The most trying times demand the most of a nation's people.
As teenagers, my parents' generation faced the Great Depression and World War II. America survived those tough times because men like my father-in-law and five uncles fought across the Atlantic — including Uncle Louis, killed at age 24 in Holland. And because women like my mom and aunts worked at McClellan Air Force Base and Libby's Cannery. Their shared sacrifice showed us the best of our nation.
Today, America's recovering from a financial crash and two long wars. We face joblessness, a crisis in public education and environmental disaster. A new generation that could rise to the times has been nowhere in sight.
Perhaps, until now.
In 2008, pundits said higher voter turnout among 18 to 29 year olds was a fluke — a flash of naive enthusiasm. But In 2012, young Americans voted in even higher proportions. In California, they made up a quarter of the electorate. It's something every American-Democrat, Republican, or Independent- can celebrate.
It's a sign that my son's generation — he was a first-time voter this year — is serious about the issues.
The 2012 election was a contest between the ideal of individual initiative and the ideal of "we're all in this together." Both ideals have a rightful place in the American worldview. But when I ask my parents what made their generation so great, they point to how they came together to confront threats to the nation — that collectively, they could take on anything.
Today's young voters followed the example of Roosevelt-era youth 70 years ago. A whopping 71 percent of California youth chose President Obama, whose campaign rallies rocked to Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own," and who consistently spoke up for the "100 percent" approach.
This year, America's youth showed us their sustained commitment to civic engagement through trying times. If sticking with the candidate of shared responsibility is any indication, they may presage the rise of a new Great Generation capable of showing the world that America's hard times make her stronger.
With a Perspective, I'm Daniel Zingale.
Daniel Zingale is senior vice president of the California Endowment. He lives in Sacramento.