You’re 17. You were born in the year of 9/11, when 2,977 people lost their lives because the US government failed at its most important job: protection from foreign invaders on home soil. Throughout your childhood, America fought two wars stemming from this conflict — wars that ended inconclusively, having cost another 6,774 American lives.
When you were 4, Hurricane Katrina happened, showing yet more institutional failures. Washington froze for a week at getting aid to people where state and local government failed, with catastrophic results.
When you were 7, the US economy collapsed, throwing nearly 9 million people out of work. Those lost jobs weren’t all recovered until you were 13.
In bailing out the banks, America also abandoned one core principle: free markets. The smart people who had talked of the importance of free-market principles for decades said not to worry: Abandoning free-market principles in this case had saved capitalism.
When you were 11 — old enough to know what was going on — a gunman killed his mother and 26 elementary school students and teachers in a Connecticut classroom.
This wasn’t a shocking event, like the Columbine shooting two years before you were born, which killed 13, had been. It wasn’t even surprising that America didn’t do the most modest things to contain gun violence, like banning the high-capacity ammunition magazines favored by mass shooters.
Smaller instances of gun violence barely merited national news. Workplace violence that kills fewer than half a dozen people, or domestic violence in which a family is slaughtered by someone brandishing a rifle bought to keep them all safe, is just a brief local story.
And then came the Parkland school shooting, with yet another gunman killing 14 students and three staffers on Valentine’s Day.
If you are a Parkland student, you cowered in a classroom, waiting for incompetent law enforcement, which had ignored multiple warnings about the latest shooter, to rescue you. Even when they arrived, they waited outside while the carnage went on.
If you aren’t a Parkland student, you may have wondered if you’d be next. Your school most likely does active-shooter drills, and why do a drill if the possibility is not real?
Then you see the vile comments that supposedly responsible adults make about you. A once-respected, popular conservative commentator, upon seeing Parkland survivors distraught at the Florida legislature’s failure to pass new gun restrictions, tweeted that it was the “worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.”
An actor who had a prime speaking spot at the GOP convention two years ago suggested our recent national tragedies are all part of a hoax.
But this cruel commentary is another nonsurprise: It’s just an extreme form of how many older adults treat young people.
It’s long been in fashion to make fun of “millennials,” now much older than teenagers, for the sins of wanting to eat expensive vegetables and being “entitled.” (Entitled to what, no one knows — the government clearly doesn’t consider them entitled to proper health care, public safety or decent public transit.)
The real shock in all of this — and the good one — is that Parkland survivors and their peers around the country are responding not with cynicism or resignation, but with a healthier emotion: well-directed anger.
They are mad at Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for opposing the kind of legislation, including an assault weapons ban, that experts believe would’ve saved their friends’ lives. They are mad at the president for wanting to arm “a large number of very weapons talented teachers” interested in becoming a last line of defense against would-be shooters.
And next month, they will march for change.
The adolescent generation, or at least a visible part of it, has noticed that their government has failed them in every way imaginable — and rather than turn against government, they want to fix it. They know that no one else is going to do it.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post