I was taken aback after the 2016 Presidential Election, but not in the way you’d think.
I understand the higher over-arching symbolism that each candidate represented. Breaking the glass ceiling, women vindicated—or simply keeping someone out of office who openly derogated women, religion, and minorities. I understand what our President means to the world, what the position means to children and how the position sets the tone of what we agree upon as a society is acceptable behavior. The Presidency is much more than policy.
As stunning as it was to witness our country elect Donald Trump, I was more shocked and dumbfounded by Millennials. Their response. How they reacted and handled themselves. The level in which their feelings, lives, and outlook of the world was so entwined with the person in office.
I’m an ‘old man’ Millennial. I’m about as old as you can be and still be considered a Millennial. Frankly, I feel completely out of touch with kids entering college. The generation gap between me and 20 year olds is just as significant as someone who is in their 40s, or 70s.
At first, I was disgusted. I looked upon the kids rioting as my parents did—they were nothing but a bunch of spoiled brats who had never been taught how to lose. They don’t understand or respect democracy and seem unable to accept that someone may disagree with them. I was honestly shocked by the pure venom and vile hatred they were spewing in “safe spaces.” They’re a soft, coddled generation that is self-absorbed and completely out of touch with the grittiness that it takes to sustain a nation.
However, just as the left and media underestimated the “silent majority,” dismissing Millennials as “soft” may be a much bigger mistake.
All of my life, people have never reacted to politics this way. The level of emotional attachment to a candidate, political party, or ideology was something I had never witnessed—except when it comes to religion. To me, the kids protesting Donald Trump appeared to run in the same vein of lunacy that supports the Westboro Baptist Church.
It’s no mystery that the first world is becoming less religious. People are believing less and less in organized religion and are becoming more “personally spiritual.” Religion has been washed from schools and education—religion is no longer the driving force behind our society. Progressivism is. I’m not interested in the debate over if that’s right or wrong, but the fact remains that it is happening. Or rather, has already happened.
Government, as an ideology, is replacing religion in our society. Our President has become our Pope. The Dalai Lama. I’m not completely against this transition because if people believe in their government, at least they’re believing in something tangible. However, objectivity in our government has become lost to symbolism. It is more important for Millennials to identify with what the President represents, rather than the political stances they take.
Young adults who became old enough to vote this year were children when President Obama took office. They were 10 years old learning about the historical significance of the first black man in office, but also the magic of what it represented to the entire world. President Obama, especially within educational institutions, became a mythical figure. Iconography for the Progressive movement. For a significant portion of an entire generation, the Progressive’s had a figurehead to point to that represented their view for the future of the world—and they indoctrinated it.
What Traditionalist seem to be overlooking is that they lost the culture war generations ago. Our government has moved beyond functional policy and is now a social institution. Republicans and Democrats alike are fine with it, especially when it suits them. However, after witnessing this election, it is now clear that our young people are beyond social symbolism. Millennials are treating our government as a religion, and we’re seeing signs that they’ve become radicalized.
My issue has nothing to do with the Progressive movement or the vision they have for the future, but rather the methods they are taking to achieve it. Millennials believe they are righteous in their cause which goes beyond our political convention. People who believe deeply in ideology are unable to compromise; the same way Christians, Jews, and Muslims have clashed over the millennia. There is no democracy in religion, only self-righteous indignation—which is exactly what these riots represent.
The radicalization of a political theory puts democracy at risk, even if Millennials believe they are championing the betterment of society. Having a political discussion with a Millennial is the same as having a scientific conversation with an evangelical. It’s beyond rational compromise. The concern is that Millennials are a growing majority and there’s no clear sign that they respect the democratic system we have in place. Should policy or an opponent contradict their beliefs, there seems to be no discourse, but rather fire and brimstone.
Progressive’s views of Trump are valid and justified, they have a place and voice in our society. But what the movement needs to realize is our system has afforded them that voice. The time will come when Millennials begin to take office, but are they willing to play by the same set of rules set by our Constitution? Or, are they going to change the democratic process because it doesn’t always produce the results they want?
I’m not saying that Progressivism is wrong—I’m also not saying it is right—but it could very well be the path of future. However, it has to be done democratically. There is a higher truth—a greater good—above any political affiliation, and that truth is a democratic system. And ours, which bares reminding, is the best political system, historically, humankind has ever known. As students are educated about President Obama, I hope they are equally as focused on the democratic structure that got him there.
Millennials have introduced a political component that I hope sticks and is carried with them throughout their lifetime. They believe in the character of their leaders. That’s a quality both Democrats and Republicans haven’t been held to, our country allowing them to hide their corruption behind policy and still keep their jobs. The older generation is willing to overlook undesirable behavior if they believe in the legislation, whereas the character of the individual means much more to Millennials than the agenda they represent—hence Bernie Sanders.
Only a small fraction of the population truly believes in Sander’s view of how the country should be run. However, he’s a good guy. He’s been a public servant his whole life, his policy seems compassionate, he lives modestly, he’s never been involved in a scandal, he’s never been associated with corruption—he has integrity. That’s why people liked him. That’s why he resonated. Who Sander’s is as a person outweighed what he could actually do for the country—but one day, the two will coincide.
With that said, there needs to be a strong group of young people who believes in our Constitution. They need to hold it above all ideology. One day a leader will come along who we can all rally behind and unite us—that person will have significant power—not only over our government, but our culture and society. We need young men and women to act as referees in Washington, not as extremist, to ensure that no one group, no advancement of society, fractures our democracy or leaves anyone behind. Even if Progressivism is the way forward for our country, we need to hold on to democracy for future generations so they can grow and change with the world, just as we’re doing now. Our political structure is not the problem. Drastic divisions throughout our culture is. Preserve the union above all else.