halted, or at least set back.

Twelve years was nowhere near the intended goal of the Thousand Year Reich. But 12 years is a long damn time to live under Nazism. I don't care to relive that here now, thank you.

Okay, so Baby Boomers! This is it. It's your show. Where do we go from here? The way it is stacking up right now -- if there are no radical changes in direction, or at least a show of some guts -- the Baby Boomers will have been The Lamest Generation.

Happy Passover. Happy Easter. Happy Secular Spring.

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