This week, the brain trust at Generation—consisting of two cases of whiskey, a trained baboon (Snowball), his intern staff, and a pile of old Spectrums—thought it was important for our readers to see members of their own generation define what it means to be an American.
And so we bring you our attempt to look at young Americans’ perceptions of themselves, the differences among them, and the mass of cultural and political schemata that make up our true national identity. The pickings include an essay reflecting on one student’s semester in London, England, voices from an event held by the UB Study Abroad program, and a pair of dueling laundry lists of American pride/shame from a gun-totin’ conservative flagwaver and a pinko liberal—and may I say, devastatingly handsome—suspected terrorist.
Each new year brings new events, personalities, and knowledge that shapes the way our nation views itself. The implications behind the word “American” grow and change with every election cycle, every war, every new pop culture addiction. Each generation will have a different view on America’s place in the world.
Since the day 19 shitheads crashed four commercial jets through the centers of U.S. commerce and military prowess, the world has gotten a whole lot smaller and meaner in the eyes of many Americans.
“In America, we talk of a ‘post-9/11’ world, and how it differs from the way we lived before,” writes Kat Caruana in her essay about her experience in London, which begins on page six. “9/11 made Americans realize that the U.S. is not the indestructible society we blindly thought it was, but it is just another country on the planet Earth.”
The attacks prompted a massive shift in American thought, a sustained burst of widespread patriotic idealism that valued allegiance to the president and admonished, often harshly, those who would criticize the aims of the U.S. government.
America may be due for another shift in the way it sees itself. Anti-war protests led by Cindy Sheehan have lifted the spirits of a flagging peace movement. The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent bungling of the relief effort have enraged Americans across the political spectrum. President Bush even offered an almost-apology for his lame response to the nation’s worst natural disaster. Mainstream journalists and civic leaders of all stripes are dumbfounded and angry, and if Bush were up for election tomorrow he’d lose to a tree stump by about 60 points.
But who knows what it all means? Will Katrina prove to be the disaster that broke George Bush’s back?
Well, we could ask Snowball, but that would be stupid. A few unknowns to consider:
-Bush has three years to repair his legacy and the electoral outlook of the Republican Party.
-We have yet to see the aftereffects of spending $200 billion on relief for areas of the U.S. ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and about that much on the war in Iraq after having enacted sweeping tax cuts.
-Heating costs this winter are expected to skyrocket, which will amplify any decrease in the president’s poll numbers.
So, again, who knows? Keep your eyes peeled, kids. It’s just getting interesting.