The ‘House of Cards’ generation
Two things are now irrelevant: Donald Blythe and Donald Blythe’s new draft. Eventually I’ll have to rewrite the bill myself. ‘Forward’ is the battle cry. Leave ideology to the armchair generals. It does me no good.
Judging by a new report from the think tank Third Way, Underwood’s last few lines could have been spoken by the entire millennial generation.
Unlike other reports on millennial voting patterns, which tend to assume that the demographic is reliably Democratic-leaning, or try to paint them as closet libertarians, the Third Way report describes the newest generation in terms that are at once frustrating and enlightening. To quote from the report’s final paragraph:
Millennials are poised to have an outsized influence on our politics due to their sheer size. But their values and beliefs have been misunderstood, if not openly maligned, largely because they are not seen in the context of this group’s unique generational experiences. Millennials can support an expansive federal role for government while holding reservations and deep skepticism about its efficacy. They may be racially and ethnically diverse, but their views were not forged in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. They came of age in an era of unprecedented access to alternatives and a steady stream of information from nearly any region of the world, yet they are expected to get excited by orchestrated events and scripted interactions.
Elsewhere, the report notes that millennials react with skepticism to politicians who present a carefully manicured public image, rather than offering themselves up, warts and all. As examples of this latter type, the report cites Cory Booker and Rand Paul, focusing especially on the latter’s choice to engage with younger constituents via Snapchat. In short, this is a ruthlessly pragmatic and skeptical generation that will abandon all forms of ideology, tradition, authority or spin the instant they cease to line up with what they see as reality. Appearances and intentions do not matter; all they want are truth and results.
Accommodating this mindset is a jarring challenge for politicians of all stripes. In many ways, its potential for disruption already has been witnessed in the careers of two especially successful recent media figures, one solidly in the millennial generation and the other narrowly missing it: namely, Ezra Klein and Nate Silver. As Charles Cooke at National Review observed about Klein and Silver’s recent alienation from their left-of-center fanbase:
What have the duo done to deserve their scorchings? Little more than to have proved more independent than their champions had assumed they would dare to be. Silver has been censured largely on the back of two terrible “mistakes” — those being to have hired Roger Pielke Jr., an economist and climate scientist of whom our self-appointed arbiters of taste evidently do not approve, and to have fired up his famous model and predicted that the Republican party had a 60 percent chance of taking the Senate this year. In Washington D.C., meanwhile, Klein was lambasted for hiring one Brandon Ambrosino, a gay writer who has apparently been operating under the impression that he has the right to deviate from the zeitgeist. Oops!
In other words, Silver and Klein did what they’ve gained a reputation for doing: offering facts and data irrespective of whether that data supports an emotionally or ideologically satisfying conclusion. Cooke sees this as a dishonest masking of bias, yet it’s what an entire generation appears to cry out for. The idea that one is “entitled to one’s own opinion, but not one’s own facts” has come back with a vengeance in the younger generation, and they have little patience for blind faith. To quote the report, “Millennial voters are unlikely to align with a political party that expects blind faith in large institutions – either governmental or nongovernmental.”
Contrary to those who rush to dismiss this bewildering “neutrality” among millennials as simple window dressing for a conventionally liberal ideology, there are in fact areas where millennials diverge equally as strongly from a liberal ideological consensus as they do from a conservative one. A slightly lower percentage of millennials are pro-choice than among older Americans , for instance, and 62 percent of millennials generally oppose the use of race as a factor in hiring or college admissions. In fact, the report suggests that millennials see the latter as just as antiquated and irrelevant to modern-day realities as racism itself.
These sorts of differences strike at the heart of progressive liberalism, for they threaten both conventional anti-racist and feminist wisdom. In fact, reading between the lines on millennial irreligiosity, wholesale rejection of socially conservative views on marijuana and marriage, skepticism of previous civil rights approaches and ambivalence on abortion, one sees a generation that is sorely weary of a politics based on one’s fixed identity, rather than on shifting reason and data.
How will politics shift to approximate the wishes of these voters? One cannot fully know. However, it seems very likely that, given their willingness to leave ideology to the armchair generals, millennials aren’t going to take the challenges the country faces sitting down.