Wissot: A rendezvous with destiny

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations, much is given. Of other generations, much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

Those words were spoken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on June 27, 1936. President Roosevelt delivered those remarks as part of his acceptance speech to run for a second term as his party’s nominee.

The generation he was referring to was my parent’s generation comprised of people born between 1901 and 1925. My father George was 20 and my mother Rita was 19 when Roosevelt delivered those lines in the throes of the Great Depression.

Although I never asked them directly, I’m confident my parents knew that much was expected of them. They did quite well in fulfilling those expectations as Tom Brokaw duly noted in his 1998 book titled, “The Greatest Generation.”

I was thinking about Roosevelt’s speech when I contemplated what the rendezvous with destiny might be for 2020 graduates from both high school and college in the midst of the worst health crisis and economic collapse the country has faced in the last 100 years.

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My parents’ generation was one in which less was given but more expected; my boomer generation was one where more was given and less expected.

The Greatest Generation’s accomplishments are simple to detail: they survived the Great Depression, fought valiantly in World War II, and then in the post-war years created the world’s most dynamic economy.

Boomers came of age in comparatively stable times. We faced recessions not depressions. We dealt with a Cold War not a world war. The Soviet Union disbanded. China embraced capitalism. Nuclear weapons were not fired. Vietnam divided us. Sept. 11 united us. Some of us got very rich. Most of us didn’t.

We were privileged and protected, the offspring of parents who paved the way and made the sacrifices necessary for us to lead lives of relative comfort and security.

The 2020 graduates are facing bitter headwinds. For those graduating from college, the job market is bleak and only likely to get bleaker. For high school graduates there is no job market and the cost of going to college is right up there with the purchase of a spanking new Ferrari.

The one wild card available to them in the lousy hand they were dealt is voting power. In the 2020 election voters under 40, Generations Y (23-38) and Z (18-23) will constitute a larger voting bloc than voters over 65.

November 3, 2020, represents a second graduation day this year for Generation Z: graduation into adult citizenship by being eligible to vote in a national election for the first time. Whether they vote and how they vote remains to be seen. But they can take destiny into their own hands by voting for their own generational interests.

Government is there to help them if they elect candidates who will do for them what FDR did for unemployed workers in the 1930s, for returning war veterans in the 1940s, and what Lyndon Baines Johnson did for aspiring teachers in the 1960’s.

In 1933, Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration which in 10 years time put 8.5 million Americans to work building roads, bridges schools and airports.   

In 1944, he gave returning military veterans like my father the opportunity to go back to school for free by signing into law the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. Eight million veterans took advantage of the program during its first seven years and university degree holders more than doubled.

Twenty years later I was able to obtain a teaching license and earn a masters degree because of LBJ’s higher education loan program which canceled out the loan debt if the recipient taught in a school district with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students for two years.

We are adding to an already enormous national deficit now to keep the country afloat. That bill will not be paid for by people my age. My generation will be long dead. The 2020 graduates will be paying for it. They will be very much alive.

This election is their first opportunity to tackle that massive economic burden awaiting them  by voting for candidates who favor policies like a resurrection of the WPA for entry job level high school graduates, free college tuition in return for public service employment, and a federal health insurance program which replaces employer based coverage for millions of coronavirus-stricken uninsured and unemployed Americans.

Older people like me always vote our generational interests, especially when it comes to protecting Social Security and Medicare. Young people should be encouraged to do the same and vote to make government work for them.                           

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