Millennials: The new 'Lost Generation'?

I've nothing against Millennials. I have four at home. But their promise precedes their good works. This savior generation has been credited with putting President Obama in the White House on the way to "saving the world." Now Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, says Millennials have abandoned the President when he needs them most.

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William Strauss and Neil Howe, in Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, claimed in 2000 that the Millennial Generation would "recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged — with potentially seismic consequences for America," in the following decade.

But now, writes Milbank, part of the problem is their inability "to remain attached to a cause." He goes on in this vein.

The problem might be in anticipating history and attempting to form it beforehand. 

In an earlier work, the authors predicted the end of a historic cycle, right about now, when the world as we know it falls apart. Then a heroic generation — like the "Greatest Generation" — pulls together, saves us all and makes the world again. 

The unravelling could occur at any time now. Russia advances ominously in Crimea. China is claiming new territory in the East. There are internal issues as well. The U.S. National Intelligence Council considers "devolution," a phrase rising in the lexicon today, to be one of the central challenges to our times. Just this morning, three regions — Quebec, Venice and Scotland — are in the news seeking sovereignty.

Some who championed the Millennials saw the Obama presidency as the historic beginning of a golden age, one almost suggesting the visionary world utopia Lincoln Steffens feverishly embraced in 1919 when he opined with revolutionary fervor, "I have seen the future and it works."

But the future did not see Steffens. And Obama does not so much awaken the millennium as he brings the successful completion of a passing historic cycle. He completes the outline of President Lincoln's team of advisors who identified three specific objectives in the Civil War: Prevent the South from seceding, free the slaves and bring equality between the races.

The first two were completed in the Civil War but equality was, as historian C. Vann Woodward writes, "the deferred commitment." Until the rising era of the Kennedy period. The election of a black president brings a substantive marking of the era, completing Lincoln’s original objectives. Obama might be seen in this scenario as the "Last Kennedy," bringing the completion of the Kennedy era.

So with the completion of the "Kennedy half century" we are now between ages, and that is the gnarly part. Because it is now possible to see only through a glass darkly what lies ahead.

Millennials may be closer to the expats in Paris between the wars who brooded on eclectic profundities and drank absinthe to the end of night with Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. "You are all," said Gertrude Stein, "a Lost Generation." Economic collapse would come in 1929. Hitler would follow. The Normandy Invasion in 1944 would awaken the "Greatest Generation" and bring it to its destiny.

But the world-conquering Greatest Generation would only be 6 years old when the world first broke back in 1929. They'd still be in diapers in 1926 when Hemingway published The Sun Also Rises and Hitler published Mein Kampf.

That's the problem with the promise of the Millennials. They have to wait for the world to break before they can fix it and it hasn't broke yet. It might take a new generation of anti-Millennials. Which may already be incubating.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.