Dear Gen Z, don't quit America yet (opinion)


In the months after September 11, 2001, a group of students at the Harvard Kennedy School Policy Institute saw a problem: Many young Americans wanted to participate in public service, but were not as involved in public policy or policies. In other words, they did not vote in large numbers. Seeking an explanation for this dissonance and hoping to understand how young Americans felt about their place in our country, they created the Harvard Public Opinion Project, the longest-running poll of young American attitudes toward politics. and the public service. Today, we are still investigating how young people feel about the United States.
Earlier this year, we asked ourselves: if we could change one thing about the country, what would it be? For us, the answer was "patriotism". We feel that our generation was losing its enthusiasm for the United States. We asked ourselves if this could affect the political commitment of young people, so we decided to ask about it in our survey, which surveyed people between the ages of 18 and 29 across the country.
When we first wrote these questions in early February, the coronavirus felt more like a nuisance that threatened to disrupt our spring break plans, not our entire lives. But by the time we sent out the survey, everything had changed; The first day of the field survey was a day after Harvard decided to send its students home indefinitely. We realized that sheer chance had given us the opportunity to measure sentiment in real time among young Americans at a critical moment in global history, just as our predecessors did right after 9/11.
What we found surprised us. While young Americans still care deeply about people in their country, they identify as far less patriotic than their counterparts two decades ago – a difference of 30 points to be precise. During our last moment of collective national tragedy, the country seemed united in its belief in itself, with 92% of young Americans identified as patriotic. Today, only 62% feel the same.
Covid-19 is a crisis that we can conquer

In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the shrinking faith of young Americans in their national identity.

But it is difficult to blame them. The government used to serve as a symbol of security and order in times of chaos; it was the reliable light that could guide our country through its greatest challenges, from the world wars to the terrorist attacks of September 11. Now, when we were sent off our campuses in an avalanche of lost experiences and unrecoverable goodbyes, turning on the television to watch the daily briefings in the federal and state press has failed to allay our uncertainty about the future.

And as we prepare to graduate from an economic precipice, young Americans do not trust that American institutions will be there to break the fall. In reality, most of them feel that American politics can no longer meet their needs.

Sure, our generation is not suffering from a national tragedy, but this deep lack of trust in American institutions is particularly high among young Americans today, and has probably been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. In short, young Americans are moving away, not toward, their country and its government in a time of universally experienced struggle.

So do young Americans just hate America? No way. They want to be proud of their country and they want to make things better. We discovered that they have a vision for the future, and it includes a keen sense of altruism and optimism. In survey after survey and focus group after focus group, we have found a predominant narrative of change towards hope and hope for change.

Just look at the ongoing protests in reaction to police brutality towards an unarmed black man: Young Americans have taken to the streets, to the phones, and in November, they may even go to the polls for systemic change. These actions stem from anger at America's past and present, but they also reflect our generation's commitment to making solid changes for the future. We believe that we can improve things.

But patriotism is a two-way street. If we do not want to completely lose the belief of a generation in this nation, our elected leaders and our institutions will have to face the challenges we face in a way that they have not yet. And just as American leaders must give the "Generation Pandemic" a reason to believe in this country, our generation has a responsibility to make the United States something we can believe in.

To our own generation: Don't give up on America yet! We love our country because we have the power to change it. And for now, while our own health may not be at the same level of risk as our older citizens, this is our responsibility to the generations that came before us. Continue to stay home whenever possible, help older neighbors as you can, and support essential workers wherever you are. To create the America we envision, we must continue to unite with one another and with our communities.

For our leaders: Our friends are losing pride in our country because this nation is not fulfilling what they think it can be. Our institutions must respond to this pandemic at the national level, which is why we are turning to you. We will not solve these challenges for our health and our economy without good faith, bipartisan cooperation that recognizes the scale of response that this crisis demands. We need a clear and coherent vision to give us renewed confidence in our government. Give us solutions aimed at solving the problem for all of America; Give us a united message that reminds us of what it means to be the United States.

We should all bear in mind that this is a crucial time for the feelings of many young Americans about the United States. How we respond to this crisis is important, not only for our nation's health and economy, but also for our belief in our country and in others.

This is not 2001, and this generation is not the same that led our nation until September 11. But we believe that young Americans are no less prepared and willing to help our country overcome this new crisis; they are no less prepared for the challenges of the present moment.


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