The coronavirus has surpassed 1 million cases as of this writing, with the United States leading the world with more than 330,000 cases. It seems pretty rough so far, with a higher fatality rate than influenza.
As we’ve seen in other countries that have successfully handled the crisis, such as South Korea, the infection rates we are currently facing could have been avoided. The United States’ inaction and ineptness is the result of the generation in charge, not Generation Z. The exponential worsening of the pandemic is just one symptom of a larger problem. Once again, the adults of the world have shunned a serious problem, leaving the younger generations to deal with its long-term consequences. Our federal government put its proverbial head in the sand while the virus consumed China and Italy, not taking any preventative measures of its own. The Trump administration has tried to downplay the virus, with right-leaning news sources following suit, calling the virus a hoax, when in reality, it’s a pandemic that’s quickly rising to scales not seen in contemporary history. Why should we listen to leaders that support a president who thinks windmills cause cancer or grabbing vaginas isn’t sexual assault?
The downplaying of devastating events is a common occurrence in recent history, whether it be with former President Ronald Reagan’s lackluster response to the AIDS crisis or the consistent denial of climate change by the right. Even clean coal has been touted as greater than green energy alternatives by people like President Donald Trump. It seems no one on the right wants to be bothered by trying to fix climate change, a problem we all have been contributing to, whether we eat animals, drive a car or buy unnecessary stuff that only adds to our carbon footprint.
Our generation is a favorite punching bag for the adults and elderly, with any kind of decline being blamed on us. There is a sometimes hidden blame placed on us younger people, as if we had something to do with businesses leaving and poverty taking their place, as if we are the face of decline. This sort of rhetoric is applied to our technology addiction, being “sensitive” or being ungrateful. What many older adults don’t know is the 18- to 25-year-old age group has far higher rates of mental illness than older groups. And we attack right back with “OK Boomer,” implying their lack of current knowledge and out-of-touch selves are valid reasons for their voices to be ignored whether justified or not.
You know what I’m grateful for? Being left with a planet on the brink of irreversible environmental damage. Did I normalize the burning of fossil fuels and consumption of animals? Being left with a recession or depression-caused pandemic right as we graduate, was I in a position of power that downplayed the threat it posed? We are still waking up every day to see the White House spew bigotry and scientific ignorance while feeling like my generation has been robbed of social interaction skills, unable to function without a phone and feeling addicted to screens.
The denial of these events as an inconvenience speaks to a larger problem in American society of individualism, greed and lack of responsibility. The current administration perfectly exemplifies individualism. The president values only loyalty, attacking anyone for not worshiping him, even calling former Sen. John McCain a loser for being a prisoner of war — the very same war he avoided being drafted in by providing evidence of bone spurs in his feet. Of course, climate change denial is the direct result of greed and resistance to change. The established powers that be in fossil fuel energies cannot sustain the way they destroy the planet, nor can our massive use of resources to raise and slaughter animals continue. We’ve never had to sacrifice our desires for the sake of the common good, as currently evidenced by the continuation of parties, religious gatherings and hoarding of food and cleaning products during this pandemic. Our larger community doesn’t come together to support each other.
However, we have the opportunity to change this if we come out in larger numbers to vote. We could also boycott the ancient industries that support traditionalists, such as meat and dairy. We could even challenge institutions like the church and sports organizations that resist change such as the NFL. But the most direct way to make change might be with our votes. The United States has notoriously low voting numbers compared to other countries, and though our choice is null for this election with only white septuagenarians left, it doesn’t have to be that way.
To enact the societal change necessary to combat climate change and this pandemic, lives will be negatively impacted and jobs will be lost. In “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Raskolnikov writes a theory as to how exceptional leaders are able to create change and get away with it, his favorite example being Napoleon. They are able to cause destruction and kill others that cling to tradition, to “step across” moral bounds without remorse in the name of progress. Raskolnikov shared a disdain for the current social order like many people of our generation do. Of course, this must be taken with a grain of salt, since Raskolnikov goes crazy trying to justify his deeds and ends up supporting murder. We shouldn’t kill people either, so how can we remove those who cling to tradition and stagnation from power? We stand against it.
The mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, among many others, could be the last straw for the generation in power. If we reject their ignorance and worship of tradition, we can survive and succeed where they have failed many times. Our elders have time and time again failed to provide us with a safe world — it’s time we create our own prosperity.
Nicholas Walker is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering.