Two of my grandchildren were born a week apart 16 years ago. I pondered their futures at the time.
I thought of them again in the shadow of recent events as I drove through a neighborhood where younger children were waiting for the school bus.
Two boys were frolicking in a yard like puppies, their backpacks tossed aside as if dropped from a plane, grabbing and wrestling and pushing and running circles around each other, rolling on the ground to show up at school with missing shirt buttons and grass stains on their pants.
Boys being boys, perhaps 10 or 11 years old. Full of laughter and mischief, fearless, without malice.
A few feet away a small girl, perhaps a younger sister, stood on the paved driveway next to the mailbox, neatly dressed, her feet close together as if standing at attention. She was apparently oblivious to the boys. She was causing no one any anxiety.
A few hundred yards down the road a father stood waiting for the bus with his children, including a pre-school toddler in a snow suit — it was a cold morning — and I thought of the innocence of the little ones; clueless about what their world will be like when it is their turn to take full share for caring for it.
They are unencumbered by worries about the long-term consequences of today’s politics in America. They assume that the world in which they live as adults will be as secure and full of promise as they perceive it today. They don’t consider the possibility that events in the United States Senate and the White House will leave them exposed to a very different relationship with government than the one inherited by their parents.
They trust us.
What kind of world are we leaving for them?
My grandchildren can speak for themselves, and they will. Without telling a story that is theirs to tell, I will say that all the analyses of today’s politics are selling them short.
Many of us on the downhill side of a half-century of American history have yet to accept that everything we grew up believing is up for reconsideration. You can talk about traditions and history and legacy all you like, but you might as well yell into an empty 55-gallon drum.
The future will bear little resemblance to the memories of the Make America Great Again movement, regardless of the 2020 election results. America may be great in 2024, or 2030 or beyond, but it won’t be because this generation of red hats and look-back yearnings dug in their heels to hold on to what worked in the 1950s or ‘70s.
Those coming along to inherit our earth will create their own future, rather than accept our limited definitions.
They will insist on some adjustments to how we treat the air, waters, trees and each other. Their definitions, not slogans. No more free-for-all, self-serving, me-first and to hell with those who are not like us.
Less about tribal gatherings in arenas with walls and exclusions and exceptionalism predicated on the perversion of the golden rule being those with the gold make the rules.
The generations that will become the leaders of tomorrow will be as multi-colored as a quilt, considerate of cultural roots, and they’ll all work together to keep everyone covered with a sense of participation and belonging, of compromise and acceptance and shared responsibility not only for those who have means, but those who still have needs.
They will create their own definition of America and the world, not so much from a chosen politic as from necessity.
The world of our grandchildren will be less like a fleet of individual yachts for those who can wrest it from the pile of available resources and more like an arc, navigating a larger ocean with more horizons than barriers.
I have faith in them, even if I am sometimes disappointed with what we’re putting in their way for the moment.