Last weekend was undoubtedly a busy one for people refreshing their timelines in search of headlines about whether or not the lungs of our heads of state were melting. But a notable story broke through the noise on Sunday: Former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared to have tested positive for COVID-19—and, in a moment that scanned as weird, unorthodox, and "peak 2020," her daughter Claudia was the one to break the news—on TikTok.
If you’re not familiar with Claudia Conway: She’s the 15-year-old daughter of Kellyanne and George Conway (the latter of whom is a cofounder of the anti-Trump conservative super PAC The Lincoln Project). Claudia hates Trump, appears to have a rocky relationship with her parents, and posts with fervor about those topics.
Given her visibility and the fact that many Democrats hate her parents, Claudia has emerged as a new fixation of the online liberal #resistance against the Trump administration, the people who live to reply to the President’s tweets calling him a “festering carbuncle” or "Cheeto-in-chief" or whatever, and boost other people who generally agree with their big-tent views (Trump bad, Hillary warned us, pretend Bernie Sanders doesn’t exist/is only for "bros"). Naturally, they immediately put Claudia on a pedestal. She’s spicy! She’s bold! She spills secrets! She eavesdrops on her mom and tells her dad he sucks! Of course they love her.
It’s understandably exciting to have an "inside view" at a crumbling administration riddled with the same illness it mismanaged so poorly that it led to over 211,000 deaths in the U.S. (with the added dramatism of a Real Housewives spinoff). Americans can’t get a straight answer from the White House about the President’s health, so we’re all exhilarated when a 15-year-old implies she can.
However, and I need everyone to pay attention, because this is important: Claudia is 15. The people projecting heroism onto a kid who has said (among other things) that her mom knowingly exposed her to COVID and that she’s filing for emancipation from her parents have got to take a lap. She is not Katniss Everdeen (nor any other "plucky YA heroine," as Sarah Jones wrote for Intelligencer), because Katniss Everdeen is a fictional character, and the people comparing her to Katniss missed the entire point of a franchise that condemned children being forced to go to war.
This is just the latest in the unfortunate contemporary trend of adults crowing, “Gen Z will save us!” They won't. This is not to say that teenagers cannot be strong or organize for a better future; there are some impressive young women out there doing incredible work, like Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Little Miss Flint, Emma Gonzalez, and, sure, maybe Claudia Conway will someday, too—but they’re doing that work because they've had their hands forced in one way or another. Claudia isn’t leaking state secrets on TikTok out of some Christlike martyrdom; she has immediate personal circumstances contributing to her participation.
When an adult who has far more autonomy and financial freedom says something like “Greta Thunberg will save us :),” they are shifting responsibility from themselves onto kids who aren't even the legal age to vote. Thunberg herself has famously admonished the United Nations for hailing her as a symbol instead of actually doing something about climate disaster.
This useless adulation from a distance isn't only applied to children, either. Liberal voters, and particularly white ones, have been eager to homogenize the beliefs of specific demographics of people in order to flatly characterize them as heroes—whether it be Gen Z, Black voters (and especially Black women), or women writ large and invoked hazily. Not only is this lazy, it often unintentionally reveals a gross bias of marveling at someone only for their other-ness, not for who they are as a whole.
The baseline flaw with this thinking is that you can't look at any demographic group as a monolith. For every progressive Gen Z TikTokker, there’s another one endorsing fascism. Black voters are a wildly diverse voting bloc, and expecting Black people to swoop in and fix everything is racist and blinkered. Hoping for salvation at the hands of women characterized in broad strokes doesn't work, either: Fifty-three percent of white women voters famously voted for Trump in the last election.
The eagerness to shift political responsibility onto children, in particular, is practically an American tradition at this point. Does it seem like things have gotten better, at the moment, though? Is it true that “the youth will figure it out,” especially when our youth have such little power, relatively? Adults need to quit this kind of breathless idolatry, especially as it's applied to this particular teenager telling her parents to buzz off—who, if a statement posted on her TikTok is to be believed, isn't comfortable with this kind of attention, either.
You don't need a #resistance hero—not Claudia, not the nebulous idea of "Gen Z," nor anybody else who isn't just you, yourself, in community with those around you. If you're looking for a savior, start with yourself by taking meaningful political action. Showing up is harder in the age of COVID, but it’s not impossible. Go learn about, then phone or text bank for, your local progressive candidates! Bring medical supplies to a protest! Donate and deliver to your closest mutual aid fund! You don’t need to reinvent the wheel—you can just join in on things that a ton of other people are doing. Retweets can come later.
The attitude of everything being made better once Trump is out of office (which isn't guaranteed!)—thanks, of course, to the children—is incorrect and dangerous. Remember that you were a plucky teen once, right? Does the world you grew up into seem like one that matches the ideas you had for it?
Sure, children are the future, but what that future holds is up to adults, and the way we exercise our political beliefs, right here in the present.
Follow Rachel Millman on Twitter.