Saturday, June 22, 2019

Changing Times: The Generational Evolution of American Politics

Do you trust the government? Your answer just might reflect how you will vote this coming November and, just perhaps, who you will vote for President in 2020. It used to be that it was fairly simple to decide. If you were liberal, you wanted a larger and more comprehensive government, and thus you would vote Democrat. If, however, you preferred a smaller and more decentralized government, you were more likely to vote Republican. Those days, however, are pretty much behind us.

The key factor was that both parties were once comprised of a large and influential core of moderates, who offset the more radical and extremist viewpoints of some of its party members. However, over the last 30 or so years, both parties have all but purged moderates from their ranks; some, for instance, would actually work against their fellow party member if they were suspected of being anything less than a ideological purist.

Today, the extremes in both parties call the shots while the moderates, which tend to represent the average American, had left both parties to become Independents or, in some case, joining third parties (particularly the Libertarians and Greens). Many of today's young adults (aka the "Millennials" and their younger cohorts, "Generation Z") are prime examples. For instance, Millennials (1980 - 1994) are the largest voting bloc since the Babyboomers. As a whole, they lean Far Left with many embracing democratic socialism (which is not the same as Communism by the way) with a small contingent supporting libertarianism (the ideology, not the political party).

However, their younger siblings, Generation Z (1995 - 2015) are just the opposite. They are leaning much further to the Right and are more likely to moderately conservative and/or embrace libertarianism with only a small minority supporting liberalism, let along democratic socialism. Perhaps this is because of the influence of the Babyboomer grandparents. You see, "Babyboomers" (such as myself) weren't one large population of Flower Children and Hippies. In fact, there were fundamentally different sects of Babyboomer known as First Cohort and the Second Cohort.

The First Cohort (1945 - 1955) were pretty much your stereotypical "free love and peace" hippie types. These were the ones we tend to see when watching documentaries about the 1960's with flowers in their hair, painted faces, Monterrey Music Festival and Woodstock. Many of these the earlier members of this cohort were also part of the "Beatnik" movement.

They were also the ones who protested the war in Vietnam, burned draft cards, marched for Civil Rights, conducted sit-ins, and other protests. They would have been affected by the death of President Kennedy, the "Red Scare", the "War on Poverty", and Watergate. These would have also been the grandparents of many of today's Millennials (their children would be known as Gen X, who, in turn, are the parents of the Millennials).

The Second Cohort (1956 - 1964 and to which I proudly belong) were different. They were more anti-establishment. They were also more assertive when it came to defying authority (forced busing comes to mind). They also supported Civil Rights, opposed the war in Southeast Asia, and so forth. They were also the ones who pushed for legislation to restrict polluted water and air, nuclear waste, and equality in the workplace. This was the cohort which saw the birth of the gay pride and women's liberation movements.

As a whole, this generation was just as "anti" almost anything, but they had more of a conservative/libertarian bent to them. This group was deeply influenced by the Cold War and expansion of Communism, the murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the moon landing, Iranian hostage crisis, the oil embargo, economic recession, and AIDs (of course, the First Cohort would have been affected too, but in a different way due to their age and life experiences). These are, generally speaking, the grandparents of Generation Z (sadly, we were also the ones responsible for polyester suits, pointy collar shirts, lip gloss, and disco. My apologies).

Unfortunately, neither political party seems to recognize this. They keep peddling the same old ideology and policies, albeit repackaged in something bright and shiny, which is being rejected by both groups. Again, unfortunately, thanks to mistakes like Citizens United, corporations now control both parties, their politicians, and, of course, the government which is why America has become an oligarchy.

What I find interesting is that the Millennials seem to be okay with the notion of a highly centralized government, even if it comes with a loss of personal privacy, provided they are essentially provided for. You could even say that they see Big Brother more as a "Uncle Buck"! On the other hand, Generation Z is more interested in entrepreneurship. They prefer to keep government at an arm's length. They rather have government more as a resource than a dorm mother.

As an example of the mentality of the two groups, Millennials are all about college and racking up massive amounts of debt to get the degree they want but not may be able to find a job doing whereas Generation Z is more interested in trade and vocational education; finding jobs where there is critical demand, good wages, having a chance to go into business for one's self, and best of all, little or no school debt.

Times are a changing as Bob Dylan once said. But the two corporate owned political parties haven't accepted that, at least not yet. As a result, both may fade away. For nearly 20 years, registration for Democrats and Republicans nationally have been in steady decline with no signs of stopping. Meanwhile, Independents have been the nation's largest political bloc for around 14 years, and that trend is continuing to grow. Even third parties are seeing an increase in membership. Of course, at the state and county levels, one party or the other may dominate in registration right now, but that too is changing. It's like boasting about who has the best seat on the Titanic while the rest of the passengers are already in rowboats and rowing as far and fast as they can away.

So, now for the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will Millennials have their way and will America become "socialist"? The answer is, of course, no. As I said earlier, America is an oligarchy, and oligarchies are not one for giving up neither power nor wealth which is what would be required under any form of "socialist" government. Bear in mind that "socialism" (which, again, is not the same as Communism no matter how many times pressure groups try to convince you otherwise) means public ownership. Even limited socialism (ie: democratic socialism) would mean major regulation of businesses as well as strict control of public and private--corporate---finances, including Wall Street. Do you think that's even a remote possibility? Yeah, me either.

But, socialism does have some good points such as national healthcare (such as Medicaid and Medicare), a national safety net like unemployment insurance, or other programs like Social Security, OSHA, wage and hour laws, the right to unionize, equal pay, food safety, clean air and water, the GI Bill, etc. Remember that when all of these programs were first introduced, the elites howled that they would mean the end of the nation as they knew it. Well, perhaps that was a good thing.

Of course there were and remain flaws in these many of these laws (thanks mainly to special interest groups trying to get a piece of the taxpayer's dollar) such Affirmative Action which promotes hiring based on race or gender rather the ability, or receiving government aid based on the number of children you have rather than discourage you from having more children you can support, or for that matter, government programs which actually encourages breaking up families rather than keeping them together (such as receiving more benefits if the male head of household is absent). At the same time, there are programs which do help minorities (including women) who might otherwise not get a break by leveling the playing field (which government should do).

There have been or are currently existing programs which have been called "socialist" which have forced corporations to take responsibility for their actions, such as price fixing, monopolies, pollution and cleanup (though taxpayers have been wrongly forced to contribute as well). But fear not! Corporations have managed to either get around many of these restrictions by having them watered down or repelled altogether thanks to their often very cozy relationship to lawmakers, or simply hiring away the regulators!

With America now an oligarchy, it's highly unlikely that we'll see a repeat of government regulations or any other program that challenges the ruling elite's grip on Washington. As it already is, the oligarchy has begun a not to subtle program to demonize anything they disapprove of as "socialist". Thus through repetition, the average citizen will come to automatically equate socialism in any form as "bad", "evil" while at the same time massively growing government as the expense of our liberties regardless of which party is in control. Kind of ironic isn't it?

Meanwhile, Generation Z keeps plugging away. Like their older Millennials brethren, they were born into a society of technology. They have no concept of a world without smart phones, computers, WiFi, and all the rest. They are also the most racially diverse of all the generational groups. The notion of discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or any of the other factors is almost a foreign concept to them, which I think is a good thing, especially because they came upon this on their own; likely due to the fact they are more exposed to "mixed" social environments. To have a gay, transgendered, or mixed race friend is no different to them than having a friend with different colored eyes or hair (even if it is fuchsia).

Another interesting aside about Gen Z is that they appear to be more religious than their older peers. 41% attend religious services compared to just 18% of Millennials. They are also less likely to drink or do hard drugs. As a result, both corporate controlled political parties will continue their race to the bottom while the Babyboomers start to exit History's stage. The fight will be next be between the Millennials and Gen Z over not just the future of America, but of the world. I suspect the Millennials will increasingly find their goals defeated; pinned between the ageing Boomers and the increasingly influential Gen Z. However, I need to point out that there are some polls which may be picking up on a future trend.

According to a recent Pew Report, as liberal as Millennials are, Generation Z may prove to be even more liberal. Gen Z are starting to show signs which indicate that may welcome are more "active" federal government. First, the Pew report from January of this year indicates that only 30% overall approve of Trump's job, compared to 29% of the Millennials or 49% of Babyboomers. 70% of Generation Z wants to government to do more to solve national problems. Among Republican/Republican leaning Gen Z, 43% say blacks are mistreated (compared to 82% who are Democrat or lean Democrat).

As an interesting aside, 70% of Gen Z Republicans say they want to see government do more (ie: a larger more pro-active federal government). They also strongly believe climate change is not only real, but is the direct result of human activity. 64% say they want stricter gun laws. 60% of Gen Z Republicans approve of President Trump's performance so far. Oh, and by the way, there are already strong indications that the majority of Gen Z will register as Independents rather than as a Democrat or Republican, owning to their sense of "uniqueness", personal independence, and avoidance of labels.

Yes, there will be some neo-socialist programs instituted along the way just to keep pace with the changing times but it will be Generation Z which will likely have the final say in the matter, at least for the time being. Ultimately, the Democrats and Republicans are going to be forced to change, jettisoning their respective extremist agendas, or become extinct. There's no in between. Third parties, while never assuming a major role in national politics, will exert an increasing influence on the local level.

Meanwhile, the Independent Movement will continue to grow and will likely seize power on a national level with the aid of Gen Z and Millennials, along with some graying Gen Xers (the Millennial's parents). Who knows, there may be an old Babyboomer or two in there too! Nevertheless, the ruling Oligarchy, which is not in the least "socialist", will seek to prevent this from happening any way it can. Bear in mind too that, given the fact we're already an oligarchy, wanting more government in your life means having more corporate control of your life. That should prove to be an interesting confrontation whose outcome will likely affect the nation for many generations to come.

Generation Z looks a lot like Millennials on key social and political issues

Generation Z

What king of voters will Gen Z be?

A New Generation's Political Awakening