As the times change, and our individual lives are shaped in unfamiliar ways, the underlying trends that make society what it is and us who we are have stood constant. An opinion article titled “Professors need to guide Gen Z college students through the stress of the pandemic-controlled world” by Grace Seymore details her views, as a college student, of an unchanging college experience during a worldwide pandemic that vastly reduces a student’s ability to cope with college.

What’s most telling about the article is that while it does argue that the pandemic is the reason for changes to be made, every problem mentioned in the article is rooted in the system of education that her college operates in, and had been present before the pandemic for the duration of schooling as we know it.

I’ll include my own opinion on the college experience, how systemic trends many years old are changing society.

In her article, Seymour details the pandemic’s effect on students as follows: “Over the past year and a half, college students have been exposed to a world of continual job-loss, hospitalizations, and deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” The Covid-19 pandemic is causing some very serious problems for students. Students that cannot work may not be able to service their diet, much less their student loans. And students who are hospitalized/dead don’t have very good prospects either. Of course, students suffering from job-loss might be able to land an entry-level job, but even here in Connecticut with a $12 minimum wage, entry-level jobs don’t pay enough to survive. Students that depend on themselves will need to take substantial overtime, which means less time for school and their own health.

Balancing college with working overtime isn’t made for humans. They can’t survive it. If schooling isn’t drastically changed to cope with the new pandemic economy, students will drop out for financial and health reasons en masse. College will further be for the lucky students with the most supportive, wealthy families. And college is one of the primary tools for ascending the country’s hierarchy. Access to the more irreplaceable jobs that require years of learning is what separates the middle and lower class. What we are seeing in the pandemic is a consolidation of power driven by the suffering of regular people. Of course, the pandemic will end. But even if we can put Covid-19’s crisis back in the box now, the problems of the pandemic are merely a glimpse into the future. Job loss… hospitalization… death. One day every one of us will face one of these things or more. And we will be met with the same care and consideration as any one of those kids.

The snowball effect of education as it is, where access to education is a requirement for wealth, and wealth is a requirement for education, is just one of many problems that has always been there, yet is always getting worse. Changing more lives, changing more towns. But what about the changes that seem to have come out of the woodwork?

Whenever I talk to either of my parents about the newest crazy political thing, they both say the same thing. “It didn’t used to be this way.” I can’t say for sure that they’re right; I’ve never known anything different. But I’ve only cared about the news for a few years. Ten years ago there was this big event on the news that didn’t affect me in any way. Occupy Wall Street. We are the 99%. Their tagline is a reference to income and wealth inequality between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. It’s followed me through pop culture up until today, and recently peaked in the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign.

This us vs them, 99% vs 1% view of things is a type of populism, a term for supporting the rights and privileges of the people in a power struggle with a privileged elite. What “supporting the rights and privileges of the people” is and who the “privileged elite” is, is very subjective. For example, the will of the people might be “what this guy says” and the privileged elite can be “whoever disagrees with this guy.” Populism ranges from the politics of Gandhi to Hitler, broadly anti-elitist but completely dependent on an individual’s truth.

My parents don’t say “It wasn’t always like this” like we lost a war because people started hating the rich. In 2017, a conspiracy theory movement called QAnon began in earnest. The theory is that an organization of Satan-worshiping pedophiles run the government, media, and finance of the US. It also states that this organization is mobilizing against then-President Trump, and that a “Big Storm” is coming for those involved. A poll by the PRRI gives 15% as the percent of Americans who consider this theory to be true. It’s hard to imagine that such a drastic change in politics was inevitable. But life for the 99% has been slowly, steadily getting harder since 1979, the last year where wages grew with productivity. Whether this is the product of a flawed constitution, capitalism, or the schemes of powerful goth kid-diddlers, a populist movement was always on the way.

Things are crazy right now, and it looks like they’re going to get crazier. The problems of yesterday are here today, getting worse. The education system will stay just as it always has, rejecting the underprivileged, as privilege is monopolized. As life gets harder, and resentment for the powerful grows, just as it always has, new political movements meet popular demand. Our world is being flipped upside down, and it has been for a while.

James Stallone lives in Newtown.