The Twenty-teens

A rule of thumb about decades is that they are defined by their last three years…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

A rule of thumb about decades is that they are defined by their last three years.

No matter what came before, it is the final three years that frame a decade’s values, character and priorities.

The 1950s, for example are defined by diners, drive-in movies and Elvis Presley style rock and roll, and of course the cars.

Virtually none of that existed in the first half of the decade.

Most of us think of the 1960s as defined by the spirit and energy of the anti-war and hippie movement, which did not exist until the very end of the decade.

The 1970s will always be associated with disco which, as if by design, emerged at the end of the decade.

The late teen years of our current century, like the late teen years of most of us as individuals, was a flurry and frenzy, a time of rejection and re-orientation, a time of claiming our own identity, a time of making our place in the world, a time when previous solutions, or even practices and understandings, didn’t apply any more.

These were also the Trump years.

And President Trump, deal-maker and disruptor, was the ideal prophet, icon and standard-bearer for an era that embraced upheaval and disregard for previous norms and protocols.

If any of us wanted “business as usual” (and few of us did) back in the pivotal year of 2016, we knew who to vote for, and what to believe in – and it certainly wasn’t Mr. Trump.

And Mr. Trump gave us what we asked for – established norms from international diplomacy to attitudes about national debt and trade deficits to domestic policies on everything from education to national parks (even the Postal Service!) were unrecognizable from just a few years before.

Even though it might seem that they will never end, teenage years for individuals and centuries do not last forever.

We are all in the twenties now.

It’s time for us to take on adult responsibilities and values.

It’s time for us to leave behind the fulminations and mood-swings of the teenage years and respect each other and work together.

Like teenagers, many of us flirted with ideas and speculations that included aliens, lizard overlords and international cabals (who ever imagined that word would become fodder for late-night talk shows?) and conspiracy theories that controlled everything from toilet paper to the DNA of each one of us.

Like sulky teenagers we become known for (and even proud of) our grievances and suspicions.

We echoed the teenage cliches- “It isn’t fair”, “They made me do it” or my personal favorite, “It’s not my fault”.

We somehow became perpetual “victims” and should have won Oscars for our excuse-making.

We used to be able to accept our losses with gracious dignity. Now we are not only sore losers, but even sore winners.

Too many of us can’t concede defeat and even when we win, complain about how unfair or rigged the system is.

The time for public tantrums about basic health procedures (like wearing masks) is over.

It’s time to get back to work, to take basic health concerns seriously and step up to the responsibilities and obligations (and opportunities) in front of us.

We’ve been under the threat of COVID for about a year now – and still no cohesive national policy.

We have ample vaccine, but for whatever reason, delivery or even public acceptance (in some cases, even among medical personnel) has faltered.

It’s not that difficult or even terribly complicated, but like a simple and essential task put in the hands of a teenager, for whatever reason, it often doesn’t get done.

Other nations (like New Zealand) have dealt effectively with COVID. Other nations (like Israel) have effectively distributed COVID vaccines.

There’s no real reason we can’t do those things.

I grew up in an America that surged with the “can-do” spirit. We believed that we could travel through space, create opportunity at home, spread democracy and freedom around the world and establish “liberty and justice for all” for every citizen.

Americans were the world’s entrepreneurs and innovators. America itself was the “land of opportunity”. The USA was the beneficiary of a world “brain-drain” where the best and brightest of the entire world were drawn here for opportunities available nowhere else. And we welcomed them.

Those were, and in some cases still are, aspirational goals – they were targets we aimed for, priorities we all (or at least almost all) shared.

We made sacrifices for the common good.

We taxed ourselves to build highways, good public schools, the best health care system and world-class higher education opportunities that were the envy of the world – and that lasted for decades.

We built bridges and highways, not walls. We invested and believed in the future; we didn’t fear it.

We believed in the best of each other – not the worst.

That America seems like a distant country, a long-forgotten, almost mythical land, where anything was possible.

And it was, because we made it so.

What will the twenty-teens be remembered for?

Infighting and squandered opportunities come to mind. We had almost no common vision, no common agreement – except on how divided we were.

Public rudeness, if not violence, became the tone and tenor of everyday life. Brash and loud became our public face.

Name-calling, evasions and excuses became the vocabulary of our politicians and public figures.

Integrity and authenticity became so rare that we virtually never heard (or used) the words without irony or cynicism.

The America of the last several years is barely recognizable to me.

The hostility, rage, fear and suspicion that became our national mood, and inspired near-endless public tantrums could not be further from the open-hearted idealism and dialog that defined us for so long.

One of the many ironies of America’s teen years, was that as much a many of us, supporters or detractors alike, thought, or even said that the era and its burning issues was centered around Donald J. Trump, it never was.

It was always about us – who and what we value, who and what we believe in, and after the smoke clears and we step back from it all, who we are together.

Now that our century has turned twenty-one, it’s time to take on adult responsibilities.


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