Friday, March 4, 2016

A Boomer Finds Hope in the Millennials

In his recent Luntz Global Memorandum, GOP pollster Frank Luntz states, “If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air in this increasingly noxious political environment,wherein anger-driven voters permeate both political parties, look no further than America’s youth. They’re refreshingly, resoundingly sunny about America’s future.”

We see in the survey a big block of young voters who are socially concerned yet much more optimistic and progressive in their views than the populace at large.  I was a bit surprised at the gleeful tone of his memo, since Luntz is a right-wing political strategist. Speaking as a baby boomer who remembers the struggles of the 1960s and 70s, I see signs of hope among the millennials as shown in the survey findings. If we can make it over the shoals of the current election cycle, there may be smoother sailing ahead! 

Luntz Global surveyed 1,000 young Americans from ages 18 to 26 (he calls them "The Snapchat Generation). “These first- and second-time voters,” he writes, “see things much differently and with much more genuine hope than the older eyes that will mostly read this memo. And they’ll be bringing their own ideas to the polls – in droves!”

Some Hopeful Signs

Here are some of the things I was particularly glad to read (quotes from Luntz are in italics):

1. They don’t buy into American exceptionalism. The young are more likely to see themselves as “citizens of the world rather than citizens of America.” A much healthier view, I would say, than those who claim America’s greatness must be defended with an ever-increasing military budget, and with constant bellicose stances. We have to learn that we are a nation among many nations in the world, and therefore we must recognize military engagement to be an archaic form of negotiation.

National boundaries and nationalism just don’t mean the same to younger Americans as it does to their parents. A third of the Snapchat Generation (35%) define themselves as Citizens of the World rather than Citizens of America (65%). Among first time voters, the gap is even narrower: 42% citizens of the world and 58% citizens of America. This is a radical departure from what their parents and grandparents think about America and the world. Perhaps even more dramatically, nearly six in ten (58%) of the Snapchat Generation believe “America isn’t any better or worse than most other countries,” while just 42% believe that “America is exceptional. It’s better than every other country in the world.” First and second time voters simply reject the American superiority messaging in favor of the more global approach of the Democrats.

2. They put compassion above capitalism. By seeing the need for a caring community, they are freeing themselves from an ideology that extorts the poor, suppress the workers, and fills the coffers of the wealthy.

[T]hey didn’t rank “capitalism” as a top problem, but that doesn’t mean they’re in love with it. Quite the contrary. We asked them which is the most “compassionate” system, and an overwhelming 58% chose “socialism” over “capitalism” (33%). Heck, even “communism,” drew 9%. By a 2-1 margin, young voters see compassion in collectivism, not capitalism.

3. They just might be the key to wresting our democracy away from the corporate oligarchy that currently holds sway. Luntz’s survey found that young American are highly suspect toward business leaders and politicians, ranking them at the bottom of respected professions, while they place nurses, doctors and teachers at the top.

The hostility of young Americans to the underpinnings of the American economy and the American government ought to frighten every business and political leader as much as they excite activists for Sanders and, to a lesser degree, Clinton activists.

4. Most important, of the young Americans Luntz Global surveyed, 87% are likely to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

The Obama youth turnout was not just because it was for Barack Obama. This election cycle has clearly captured the imagination of first- and second-time voters. In fact, two-thirds (65%) are “extremely likely” to participate. Politicians, ignore young voters at your own peril. Because they sure as hell aren’t ignoring you.

Why Millennials Matter

I speak as one of those “Baby Boomers” – those born after WWII who came of age during the 1960s and 70s  when I say that millennials matter. They just might be the key to carrying forward the ideas that found fruition in our generation. We are, after all, at a point where we must begin handing over the reins of leadership to the younger set, and some of these young people are reminding us of the dreams we had for a better way.  

Wsaw big transitions with Elvis and then The Beatles when Rock began to hold sway. We saw "Peace and Love" at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and a music revolution at Woodstock, NY. We protested the Vietnam War and saw Nixon come down. I thought that my generation was bringing in that “New World Coming” that the Mamas and the Papas sang about. We were the ones who would make the world stop and take notice.

Our generation saw the birth of the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement. We witnessed the drive for inclusion of the LGBT community and the recognition of Indigenous Peoples. Social change was in the wind.

Then the reality pendulum began to swing. Reagan was elected and back came that era we thought we had put behind us. Suddenly we found ourselves in a world where discrimination was once again okay, fossil fuels could again be exploited (forget the energy saving policies of Jimmy Carter), unions could be busted.

Executives no longer needed not worry about equality and fairness, they could give themselves raises and ship jobs overseas to exploit cheap labor. Worst of all, the working class and the working poor bought into the plan because it was patriotic, and it was “Morning in America,” by golly! It was a big step backward for the visionaries of the 1960s.

Backlashes to Equality

Though we were never lacking in advocates for peace and justice, uncertainty and fear began to hold sway in public life. “No More Taxes” became the slogan of the day, along with, “Government is the problem.” As a result, social supports became hobbled. Equity in public life was fading as corporate greed continued on the ascendancy. We feared that the corporate oligarchy might squelch the hope for an equitable society.

Next came Barack Obama. Was there ever a more hopeful and exciting time than that inauguration in January of 2008? Then the backlash of racism and hatred set in. We had thought that we were ready to move beyond our prejudices and divisions, only to find that the hatred that had been simmering just below the surface was asserting itself was coming into full bloom once again.

Nothing to Offer but Fear Itself

Looking back, we boomers saw a torrent of conflict growing up as various social movements clashed with the establishment. We witnessed the call for civil rights, women's rights and gay rights. Many of us found hope in the successes of those movements as legislation was enacted and attitudes seemed to be changing, but in recent years, all of that work seemed in danger of being reversed.

We saw politicians tapping into people's fears instead of offering solutions. There were increasing backlashes that decimated labor unions, ignored worker's rights, and incited renewed racism and hatred. In FDR's first inaugural address, he said famously proclaimed, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Too many of today's leaders and would-be leaders seem to be saying, "The only thing we have to offer is fear itself." 

Welcome to Our World

With the Luntz Global memorandum, we now hear a more hopeful voice if we will but listen, and it is coming from the young. Who would have thought that a conservative GOP pollster and strategist would bring such good tidings of great joy? Welcome to the political world, millennials! I hope you do a better job implementing hope and social change than we boomers have done. We must not only find better ways to govern with equity and fairness, we must also effectively care for the environment. Judging from the survey, you have the vision and the votes.


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