2019 – the last "teen" year of our century

Only a few months left for the tantrums of 2019 

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Tom Wolfe, the “laureate of American pop journalism” (1*), who died in May of 2018, described the decade of the 1970s as a “kidney stone of a decade” – in other words, a decade we all did our best to bear through, and mere survival, as individuals, as a culture, as a civilization, even as a species, would be considered an unexpected and remarkable achievement.

I’ve been thinking about that term a lot as 2019 has been passing, and this decade, the decade of the “teens” has proven to be its own kind of “stone” causing pain and disruption as it makes its way through our lives and into history.

But it has been that kind of a year – sports figures, celebrities and politicians share the stage with near-equal credibility, absurdity and sometimes even a touch of gravitas.

Traditional characteristics of maturity like decency, honesty and authenticity have been absent so long, I sometimes wonder if we will recognize them if we ever do see them again.

Political scandals, dismissals and expulsions have been constant through the year, but almost as if there were a pursuit of an award for the most exciting season finale, the political antics, denials and evasions have reached a fever pitch as the year dawdles to a close.

Here's a fashion statement from the summer of 2019. For only a few hundred dollars, you too could look as if you just woke up and found yourself in a homeless camp. Photo: Morf Morford
Here’s a fashion statement from the summer of 2019. For only a few hundred dollars, you too could look as if you just woke up and found yourself in a homeless camp. Photo: Morf Morford

2019, as a typical adolescent, has been described as the year when children act like adults and adults act like children.

Love them or hate them, several young people, literal human teenagers, from Emma Gonzalez (2*) to Malala Yousafzai (3*) and Greta Thunberg (4*) have shaped, informed or perhaps even created memes, attitudes and movements addressing the major issues of our era if not century. From equitable education to gun control to climate change, these young people have stepped up when  the adults of their world seemed paralyzed or compromised into silence.

These young people, literally years from the right to vote, are making no excuses for inaction.

They recognize, far more than most of the rest of us, that the world is changing in many ways that will impact them far more than it will impact us.

These young people, and many like them, are not like previous generations.

They are literate in ways most of us can barely imagine. They know how things work around the world and how other young people think – no matter their faith, education, ethnicity or gender identification or preference.

As with the boomer generation, the world will not be the same after being reconstructed in their image.

They have little – or no – tolerance for excuses and inaction when it comes to amenities that other industrial nations take as basic – universal healthcare, clean and efficient mass-transit, a legal system that serves citizens without oppressing any, an affordable or even free higher education, an equitable tax system and a stable immigration system.

They know, as most of us do, that there is absolutely no reason, besides inertia, that we don’t have these things.

Other nations do not falter over the obvious the way we do. And young people are not willing to wait.

And why should they?

They have seen, in real life or online, possibilities no previous generation could have imagined; travel, communications across cultures, languages, political or faith lines – even gender fluidity.

They have no tolerance for our petty arguments and obsessions.

Remember way back in 2017?

Two of the most sustainable disputes were over Confederate flags and monuments and which bathroom we should use.

Did I miss something here?

Did we regress to a developmental level a few steps below toddlerhood and decide that an institution of human cruelty and oppression unmatched in human history was suddenly worth defending?

The must-have toy of 2017 was the Fidget Spinner. This toy spins. Some more elaborate versions sparkle and beep and squeak with high-tech sound effects. There are no points earned or levels of complexity achieved, no skills acquired. These spinners move, emit light and noise and literally do nothing. They perfectly summed up 2017.

2018, if nothing else, was at least more active. 2018 gave us the deadliest shooting at an American high school in Parkland, Florida, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century in Paradise, California, and the deadliest attack on Jews in American history in Pittsburgh, PA.

And the weather! At least until 2019, 2018 gave us the craziest mix of fires, floods and blizzards.

We in the Pacific Northwest had yet another summer dense with suffocating smoke from distant fires. This time it was from Siberia. Who knew that Siberia even had forests? Or if they did, that they would catch fire and send their smoke our way?

It was just another reminder that smoke, weather, politics and fashions (among other things) have no respect for our precious national borders.

Nationwide, our weather has been catastrophic beyond anyone’s expectations, impacting agriculture and the economy.

In 2019 Tacoma (!) has had one of the hottest real estate markets in the whole country. Construction is booming. Have there ever been more construction cranes – and proposed projects – at any one time in Tacoma?

As with our national economy, we seem to be going two – or three – or four directions at once.

With the stock market, gas prices and rents going up, down and all around like some crazy dance moves, investments in, or projections for, the future seem like the ultimate fool’s delusion.

This is reflected in inverted yield curves – among other things.

And what is an “inverted yield curve” you might ask?  You can see more details here: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/basics/06/invertedyieldcurve.asp, but the short version is that faith in the stable, long term health of our economy has deteriorated so much that short term yields for investments (like money markets and CDs) pay a higher yield than long term investment vehicles.

A one year security or money market fund may pay as much – or more – than a ten year certificate.

This is where we are, and since 1956 inverted yield curves have been the leading economic indicator for recessions.

I can’t say that I am an adherent of the “greater upside potential” theory of how life works, but I do have the distinct impression that, if we can make our way through the thickets and contradictory motifs and legacies of 2019, the years following do look more promising.

There is work to be done certainly, if we can work together and focus on what needs to get done instead of focussing on the antics of the would-be celebrities on the world’s stage.

2019 has certainly been a year of challenges and contradictions on every level.

Taking the temperature of a year in progress is always dicey. It’s like taking a snapshot of a toddler.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready for an end to the crazy teenage years and a move into the more stable years of the century’s adult years.


(1*)    To refresh your memory, Tom Wolfe wrote “The Right Stuff”, and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” among many others. An exploration of his books and impact can be found here – https://bookmarks.reviews/the-first-reviews-of-tom-wolfes-5-most-iconic-books/.

(2*)    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jerryweissman/2018/02/20/emma-gonzalez-a-young-orator-rises-above-the-florida-shooting-tragedy/#367c66aa3a10

(3*)    https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/malala-yousafzai-5482.php

(4*) https://www.ted.com/talks/greta_thunberg_the_disarming_case_to_act_right_now_on_climate

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