A few months ago, a column in the Washington Post posed a question: “Is Donald Trump more like a teenager or a toddler?”
To back up the thesis that he was more like a juvenile, the author pointed to the US president’s alleged penchant for sexual harassment, as well as his well-documented use of crude language and passive-aggressive sarcasm. In short, all the worst aspects of what you can expect from young people going through puberty.
But, as anyone working in a school will tell you, teenagers are far more complex, more diverse and more brilliant than that. At a time when, at every turn, the young are being told that they are “snowflakes”, that they are not resilient enough, not respectful enough, students are queuing up to prove the adults wrong – and showing up a fair few of those elders in the process.
At no point has this been thrown into sharper relief than over the past week or so. Watching the speeches, the protests, the passion and the eloquence of the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida as they come to terms with one of the worst mass school shootings in even America’s ignoble history, you cannot fail to be more hopeful about the world’s future.
Youngsters whose lives have been forever altered by a tragic experience have been picking themselves up, making their voices heard and pushing for change – all while attending funerals for their classmates, teachers and friends.
Taking control of the debate
Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the world? He’s golfing during those same funerals, and walking out of press conferences to avoid taking the self-same questions about gun control that these teenagers are addressing head on.
For instance, pointing out the breathtaking hypocrisy of those meant to protect those too young to protect themselves. Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez, in a stunning rebuke to those who had not kept her and her classmates safe, referred to Senator Chuck Grassley’s demands to know why the FBI had not done more to look into the shooter’s background.
In response, she asked what he thought would happen when he successfully sponsored a Bill to stop the FBI doing just that. As she put it, “Well, duh.”
When an 18-year-old has a better grasp on how laws go on to affect people than the 84-year-old who passes them, it simultaneously makes you despair for the present while wishing the future that these children will create would hurry up and happen already.
Just compare and contrast the words of Trump and Gonzalez.
“Melania and I met such incredible people last night in Broward County, Florida. Will never forget them, or the evening!” Trump tweeted on 17 February, three days after the shooting.
And Gonzalez earlier that day: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
Which one is the more articulate, the more mature, and shows more leadership?
This is a generation that has grown up with social media and they are using its full power to demolish every critic who has tried to shame or silence the survivors.
Even more impressively, they have cast aside politicians’ empty, worthless “thoughts and prayers” to take the influential National Rifle Association head on and organise a national protest on Washington DC on 24 March, the “March for our Lives”.
In doing so, they are rewriting their generation’s legend, showing that – with apologies to Fight Club – they are special, they are beautiful and they may well go down in history as truly unique snowflakes.