What is American exceptionalism? There is a traditional expectation that the United States is “the best” since the U.S. built its reputation as a world leader. This may have been true a few decades ago, but what was intrinsic then is now ironic for kids who grew up in the last two decades. The United States is often elevated to be a beacon of freedom and liberty, but that sentiment is hard to believe when your experience and future feels abysmal — teens are having to stare down constant mass shootings, heightened political division, and crippling health care and education costs. When compared to many of the countries in the European Union, where most of these problems are nonissues, it’s hard to feel the U.S. measures up to its reputation.
It is incredibly difficult to make a living here, but it seems even more difficult to raise the minimum wage to a level that someone can live on. It’s difficult to buy a meal with $7.25, let alone pay for a day’s worth of expenses. It seems possible I could make more money panhandling for an hour than working a minimum wage job. The situation has been getting worse for the past 20 years, and now that we are at a point of economic instability, nothing has passed to fix anything. A college degree is highly valued only because my generation is scared of not being able to make a living without one. We are going to have problems where the working class is either too old or will not have enough workers willing to subject themselves to unlivable wages.
The other thing that is a major turn-off for Gen Z is the high cost of health care, and the apathy many leaders have toward solving this crisis. Would it hurt to allow people to stay in good health? Many well-off countries such as Sweden and Norway are accused of being “socialist” for covering almost all health care expenses for their residents. Scandinavian countries have been listed as the happiest places to live for years because of their high standard of living. It is so frustrating when people express this weird hatred toward socialist policies because it “leads to communism.” This is the same lame argument that seems to get in the way of any progressive legislation.
Most of Gen Z doesn’t get the idea of American exceptionalism at all; we didn’t grow up during the Cold War. Any system that benefits the people who live in it would be good enough, and we don’t have that! Deciding that policies and movements are the “enemy,” labeling them as a radical ideology and vilifying the people who support change seems to be a common practice in this country’s politics. It completely ignores the issues at hand. Nothing gets dealt with and problems get worse. It doesn’t create any confidence in leadership either.
The idea that the United States offers their citizens “rights” is silly, given that not all members of the country’s population have them equally. This issue is made worse by the fact many students are not taught to criticize history, which is so heavily sterilized in schools that we don’t recognize it is happening. Remember former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission for instilling a “patriotic education”? That kind of sterilization is incredibly dangerous, but the problem is, it’s already happening. Kids are taught that the Civil War was essentially a friendly misunderstanding, glossing over slavery almost completely. The Holocaust and the Trail of Tears are somehow considered “too mature” for schoolchildren, so they are barely explored. Meanwhile, it is obvious there are still gross violations of human rights in this country, but many people refuse to recognize it for what it is.
The U.S appears so resistant to positive change that it is at a point of complete embarrassment. The fact that for a good part of the coronavirus pandemic, the government failed to follow the advice of scientists as carefully as some countries did, resulting in hundreds of thousands of American deaths, is horrifying. The U.S. population is now synonymous with selfish morons who don’t care about the safety of other people. It is not something many teens want to associate with.
This is the world Gen Z has grown up in. Unfortunately, this mess has not given Gen Z many good reasons to be proud Americans. Resistance to change is just going to make that understanding of our reality worse.