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.

Ben Timm is a senior at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School. Contact him at bentigertimm@gmail.com.

(8) comments

mark Coble

This kid wants universal income, I'll bet, without a clue to how it is paid. He needs to check out our neighbor to the south and ask those folks why they want to leave there....

We are exceptional like many, many other countries.

Jim Klukkert

Well mark Coble, since you seem to have no sense of the history of almost 200 years of the Monroe Doctrine and US Imperialism nor the current impacts of Global Climate Degradation, here is the Memo you did not get.

The deplorable conditions across Latin America follow US efforts to prop up friendly, corrupt elites who will sell out their country men and women, coupled with the impacts of extreme weather events on a land based culture of working people increasingly marginalized by dominate economic interests.

Daniel Valdez

Once again...JK being a lecturing condescending white left winger thinking he knows the most and best. We're not living in 1823 anymore Jim.

The deplorable conditions across Latin America are a result of left wing politics and corruption. Latin America is saturated with natural resources, agricultural potential, a great marketable upside, and a smart & hard working constituency. The current conditions didn't always exist. Stop blaming the U.S. for every other nation's problems. Just be honest and admit that you don't like the U.S. (although you sure like it's milk & honey).

Jim Klukkert

Daniel Valdez obviously knows little about the history of US Imperialism in Latin America, perhaps little about anything else of importance, though he sure knows how to sling mud, as unimportant as that might be….

There is a long history of US military adventures, as long ago as 1855 in Nicaragua, throughout Latin America, to support Wall Street exploitation of natural resources, agricultural output and labor. Those adventures have resulted brutal dictatorships by brutes willing to sell out their own people for the favor and funds of US interests.

Those conditions, contrary to Sr. Valdez’s unsubstantiated allegations, have continued through out history right up until the present. Since 2000, after decades of bloody US-backed repression, popular mass resistance has waned. Haiti’s best chance of democratic rule was escorted into exile by U.S. Special Forces in 2004. The relatively recent overthrow of the democratically elected government of Honduras was all but endorsed by US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton.

The rest of Sr. Valdez’s claims as to my elitism, my understanding of history as well as my likes and dislikes are but foolish personal attacks with no factual basis. That sort of innuendo and slander is the last resort of losers, and are not only beneath contempt, but need no rebuttal.

Andrew Lucero

This is what happens when kids are indoctrinated not educated...

Carolyn Cc

Accepting the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’ without questioning it would be indoctrination. These kids are using critical thinking and should be supported in their exploration.

Barry Rabkin

Perhaps to help their 'critical thinking' they can also read the US Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and more about American History. During their 'critical thinking' they might come to realize that our Founding Fathers created a representative republic structured as a government with three independent parts ... all built on the principles of individual values (individual freedom, individual liberty, and as importantly, individual responsibility). The intent of our Founding Fathers was to create a federal government that had minimal influence on the lives of the people living in America. America is often called 'an experiment' in its striving for individual freedom (and liberty and responsibility). The success of this experiment is not easy on any individual: we, each of us, have to put in the hard work to ensure that our country remains a beacon of hope for our own citizens and for people around the world. But if the younger generation truly wants to find a 'mess' they can visit Russia, North Korea, or even Iran. We live in a country where the Federal Government is NOT supposed to owe any of us anything other than what is articulated in the US Constitution and the canon of laws deriving from it.

Jim Klukkert

Barry Rabkin- Ah yes, 'our Founding Fathers,' all white men of property, ensuring that white men of property are guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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