Use Tough Love To Win The Millennials
The Millennial Vote was treated like a Magical Unicorn in the 2016 election. It is seen as something valuable and mysterious. As Dan Schwabel, at Quartz, in a piece modestly entitled The complete guide to winning the millennial vote this election recently noted:
As we head into November’s US elections, all candidates are vying for the millennial vote—and for good reason. Millennials are … a critical bloc for any campaign. 69.2 million are now eligible to vote, which is more than double compared to the past decade. When added together with Gen-X voters, 2016 represents the first time young people have displaced the Baby Boomer vote. At the same time, millennials are historically less likely to vote than their older peers, with only around half having voted in the last presidential election. Knowing this, there’s no question that all political parties will be pushing hard to get them to the voting booths this fall.
I, too, covet the kids’ allegiance. Yet I – an aging Boomer – confess to finding the Millennials mystifying. I am the father and co-owner of three of them (plus one Gen Xer). I know more than a few others. They’re Everywhere, and deeply enigmatic.
Yet I have a theory that could provide the key to resolving their riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. They have not yet found, but absolutely must conceive and declare, their own Narrative.
Take note. Making this strong demand of them would be an act of tough love. It could pay huge dividends.
A quick glance at the new generation gap. Betraying just how old a fogey I am, let me recount a bit of conversation from a few years ago with a lovely Young Fogey Millennial, discussing a column of mine in the long lost ParcBench.com. It was about how the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones (through, respectively, Revolution, Won’t Get Fooled Again, and Sympathy for the Devil) stopped an impending communist takeover of America and the West. Let’s add Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth.
The Young Fogey’s response stopped me cold: “That’s really interesting. I’ve heard of the Beatles.” So who am I to judge? And yet….
The sociologists and pollsters obsessively study these magical unicorns with something like the ardor of an anthropologist encountering a newly discovered tribe in the Amazon basin. Their earnest scholasticism is interesting but does not resolve the enigma. Schwabel summarizes some of the pollsters’ observations:
The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Shapers survey found the top five most concerning world issues for young people are climate change, large-scale conflicts, religious conflicts, poverty, and government accountability. …
Socioeconomic wellbeing is also important, as 20% of millennials are living in poverty, many whom are unemployed, underemployed, or have even given up on finding a job. These young voters want politicians to close the poverty gap and regulate student loans so that they aren’t poor and in debt. The same Harvard poll found that millennials feel the division between rich and poor is worse than before they were born. Finally, they want the government to be more transparent and less corrupt.
After the recession and the following bailouts, they became more suspicious of politicians, and they have to work harder to earn their trust back. A mere one in every four millennials says they can trust the government always or most of the time.
Sounds true. Yet as Winston Churchill purportedly once demanded of a waiter, “Take away this pudding, it has no theme.” The poll results, similarly do not reveal a theme.
Every generation needs to write its own story. We Boomers were great at generating drama, manufacturing meaning for our lives, and achieving glory. Time for the Millennials to step up and top us.
A few years ago, a group of collegiate Millennials came to interview me. They had the usual surly attitude toward us Boomers. We had, they seemed to believe, Ruined Everything. I told them point blank, to their astonishment, that they were dead wrong about us. We Boomers have a great track record and are weary and waiting for them to step up, wrest power from us, and use it for Good. They were astounded.
The Boomers inaugurated an imperfect but amazingly successful worldwide epoch of world peace, human dignity and equitable prosperity. Bringing this about took many pitched battles with “The Establishment.” Our victories, many hard fought, fulfilled our human hunger for drama and for glory. Now it’s the job of the Millennials to bring it home.
Peace: Our generation won the Cold War. One of the outcomes? The number of nuclear weapons in the world has dropped from something like 60,000 in 1985 to about 3,000, deployed, today. That’s a really big deal.
There is, of course, more to be done. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry now heroically and shrewdly calls upon America to scrap the most dangerous element of the nuclear weapons triad, ICBMs. Taking the threat of nuclear war down another big notch would be a great Cause for the Millennials to take up.
Come on kids, time to step up to the plate. The Pentagon still needs some exorcising.
Despair is not a strategy. Step up!
Dignity: In winning the Cold War we took down communist totalitarianism over most of the world, replacing it, imperfectly but impressively, with classical liberal republican governance. Elsewhere, we softened totalitarianism to authoritarianism. That’s an amazing triumph for human dignity.
There is, of course, more to be done. The eradication of racial discrimination is a moral imperative. And ending racial bigotry, while justifiably the cause célèbre, is not the only bigotry to fight. One of the polls cited by Schwabel identifies religious liberty as a big Millennial value. Add in opposition religious bigotry.
Come on kids, time to step up to the plate. How about making George Washington’s declaration “to bigotry no sanction” a rallying cry?
Despair is not a strategy. Step up!
Prosperity: The Boomers placed the world on course to nearly end abject poverty. We achieved this, startlingly, not through government aid but through policies of market-driven economic growth.
There is, of course, more to be done. Environmental degradation as a side effect is a serious problem. Solve it. How? Worried about Climate Change? Think it’s induced by CO2? We Boomers used market-driven innovation to drive down the cost of emission-free energy — solar, wind, and the attendant storage devices needed for intermittent power — by, in some cases, 99%.
Emission-free energy will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels. Bonus: No CO2!
Come on kids, step up to the plate. Cleaning up the land, air and oceans, and accelerating the development and adoption of cheap, emission-free energy, are great Causes.
Despair is not a strategy. Step up!
Given the epic, almost mythic, successes of us Boomers, how can the Millennials hope to compete? What Story will they ride to Glory?
Millennials could undo the wreckage of the classical liberal republican order wrought by well-meaning progressives. This path has been meticulously charted by public intellectual Jonathan Rauch. Our crumbling national physical infrastructure is just a shadow on the cave wall cast by our degraded political infrastructure. Great Cause.
Millennials of a more militant stripe can lead the fight against the Cultural Revolution that is attempting to create an undifferentiated, dangerously romantic utopian, cultural hegemony. Great Cause. Those of a more nurturing stripe can undertake to commence a secular project to reweave the social fabric. Great Cause.
The most obvious and compelling Cause might be to inaugurate a true golden age of equitable prosperity. Call it “Restoring the American Dream of Prosperity and Justice For All.” The parties have become ridiculously polarized, Republicans for Prosperity and Democrats for Justice. These are not mutually exclusive. We need both and actually know how to get both … once we stop using the American Dream as a political football.
The System has blindly stumbled into a Little Dark Age, 16 years of economic stagnation. This is almost certainly due to bad monetary policy, which since about the turn of the millennium has caused GDP to grow at only half its historical trend. Compounded, that has cut our wages and wealth, and the national GDP, by about a third from where it should be. This tsunami of poverty has hit Millennials especially hard.
The American Dream — prosperity conjoined with economic justice — has slipped into a long coma. Restore good job growth and equitable prosperity by restoring the classical gold standard. Millennials can double the rate of real GDP growth, generating great jobs, gaining the means to pay off those onerous student loans, and get on with prospering. Great cause.
There are many potential Great Causes beckoning. We Boomers, however, are worn out.
So far, though: Crickets. Step up!
Demanding that the Millennials step up looks like the solution of the enigma and the means to earn their allegiance and votes. A presidential candidate who publicly applies this tough love lesson to the Millennials will inspire a massive constituency and earn many votes.
A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.