Have you seen this video? I mean, you’ve probably heard of it. And you’ve almost certainly seen the photo that came after — with the interviewer and interviewee tucking into some soul food. But have you slowed down enough to watch Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders talk?
If you’re interested in politics or race in America or where our country is headed, it’s worth a watch. From the outset, Killer Mike proves to be a fantastic interviewer. He isn’t just there to absorb; his questions come out of his own unique thought processes and experiences. Sanders obviously feels very comfortable — getting interviewed by someone who’s already publicly endorsed you is as close to a home game as a politician can get. He responds by operating at peak Bernie Sanders levels (almost veering into Larry David doing Bernie Sanders). Love him or hate him, this is “the Bern.”
Okay, so you’ve got it. Politician and rapper. Cool, cool. Keep watching, though — something really interesting happens. It’s hard to notice, because it comes on gradually, but it’s very much in evidence: They are enjoying each other’s company. Mike genuinely likes Bernie. Bernie genuinely likes Mike. Which is particularly interesting because it’s spanning a pretty substantial age gap: 40-year-old Killer Mike and 74-year-old Bernie Sanders come from different worlds, and here they are connecting.
Who cares? I guess I think we all should. For the most part, American politics have been defined by old men who ignored the cultural zeitgeists of the moment. Frustrated with being ignored, young people pushed into the frontier — launching revolutions of thought and idea. These revolutions did change things, but never at the pace that the young people hoped. It’s progress, but it’s damn sure not progressivism.
In 2016, things are different. Youth matter. They don’t need the media, they don’t need gatekeepers, they have a voice. A would-be President of the United States ignores youth culture at his or her peril. What President Obama has done with making comedic videos, Sanders is doing by engaging with Killer Mike. Saying loud and clear: “I will not ignore the youth. I want to talk with the people they’re interested in.”
Which is thrilling because it’s happening on a pretty large stage and, I believe, has created a model that Republicans and Democrats will both have to follow from here on out. The days of being able to lose the youth and win the election are rapidly coming to a close.
But let’s take it out of the political sphere. What if it was just two guys in a room? Wouldn’t that be cool, too? Ever since we were young, we’ve been told to respect our elders. Which is a nice thought, but is also totally unrealistic. It’s a rare young person who’s always at the ready to sponge up whatever wisdom an older person wants to offer. Particularly if they have to separate the gems from entrenched or outdated thinking. Because being older does often mean lots of wisdom. But it can also be full of rigidity. It’s hard to take advice from someone if they’re telling you that music made with drum machines isn’t real music. Or if they can’t talk about LGBTQ issues without a dumb joke.
Watch the video above at the 4:20 mark. Bernie references the “yuuuge point” Mike’s just made. Then he makes a crack about his age and Mike laughs. There is no wisdom giver and wisdom receiver — it’s a dialogue.
This could serve as a lesson to young and old: Reciprocal relationships are the key. Actions and reactions. The idea that we owe older generations an ear is absurd. It’s a nice thought, too easily countered by older people unwilling to respect the fact that time has a pesky habit of always moving forward. The age of one-way information flow is over. This is the age of everyone who brings something to dinner getting a seat at the table.
(This isn’t new, of course. I was in the Australian outback once with an Aboriginal elder and after telling a story, he asked me to tell one in return. Saying, essentially: “I’m not just here for you to take from. You have to add something, too.”)
To dip back into politics, this is how we can move society forward. And I don’t just mean Sanders. It could be Trump or Hillary or Cruz or whoever — but there has to be listening, and there has to be dialogue across the generation gap. There has to be wisdom passed down and new ideas passed up.
With progressive two-way relationships between young and old, we can make sense of a murky future. As Common says in the lyrics to “Glory”:
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy
Odd then that Sanders is often snarked at for being old. I think the sort of cross generational friendship that he has with Killer Mike — based on reciprocity — might just be the fountain of youth.