Millennials in the Age of Political Disillusionment

To start off, I will fully disclose the fact that I am a left-leaning individual. I am a registered Democrat, which I almost am scared to admit publicly for fear of losing friends, and a social progressive. I am, however, seriously considering changing my affiliation to Independent. Honestly, I never had an interest in politics until I was in my last year of high school. Although I hate throwing around the 9/11 card, I was 16 when the event occurred and to try to pretend that it did not have a profound effect on my political inclinations would be ignoring the truth. Most of my peers, whether they fall to the right or the left, were shaped by this event. The way it affected me was to burst a bubble of naiveté and innocence that I had about the world around me. I trusted and believed whatever I was told by someone in a position of power. I had no reason to question them and the thought of doing so never entered my consciousness. In a nutshell, I was dramatically changed. My personality didn’t change very much, but my perception did. I had just visited New York City and the WTC for the first time two months before September 11th occurred and the memories of my trip were so fresh in my mind. I was sitting in Algebra class when someone told me what had happened, asking if I had heard about it. I didn’t believe it at first until the teacher turned on the CCTV in the classroom. I was dumbfounded and shocked. I was worried about family and friends in the city and I even snapped back to the teacher when she told me to pay attention to our math lessons (something I never would have done otherwise.) And, to be honest, not all of my friends were so affected by this. One of my friends even said that everyone needed to “get over it.” My intention is not to paint everyone in my generation with a broad brush. But, what occurred after this event, for me, was a period of questioning in my life. I just couldn’t comprehend how something like that could happen and, as theories began to emerge and wars started, I began to wonder if the status quo was something that was operating in my best interest.

 

So, I became politically active in my early college years as the Bush/Kerry campaigns and elections came to the forefront of public discourse. I attended meetings and signed up for email lists. I read literature and wore buttons. I was becoming a college student. Well, short of protesting in the streets, that is what I felt I was supposed to do. And, it was a valuable exercise. It shaped me during a period of plasticity in my life. Later on, I rallied behind the Obama campaign. I was convinced that he was the person to represent me. And during the second election, I rallied behind him again (albeit less vigorously) because he was a known quantity and I did not agree with the alternatives.

 

Alright, alright. Enough with the personal preface. Get to the point!

 

Okay. Millennials. Political disillusionment. I am of the thinking that, sans political science majors who have an almost fanatical devotion to the tenets of the political process and people who belong to certain branches of conservatism, my generation is disillusioned with politics, government, politicians, etc. You can ask people on the right or the left and I’d bet that you will find people who are not happy about things. Take my personal view on the presidents during my lifetime (and what I remember about their terms) as a sample of why people in my generation might feel the way they do:

Reagan-What I remember of the 80s were cool. People seemed happy. I had just turned 4 when he left office, so I don’t remember anything about him. What do I think of him as an adult? He was an actor. Videos I’ve seen of him while Governor of California are not flattering. He made some tax cuts that came back to bite us in the butt. Phrases that come to mind? Deficit spending, war on drugs, Reaganomics. Also, some people think he is Jesus.

Bush #1– “God Bless the USA” came out during his term and we sang it at every school function beginning in Kindergarten through high school. Barbara Bush had interesting hair. I think I remember that he talked funny.

Clinton– Recycling was cool during his term. Also, he played the saxophone and the first issue of Nickelodeon Magazine featured paper dolls of the first family (including Sox the cat). He didn’t have relations with that woman. Oh wait. Yes, he did. Scandal! Then everyone forgets. NAFTA? To be a child of the 90s rocked. The Democratic Party doesn’t think he is Jesus, but he is some sort of father figure to them. Kind of like Jeb Bush, but on the other side of the fence (if that fence actually has another side).

Bush #2– Hanging chads! Recounts! Gore wins! Oh, wait, no he doesn’t! Supreme Court says Bush wins. No one cares anymore. 9/11 happens. Crap! Bush starts acting like a Southerner and develops an odd accent. Words and phrases from this period? I won’t list them because I’m pretty sure they are all NSA keywords. We go after SH and OBL. WMD and all that. Oil? Also, Bush-bashing. Oh! Time for another election! Who the heck is John Kerry? Oh, Vietnam? Ok. He knows about war. Social issues are important all of a sudden! Stem cells, abortion, gay marriage, etc. There is too much to think about at once. It is very confusing. So, if I don’t vote for Bush, I’m voting against my faith? Existential crisis! Ok. I’m over it. I voting for the other guy. He didn’t win? Crap. Ok, well, I just have to deal with this. I don’t like it. I also hate “No Child Left Behind.” Oh, everyone will hate it eventually, too? Cool.

Obama– Wow! Finally someone I can identify with! He doesn’t like wars and he thinks they were based on false pretenses! I don’t like that people my age and younger are dying in these wars. Maybe he is the change I’ve been waiting for! I’m gonna vote for him! He won! Yay! I’m so excited! The world will be a better place! Oh crap. A financial crisis? Everyone’s losing their homes? What’s a foreclosure? People are jobless? Everyone’s in debt? Crap! I just graduated from college! How will this affect me? Oh, he has a plan? Let’s see how this goes. Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting. People think he isn’t American. Oy vey. He isn’t closing Guantanamo like he said he would? Oh. We are bringing troops home but very gradually and slowly? Oh. Corporations are people? Oh. Time to run again! Mitt Romney reminds me of a robot. No other choices. Gotta get behind Obama again, even if I don’t agree with a lot of things. He won again? Yay.

 

Long story long, Millennials are beginning to feel that we will never get to lead the lives we were told we would. Yes, some of us are trying to get rich and famous for dumb things, but most of us just want a job, a home, and a family. We know we won’t have Social Security. We know that pensions will not exist when we are old. Yes, we are prepared to work until we are no longer physically able. We just want honesty from whatever direction it comes. We see through the spin. We see through the PR. We hate the partisan bickering, but we aren’t satisfied with concessions, either. We just want solutions because we don’t see a bright, sunny, easy future ahead of us. We believe our politicians are out of touch. Even if they are in their forties, we think they are out of touch. Yes, they might know all the lyrics to “Gangsta’s Paradise,” but they were not shaped by the same things as us, nor do they face the same uncertain futures that we do.

I’m not naive enough to believe that some dream politician will come and sweep us off our feet and make the world what we want it to be. Remember? We already did that once before. All that we want is almost too much to ask. But, I think people might be surprised when we come of age. I have hope.

 

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