WHAT WILL I LEAVE MY CHILDREN?
by Eleanor Jaffe
As we age, we consider what we will leave behind for our children and grandchildren that has lasting significance and meaning. Undoubtedly, we have all thought about finances and what estate will be left for our children to share. Perhaps you have thought of treasured antiques–your mother-in-law’s fine china or sterling silver, your father’s World War II medals, perhaps. Maybe you will leave your children property. Maybe you have thought of leaving some writings that you have put together, your memoirs of successes and failures, family joys and sorrows. All of these have significance to you and me and to our children. But, lately, a new legacy, one I have heretofore taken for granted, seems of utmost importance: the legacy of a functioning democracy.
We belong to the same “cohort.” That is, we grew up at the same time, lived through the same U.S. history (give or take twenty years). I can recall the end of World War II. I can recall the formation of the United Nations, the promise of Israel, and NATO. We were filled with the idealism of our age. We would help to build a better, wiser world following the cataclysm of World War II with its millions of victims and its death camps. “Never again!” We believed in these ideals, and, as a cohort, we profited from the expansive, booming economic times that ensued. The U.S. was a benevolent victor and helped to rebuild conquered territories—for the good of us all. Here in the U.S., laws were passed equalizing opportunities for minorities and women. Incrementally, the U.S. expanded the rights of all citizens.
Now, we are experiencing the loss of our idealism, the loss of the sense of U.S. “rightness,” the faith in our democracy that we once shared. We believed that our democracy could be shared among the nations of the world. The U.S. could be open-hearted and open-handed. Yes, there were military clashes along the way: Korea and Vietnam (where we almost lost our way). But nothing in our memory, not even the McCarthy era, has decimated the American Dream like the current Trump Administration. It is this American Dream and its almost 250 year old reality that is the most significant legacy we could possibly leave our children and grandchildren.
Many of our grandparents suffered in steerage and then in poverty so long ago when they emigrated to the United States. The United States was a dream, hard fought for, but worth the struggle for our parents and then for us. We now have an obligation, a sacred trust, to struggle to maintain these democratic principles of fairness, the rule of law, equal opportunities, a place where people–even would-be immigrants and asylum seekers–are treated with respect and fairness.
Nothing has so tarnished the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the world—and in our own eyes—as the systematic, deliberate cruelty of this Administration in separating children from their parents, in keeping children in cages, even of losing track of where the children have been sent! What has happened to our American Dream? And how can we salvage the tattered remnants of our honor as a country? (And this is just the latest – but surely not the last – of Trump’s outrageous attacks on our democratic, hard fought for ideals and laws.)
The legacy of a proud, just, and fair United States is one I desperately hope to leave to my children and grandchildren. I will work to help these helpless immigrants most of whom are seeking asylum. Were we not all once “strangers in a strange land?”—no matter when our family members emigrated to the U.S.? I will work to overturn this Administration so that we can once again have a fair and just system of government, a government that responds to the loud cries of protests from its citizenry. I strongly encourage all of you to do the same. This remains the bedrock and foundational legacy for all our children.
One of BOLLI Matters’ “Senior Moments” feature writers, Eleanor has become increasingly focused on “Making a Difference” in our current climate. She and Elaine Dohan, in fact, have founded a new BOLLI Special Interest Group to explore how we might all be “Making a Difference” today.