PITTSFIELD — Every time I hear about how alienated millennials say they feel from the current political process, I think of this famous quote from author Gertrude Stein.
"You are all a lost generation," Stein apparently said to Ernest Hemingway, who used the quote as an epigraph in his novel, "The Sun Also Rises,", which was published in 1926.
That was 90 years ago. Stein was referring to the generation that came of age during World War I, or the Great War as it was called then, a conflict that dramatically and swiftly changed the accepted forms of society that had gone before it.
Here's how Dictionary.com defines the values of those who made up the "Lost Generation": As a result of their new experiences and the social upheaval that they had witnessed, members of this generation were seen as "cynical", "disillusioned" and without "cultural or emotional stability."
I've seen similar words used to express those who make up the millennial generation. So if millennials feel lost and not listened to during the current political campaign, they should know that they're not the first generation that's ever felt that way.
Feeling alienated from those older than you are isn't unique, it's a part of life. Younger people always grow up under a different set of standards then their elders did. Baby boomers parents thought Beatlemania was some kind of subversive teenage plot; the parents of those who grew up in the 1940s turned up their noses at swing music.
Politically, one could argue that the situation is different this time. We've had former actors run for president (Ronald Reagan), but never a reality TV star (Donald Trump). Even though the circumstances are different, the generational conflict is still the same, as Stein so eloquently pointed out almost a century ago. To me, alienation, cynicism and disillusionment aren't reasons to not participate in the political process this year. Looked at historically, it's more of a cop out.
Here's another example. I was watching a documentary on politics recently when an ad for Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign against George McGovern came up on the screen. I forget the exact wording, but the ad said something like Vote for Nixon because we need him now more than ever.
Taken in the context of the times, I viewed this ad as a plea to the "silent majority", as the establishment was often referred to then, against the younger riff-raff, the kids who grew up with Beatlemania, who were too cynical to be trusted. They made up the baby boomer generation, which is what today's establishment consists of now.
There's a photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton taken when they were students at Yale Law School in the early 1970s that also reminds me of that time. Bill Clinton looks exactly like the shaggy haired draft dodger that the establishment feared then. Hillary has long hair and glasses.
Think they felt alienated? These were the kind of people that Nixon's campaign ad warned us about. The establishment was doing everything in their power to keep them out of the mainstream.
Fast forward 40 something years and Bill and Hillary are the establishment. Rather than keep the riff-raff out as Nixon's generation tried to do, the Clinton's generation is trying to bring them into the mainstream. Trump, a member of the same generation as the Clintons, has also received a great deal of support from millennials.
Things have a way of changing when you're older. It's a fact of life. So if you're a millennial, don't feel the political process doesn't speak for you. It does, it can and it will. You're not the only generation to feel lost. Gertrude Stein could tell you that.