President Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday was a successful recapitulation of an era of mostly positive domestic change, and mostly muddy international relations. It also, through elementary reminders of the value of a human life, served as a rebuttal to the Republican presidential candidates commanding the top of the polls.
But what Obama’s final State of the Union wasn’t, was a road map for Millennials poised to be the future leaders of America. Obama voiced concerns about the next five and 10 years. That’s convenient when you’re an outgoing president who represented the end of the baby boom and the earliest members of Generation X. The next five to 10 years still considers boomers in the workplace, still considers an America transitioning in a variety of spaces.
But what about 10-20 years, President Obama? Because that’s when Millennials will have children reaching college age. Then what? Will we have to pay $400,000 for four years of schooling? Will we be studying retirement plans that allow us to cut the cord at age 80? Will we be rushing to learn new skills because, once again, America has fallen short in supporting new technologies and keeping the workforce informed and trained?
We should applaud Obama for appealing to our better angels, for providing a calming and steady hand during a turbulent era defined by divided racial, social, political and economic lines. And we should note improvement in economic durability, in progressive energy legislation, and in considering the health and welfare of all Americans, not just those lucky enough to have an employer with a secure plan.
But we should also understand that, one generation from today, the promises made in the State of the Union address may very well be promises. What must happen goes beyond a presidential stump speech.
For Millennials, Tuesday night served as a reminder that their interests aren’t necessarily the primary interests of politicians nationwide. And that the politics of fear continue to enable the discourse on our campaign trails.
President Obama devoted some time to cutting the cost of a higher education. He admitted he hasn’t yet been able to push through his plan for a free two-year community college education for qualified Americans, showing that the road to an affordable college education for all is still long from ending.
But what about the millions of Millennials who have graduated college, swallowing the promise that the American dream was more achievable with four years of undergraduate education? And when things don’t work out, hell, go back in for a graduate education. What about the millions of Millennials with, 10 years later, still more than $50,000 of loan payments? How do they continue to pay their loans while raising children, owning a home and working in entry- to low-level jobs because the market is still squeezing them out?
And then what happens in 10-20 years, when Millennials are still paying those student loans? Will their children have affordable opportunities to continue education? And if those opportunities are low, will there be other avenues to train for a career? Are we thinking about trade schools? Will we ever consider the arts and culture as a viable future for any American?
And what about the schools that the children of Millennials are currently attending? How are we addressing the ever-changing curriculum hellbent on creating mad scientists and mathematicians? Will our children be equipped for 10-20 years from now? Or will they just be equipped to take a standardized test in three months?
Aside from three minutes spent on higher education costs, President Obama on Tuesday spent little time speaking about the issues that concern Millennials. Most of us agree that all people should be treated fairly and equally, regardless of skin color or religion, gender or sexuality. But what about the systems that engender such issues? How are we tackling economic systems that purposefully isolate blacks into communities that are ignored by the political class? What about our overcrowded prisons? Will we begin to seriously consider the penalties for carrying marijuana?
Let’s raise the minimum wage, but can we have a serious discussion about what we consider a “living wage”? Let’s talk about how all Americans – those born into poverty, those born into communities ignored by our politicians – can have the same opportunities straight away, and how they can achieve a “living wage” from the first professional step.
We celebrate that all states must legalize marriage between gay people, but will we discuss how homophobia continues to permeate our society?
We celebrate that millions of Americans are signing up for affordable health care, but will we address the wild variation in our unreformed national health system? Where doctors can still charge egregious amounts of money for continued treatment?
We laud the peaceful protesters able to work untouched, and the police officer ensuring a community’s safety through kind service, but will we ever discuss the systems that marginalize every non-white, non-male, non-straight person in America? Will we discuss the power of fear not simply in supposed radicals like Trump, but the power of fear in your community, the fear that drives a town council to fight for a Confederate flag, the fear that drives a local officer to shoot a black child?
We keep a chair empty to show that gun violence blights our national pride, but do we take away the gun? Do we face the lobbyists and organizations who yell happily and defiantly in the face of yet another mass shooting event? Do we face the fear that leads the man to buy 10 guns, and do we ever consider that maybe it’s too damn easy to find a gun in the first place?
Do we even mention guns?
President Obama’s State of the Union Tuesday showed that we’re not looking 10-20 years down the road. The State of the Union showed that Millennials are not the intended audience. The audience is the middle-class, working-class, slightly hungry and disillusioned American who looks at the radicalized politician spouting racist filth and sees promise, because he or she is tired of hearing about the blacks, and the poor people, and the feminists, and the Millennials.
No, Millennials, the State of the Union was not directed to you, but once again to the average white baby boomer who will actually vote this year.
So what should you do? Act.