Whoever Wins, We Millennials Lose
As an opening statement, let me make a few things clear. I make no claims to be unbiased. I, like all of you readers who aren’t search engine crawlers, am human and am therefore just as flawed and biased as you. I speak for myself, and while I consider myself a millennial I am but one of many — my words do not represent the generation as a whole. I’m also a bit rusty at this political writing thing, since I’ve kept my writings on this subject to maybe three paragraphs at most since my college graduation in 2009. I did a lot of writing like this in college for my classes, so I got burned out and haven’t made a stab at starting up again until now. So please, bear with me. If people like this, I’ll do it more often. If not, then at least I had my full say for a change rather than having to pare it down to a paragraph or three. This is an opinion piece, not a research paper like I used to write.
As many of my friends may know or remember, I’m not a big fan of Michael Moore…mainly because if I shave my beard and wear a baseball cap everyone thinks I’m him or look like him. But he’s smart, as he reminded us with his article ‘5 Reasons Trump Will Win.’ Now, before anyone harps on me for being a racist or the like, go read the article — he’s not endorsing Trump (this is Michael Moore we’re talking about) and neither am I, he’s just laying out the facts of the matter. I skimmed through it when it went up on the 21st, but his 4th point (The Depressed Sanders Vote) and 5th point (The Jesse Ventura Effect) really stuck with me. They kept popping back in my head as I watched the 2016 Democratic National Convention unfold. I started writing up a Facebook post about those two points earlier today, and it ballooned to the point where I thought “this has gotten too big, and needs to be moved to another medium” (pun intended).
How Did I End Up Writing This?
I woke Thursday morning (at 7am — the sun was not gone) after another night reading my friends railing on each other’s political views, slinging mud, and insisting that we must dissent. Accusations that voting for third parties would be throwing your vote away ran rampant. Insinuations that a vote for anyone but Hillary is a vote for misogyny, racism, and xenophobia abounded. Accusations that suddenly switching support from Sanders to Hillary either made you a hypocrite, a shill, or just someone who was failing to stick up for their personal ideals were filling my screen. Seriously, I don’t know why I was up as late as I was reading this stuff. Maybe I’m just fascinated at how every four years my peers become political animals? Maybe it is sheer wonder at having more people engage in political discussion. Or maybe it was just raw, unadulterated, morbid fascination at watching a society tear itself apart?
Anyway, I sat there in bed staring at the ceiling, constantly shutting off the radio alarm because I couldn’t take any more political news. Four hours later, I finally convinced myself to get out of bed and just push all the disgust I have with this election season out of my mind for the day…but that didn’t last for long, because the pings and notifications just kept rolling in. That’s how I ended up writing this diatribe, as a response to all those people who are saying that I have no choice but to give in to the false choice presented before us.
I’ve always been pretty quiet on my political views online. Part of that has to do with the amount of political writing I did in college for my major — I’ve got a political science and international relations background, so I got burnt out on talking politics for a while after graduation in 2009. That lasted until around the 2012 election. The rest has to do the with the fact that I’m a bit hard to classify politically — as a pro-2A libertarian environmentalist liberal who supports an assault weapons ban, I make pollsters ill just by existing. I think I just heard a few of my readers’ heads implode from reading that description of my political views. Consequently, I’ve got friends all over the political spectrum, even if some of them think I’m ‘politically childish,’ ‘misguided,’ have my ‘head in the clouds,’ ‘a traitor to <insert cause here>’ or any number of other things I’ve been declared over the years, I decided to only list some of the polite ones here. I’ve never ‘unfriended’ anyone because of their political views, that’s a childish thing to do that just increases the political divisions we have here in the USA. I have just never chosen to sacrifice one aspect of my political views in favor of another one. It isn’t about wishing I could have my cake and eat it too, it is about sticking up for what I believe in. This is why I say that Ted Cruz is deserving of respect for refusing to endorse Trump — he may be a misguided, misogynistic, xenophobic Bible-thumper who wishes to replace our government with a Southern Baptist theocracy, but he had the courage to get up on stage and speak his mind. He stood up for what he believed in.
However, this weird, ‘friends on both sides of the aisle’ status puts me in a troubling position — my Facebook feed has just kind of turned into a mess over the past few weeks. It is that kind of mess that just drags you into it, no matter how much you want to ignore it. Like a car crash on the side of a highway, you can’t help but slow down and look, along with a dash of urge to get out of the car and get involved. Friends fighting with friends, harping on each other and INSISTING that we must abandon our current views and switch to their view. Whatever happened to calm, rational discourse? I’ve got Trump supporter friends who are parroting the ‘Make America Great Again’ line without actually saying when America was ‘great.’ I’ve got Clinton supporter friends who are bullying my Sanders supporter friends to ‘fall in line and vote for Hillary so we don’t have to deal with a Trump presidency.’ I’ve got Sanders supporter friends who are bemoaning the email leaks and trying to figure out what to do now — who then promptly get leaped upon by the previous two groups of friends like they were seals and it is Shark Week. It’s like watching society tear itself apart at the behest of two people who honestly both fit the actual definition of a demagogue — and both don’t at the same time.
Why They Both Are and Are Not Demagogues
Now, that last sentence in the previous paragraph probably turned some heads, but let’s look at what a demagogue actually is.
Noun. A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument. (In ancient Greece and Rome) a leader or orator who espoused the cause of the common people. (Oxford University Press)
It is easy to see from that definition why both Clinton and Trump can be seen to be demagogues. According to the definition of the term, these days most American politicians can be seen as demagogues. Look at the second part of that definition, ‘espoused the cause of the common people.’ Politicians running for office these days rarely speak about anything on the campaign trail other than the cause of the common people. And that’s because no voter would vote for a politician who got on stage and made a speech declaring that everything will be worse for his or her constituents when the time for re-election rolled around. It’s pure tactics, nothing more, nothing less.
But then why are they not demagogues? In truth, part of why this election is so terrifying and troubling for me has nothing to do with the fact that we’re torn between legitimizing a plutocracy in the form of Trump and continuing the growing trend of the concentration of political power in small families in the form of Clinton. It’s the fact that at their core, both candidates are right (at least about some things). American jobs are being shipped overseas in the name of profit. The gender pay gap is real, just look at the numbers. Corporations are dodging taxes, just look at their tax records. Russia is throwing its weight around. China is building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Terrorism is a problem. The economy is taking longer to recover than projected. Wage growth is stagnant. The climate is changing. The list goes on and on, and this is honestly nothing new.
Moore’s Terrifying Truths
All right, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of why I started to write this thing in the first place, before it evolved into this behemoth textdump you have before you right now.
Moore’s Terrifying Truth #4 — The Depressed Sanders Vote
4 — The Depressed Sanders Vote. Stop fretting about Bernie’s supporters not voting for Clinton — we’re voting for Clinton! The polls already show that more Sanders voters will vote for Hillary this year than the number of Hillary primary voters in ’08 who then voted for Obama. This is not the problem. The fire alarm that should be going off is that while the average Bernie backer will drag him/herself to the polls that day to somewhat reluctantly vote for Hillary, it will be what’s called a “depressed vote” — meaning the voter doesn’t bring five people to vote with her. He doesn’t volunteer 10 hours in the month leading up to the election. She never talks in an excited voice when asked why she’s voting for Hillary. A depressed voter. Because, when you’re young, you have zero tolerance for phonies and BS. Returning to the Clinton/Bush era for them is like suddenly having to pay for music, or using MySpace or carrying around one of those big-ass portable phones. They’re not going to vote for Trump; some will vote third party, but many will just stay home. Hillary Clinton is going to have to do something to give them a reason to support her — and picking a moderate, bland-o, middle of the road old white guy as her running mate is not the kind of edgy move that tells millennials that their vote is important to Hillary. Having two women on the ticket — that was an exciting idea. But then Hillary got scared and has decided to play it safe. This is just one example of how she is killing the youth vote. (MichaelMoore.com)
Most of the voters out there vote a straight party ticket — this has become increasingly obvious with the growing polarization in American politics we’ve seen since the 1990s. Nine states in the nation actually allow you to make a single mark on your ballot to indicate you are voting for Party X (Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah). So it goes without saying that a sizable amount of voters who supported Bernie Sanders are instead going to be voting for Hillary Clinton instead. But the point that Michael Moore raises after that about the ‘depressed vote’ is a very important one. Bernie Sanders energized millennial voters like Barack Obama did in 2008, he created a grassroots movement that was pulling more and more people into it all the time. All you had to do was look around during primary season — Bernie Sanders stickers everywhere, and no sign of Hillary Clinton. Maybe the Clinton supporters were just confident? Maybe they were waiting to see how things turned out in the primaries rather than have to scrape a sticker off their bumper? Of course, Michael Moore was writing this before the email leaks, and therefore didn’t have the chilling confirmation that the suspicions some of us had all along.
The ‘depressed vote’ is going to be worse than Michael Moore realized, and it’s specifically because of the millennials. Yes, a large number of them will still vote for Hillary Clinton. But the depressing-effect is going to be sharper and more heavily noticed. You won’t see millennials out canvassing for Hillary Clinton the way you saw them doing so for Barack Obama. You won’t see them parading around in Hillary Clinton paraphernalia and plastering their cars with her weird H-arrow logo. But here’s the thing — we millennials can’t stand the kind of hypocrisy we’ve seen from the Democratic National Committee this cycle. The very idea that the committee that works to determine who is the nominee had chosen their nominee before the first vote was cast is anathema to our views on the political process. Maybe we were too naive, maybe we were still holding on too tightly to the last remnants of our idealism about the American political process. But that’s definitely gone now. Whether our ire is directed at the superdelegates who chose to ignore the will of the people in their respective states, or at the way a large metropolitan area can override the wishes of 95% of the geographic area of the state, or the party insiders in the Committee who threw away their job of remaining neutral in favor of rigging the entire process — we’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore.
Sure, the vast majority of us will stick to the party line and willingly follow into lockstep with the ‘will of the people,’ however dubious that claim might be, just to ensure that the more terrifying alternative to the coronated candidate does not win. Others will jump ship, for destinations that both excite and terrify me. And still others are just burned out on this faux-democracy, and will retire from the political realm for the time being. What matters here is that the damage has been done. We won’t see the majority effects in this election year, but we’ll see it in 2018 and beyond.
Bernie Sanders was a candidate who spoke to millennials as if we were real people. He acknowledged that our lives have meaning and value. He was essentially apologizing for the damage that his generation and the generations between him and us have done to our hopes and dreams for the future. He didn’t try and dumb things down for us and treat us like schoolchildren. He didn’t tell us that we should just listen to our elders. He didn’t accuse us of being wide-eyed idealists who are too naive for the real world. And how was he treated? The mainstream liberal media refused to cover him fairly. The Democratic National Committee actively worked behind the scenes to make things difficult for him. The mainstream conservative media leaped upon the words ‘democratic socialist’ and Godwin’s Law promptly came into effect. We’ve been wronged, and after so many consecutive years of being wronged I think we’re finally done with it.
The Democratic Party has long been a haven for the millennial generation because the alternative just seemed, well, backwards to the majority of us. It gave us what we were looking for — the hope that tomorrow will be a better day if we just keep moving forwards. But all we’ve seen is increasing polarization, watered-down attempts at reform, and now we’ve seen something that is just completely and utterly terrifying to us: the status-quo candidate. Sure, there’s some “we need to fix these few things” in her platform, but all in all Hillary Clinton appears to be campaigning to maintain the status quo. And that’s a status quo with ever-dwindling prospects for millennials. The jobs we trained for ceased to exist before we graduated, and nobody was willing to hire anyone who didn’t have any experience. Nowadays people without experience are getting hired, but they’re getting hired for jobs we didn’t train for, and we can’t afford to go get re-trained because we’re still trying to pay off the cost of the first round of training to begin with.
But the alternative to Hillary Clinton is far, far more terrifying to a generation that has grown up championing the causes of equality, free flow of information, and freedom from the increasingly corporate-driven overlords that run this nation. The mere concept that one of those corporate overlords could become a political overlord is anathema to our political views. So, I’m not concerned the ramifications that this has for the Democratic Party this election season. Honestly, ‘concerned’ isn’t even the right word to use here, since this outcome has been a long time coming. I’m expecting to see the ramifications about this start appearing in 2018, and more on what those ramifications are later in this piece.
Moore’s Terrifying Truth #5 — The Jesse Ventura Effect
5 — The Jesse Ventura Effect. Finally, do not discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how many millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth. It’s one of the few places left in society where there are no security cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops, there’s not even a friggin’ time limit. You can take as long as you need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules. And because of that, and the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can. Just because it will upset the apple cart and make mommy and daddy mad. And in the same way like when you’re standing on the edge of Niagara Falls and your mind wonders for a moment what would that feel like to go over that thing, a lot of people are going to love being in the position of puppetmaster and plunking down for Trump just to see what that might look like. Remember back in the ’90s when the people of Minnesota elected a professional wrestler as their governor? They didn’t do this because they’re stupid or thought that Jesse Ventura was some sort of statesman or political intellectual. They did so just because they could. Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system. This is going to happen again with Trump. (MichaelMoore.com)
While Michael Moore calls this the “Jesse Ventura Effect,” I prefer to call this the “The Lulz Effect.” Never underestimate what people will do in the name of a laugh. But it isn’t just that. Moore raises a very good point here. The system is broken, even the politicians and candidates admit that these days, and the anger at the broken system is drawing people to whoever is the most verbally against the broken system. And since Hillary Clinton has been an accessory to that system since the early 90s, and a full-blown member of that system since 2000, she can’t make the claim that she’s ‘against the broken system’ when the broken system is the reason she’s standing up there on stage right now.
The desire to ‘tear down the system,’ ‘ shake up the system,’ and ‘fix the system’ is what’s driving Donald Trump’s campaign forward in the eyes of the people — no matter how much that might be further from what his actual goals are. The problem here isn’t what should be done about the ‘system,’ the problem is that the people with the power to change the system are the very people the system keeps in power and protects. And that’s why so many people are angry these days — we know we have no power, and the game is rigged to prevent us from ever getting power.
It used to be that my biggest concern about the presidential election was going to be people voting simply based on a candidate’s hair, clothes, or on-stage presence. But my concern this time around is people voting simply because their desire to see change in the system is giving them tunnel vision to what actually can change the system. Would voting for a GOP candidate who promises to change the system actually change anything? No, it wouldn’t, because the GOP candidate is, by virtue of being the GOP candidate, part of the system that needs to be changed.
So What’s the Real Problem Here?
The election game right now is presented as a choice between two political parties — Democrat and Republican. But what happens when we look at these two parties as more than just names on the ballot? The Political Compass is a site I use to show people just how wide-ranging the political landscape is, compared to how the media portrays it. Go there, take the test, and be surprised by the results.
Every election season for several nations, the website releases a new compass showing where the candidates score on a two-axis chart. Unsurprisingly, the X axis represents liberal viewpoints as left of center, and conservative viewpoints as right of center. The Y axis represents what is skipped over in the American political system — authoritarian (represented as above the center) versus libertarian (represented as below the center). Let’s take a look at this year’s compass:
Notice anything weird in that image (aside from Donald Trump’s dot being orange)? Like how the Democratic candidate — you know, that party referred to as left-wing by the media — is further right than the Conservative candidate? Seriously, that’s just bizarre…or at least it would be if you hadn’t been paying attention to Hillary Clinton’s political record since the early 2000s. This year’s compass is neat and tidy, and almost represents all four quadrants — but honestly you’ll never see the upper-left quadrant represented in the United States since left-wing authoritarianism represents political views such as Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism…which aren’t exactly political viewpoints you see campaigned for in this nation for obvious reasons.
But there’s something else here that’s bizarre. Notice how the two major-party candidates are clumped neatly in that upper right quarter representing authoritarian conservatism. ‘Surely that’s just a one-off fluke that only happens this year’ you say. Well, brace yourself for a surprise.
So here’s the 2012 compass showing Barack Obama and the main contenders for the Republican nomination that year. Nope, still nobody left of center. But notice how little difference there is between Obama and Romney? 2012 was the election year when I first discovered the compass, and honestly that smidgen of a difference between the two scared the crap out of me. The differences between Obama and Romney were constantly paraded in front of us in the media, but in the large scheme of things there was honestly very little difference between the two.
So let’s roll back to 2008 and see wha-nope, same thing here. What’s interesting to look at from a retrospective viewpoint here is the drastic migration of Barack Obama from a barely right-of-center democrat in 2008 to the increasingly right-wing and authoritarian candidate he was in 2012. Politicians will change their views based on the current political climate, but simply being in office can shape your views over the space of four years as well. Was it the struggle with the House after the 2010 midterms that caused this shift? Or was it just the evolving sociopolitical climate from 2008 through 2012 that was the reason? That’s a question for another time.
So then what’s at work here? Where’s this massive political divide that is supposed to exist between the Democrats and the Republicans? The reason why the two parties are drawing ever closer and closer together has to do with American politics in general — the ‘conservative authoritarian’ quadrant that all of the major-party candidates are falling into is one of the most reliably successful platforms to run on in the United States. We’re down to the trusted adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Why should they try something new, if they’ve already got something that consistently works for them?
But What About the Third Parties?
Scroll back up for a moment and look at the compass graphs again. Notice those names on there for candidates you either don’t remember or never heard of to begin with? Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Bob Barr, Brian Moore, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson. Those are third-party candidates, constantly the butt of political jokes and the subject of derision in the American political press. They don’t fit neatly into the two major parties, so they strike out on their own and join a different party so that they can stick to their beliefs without sacrificing too many of them. But then why are they the butt of the jokes, if they’re doing something so distinguished as to stand up for what they believe in?
When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. (General George S. Patton’s Speech to the Third Army)
Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. The third parties don’t have the ‘pull’ that the major two parties do, so they can’t bring in the votes to win. Consequently they aren’t taken seriously, because everyone knows they can’t win. Ergo, they can’t pull in the votes because nobody wants to back a candidate that they know won’t win. It’s a vicious cycle. That’s why the candidates are they butt of those jokes — they’re playing even though they can’t win, and that’s inherently funny or sad to the American psyche.
The problem is compounded when you take a look at who controls things like ballot access laws and access to the debates — the two major parties. Ballot access laws are exactly that — laws — and therefore can only be changed by a party if they have power. Third parties can’t get power, so they can’t change it, and the vicious cycle goes on from there. The presidential debates, on the other hand, are directly controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties themselves, in the form of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has run the debates since 1988 when the League of Women Voters withdrew their sponsorship of the debates after the Bush and Dukakis campaigns secretly conspired to determine who would be in the debates, who would be panelists, and (because this America and we’re overly concerned with the visual image of our candidates) the height of the podiums.
With the withdrawal of the League, the Commission was founded jointly by the Democratic and Republican parties, and exists this day as a non-profit corporation. The Commission determines who is allowed to participate in the debate, who the panelists and moderators are, and so on. When the Commission was founded, the Republican co-chair who is still the co-chair to this day openly stated that the Commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in the debates, and the Democratic co-chair (who would later step down at a date I haven’t been able to find, and endorsed Bernie Sanders) said that he personally believed that the third-party candidates should be excluded from the debates. And if you want proof that I’m not just making this up, here’s the New York Times article about the commission’s founding.
So they ran with that, and it worked fine in 1988. And then 1992 rolled around and Ross Perot showed up and flipped the election on its head. What should have been an easy re-election campaign for Bush turned into Clinton winning due to the nonsense now referred to as the ‘spoiler effect.’ And because nothing scared the two parties more than the idea of a third party getting into their exclusive private popularity club, when 2000 rolled around and Ralph Nader was looking like he might do some damage like Perot did, they responded. And what a response it was — a firm rule that a party must garner at least 15% support in five national polls in order to be allowed to participate in the debate.
“But it’s only 15%” you say? Well, let’s look at this from the larger scheme of things. 15% in five national polls is yes, a miniscule number. The average sample size for those polls is about 1,000 people — which means any individual American has a one in roughly 318,900 chance of being selected for that poll. So let’s say that there is an actual 15% support base for a third party — some easy math tells us that there is now a one in 2,126,000 chance that any given member of that 15% will be selected for this poll. Starting to see the problem? For comparison, the odds of matching 5 numbers on a $1 ticket in the New York Lotto to win the 3rd-level prize are one in 72,207.49 — pretty damn good odds by comparison. And this all assumes that the poll in question even has the option to choose a third party.
Now let’s factor in how this polling is done — with random-digit dialing or registration-based sampling. Both of these methods have a serious flaw in them: their reliance on the telephone. With the ever-present rise in robocalling, spam phone calls, phishing attempts by phone, and scams taking advantage of information gleaned through data breaches, many people have taken to just not answering the phone if they do not recognize the number or have the number in their contacts list. “They’ll leave a voicemail if it was important,” you say — but robocalling pollsters don’t leave voicemails, they just move on to the next number. Among the millennial generation, this unwillingness to pick up the phone for unrecognized numbers is especially high, so consequently the pollster’s exposure to our demographic is correspondingly low. This, combined with the fact that we’re outnumbered population-wise to begin with, means that the polling is done based primarily on the viewpoints of the older generations — who have grown up only knowing two parties and never questioning if this is right or wrong.
So, Why Does This Suck For Millennials
Ah, now we get to the main issue at hand — why this election is pretty much meaningless to some of us millennials. Well, thankfully we’ve had the good fortune to see just how well the American political system works, or perhaps it would be better to say, how well it refuses to work. Since the 2010 midterm elections we’ve watched as a president who was elected overwhelmingly on the millennial vote had to fight against a Legislative branch controlled by conservatives which seemed intent on making sure that he wasn’t able to get a thing done. It’s like someone told them “your job is to make sure that he gets nothing done.” Oh wait, that’s exactly the thing that they told themselves to do, and then we got to sit back and watch six years of Washington gridlock take over. It wasn’t that nobody was willing to compromise, it’s that one party was so intent on not compromising that they were willing to just sit on their hands. The government shutdown crisis and subsequent attempts to do it again were like watching a child at a supermarket demand the box of high-sugar cereal and then when their parent or parents refused to get it the child flipped the cart, mugged them, and ran off with the money to go give the money to the doctor who performed the fertility treatment on their mother.
So yeah, we’ve learned that nothing gets done in DC anymore. And this, honestly, is why I’m not overly concerned about who wins the Presidential election. It’s Congress that has the real power these days. If Trump wins, there’s enough people on both sides of the aisle who don’t like him and who aren’t up for re-election or who have a secure hold on their district that we’re fine. If Hillary wins, I can guarantee you that we’ll see the ‘our job is to make sure she gets nothing done’ all over again. Partisan politics at its finest, or worst, depending on your point of view on the matter.
We’re faced with a choice between a status-quo candidate who seems dead-set on expecting us to fall in line and march lockstep with her, and a candidate who is the very anathema of what is the overwhelming mindset of our generation — tolerance and respect for everyone. So if the choice is ‘damned either way’ then is it really a choice at all? I’m not going to go into details on the finer points of either candidate’s platforms, that’s not why I’m writing this piece and if people want that I’ll gladly do an analysis in a month or two after we’ve gotten some more information on their platforms. I’m not saying one is a better choice or one is a worse choice, I’m simply saying they both suck for my generation.
Right now, millennial unemployment is somewhere between 8 and 14 percent, it is hard to get accurate numbers on it because of how the Department of Labor reports the numbers (with no good age bracket for ‘millennial’). That’s more than double the national overall unemployment rate. But that’s not the real statistic that’s troubling here, though it is quite troubling on its own — the fact that an entire generation is twice as unemployed as the rest of the nation is just downright disturbing. What’s the root cause here? Are millennials under-qualified? Do employers not want to take a chance on a newly-minted workforce member in favor of someone with years of experience? I don’t have the answers to those questions, so how about we look at a far more chilling statistic instead.
Millennial underemployment is reported at 51% according to the latest survey by Accenture. Now yeah, it’s a survey, and I harped earlier on how polling is broken earlier on in this piece, so bear with me. What matters here is the fact that that number has been increasing every year. It’s up from 41% in 2013, in fact. Think about that — half of millennials working consider themselves to be underemployed. For comparison, nationwide underemployment is currently reported at around 15%.
It would be easy to dismiss this number as simply childish naivete on the part of millennials, but the numbers don’t lie. The Center for American Progress released a report in March on the wage gap that doesn’t get all the media attention — the Generational Wage Gap. Time Magazine published an article in late April about the same issue, albeit specifically inside New York City — millennial New Yorkers (not to be confused with the New Yorkers who happen to live in the other 95% of the state) earn 20% less than Generation X did at the same point in their lives, and that’s with adjustment for inflation factored in. The scarier part of the report comes in the section that details the fact that more millennials have college degrees — but make less money with them. When the New York City Comptroller is on record in a report released by his own office stating, “ Every generation is expected to do better than the last, but too many Millennials are not getting a fair chance to make it in New York City,” then something has clearly gone wrong, somewhere. Is this a proverbial last laugh of the dotcom bubble that defined the economics of the early 2000s, or is there more at work here? Is the increasing tendency for our elders to work later into life than ever before to blame? Is it an unwillingness of employers to hire millennials, and a tendency to axe them when money is tight?
Millennials were told by their elders as they grew up that if they stayed in school and went to college, then the good-paying jobs would be there and the money and ‘good life’ would just roll in. So we went to stayed in school and went to college, some of us taking on increasingly exorbitant amounts of student loan debt to fund that education. And then graduation rolled around, and suddenly all those good-paying jobs either didn’t exist anymore, or required pre-existing experience in the field.
If the status quo remains as it is, millennials will forever be behind the metrics that are ‘expected’ of our generation, always fighting the uphill battle to outperform the previous generation and never quite getting there. The American Dream is dead for us, because we’ve seen so many try only to fail, and we know we can’t afford to even try.
But if the alternative to the status quo is a disturbing rollback of any form of social progress we’ve had in the past 30 years, is that really an alternative at all? Is the reversal of the changes that led to the current status quo truly better than the status quo? This is why the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is terrifying — one represents stagnation and the other represents reversal — neither of which are particularly appealing to anyone.
‘So just vote for Hillary because she isn’t Trump,’ goes the line of thinking that I’ve seen pushed online for the past week. But is this really a solution? This just perpetuates the increasingly partisan politics that we’ve seen fail for the past 16 years. And that’s even before taking into account the actions of the Democratic National Committee. As I detailed earlier, the ‘divide’ between the two parties is minuscule in the large scheme of things, and they’re both heavily invested on keeping the current two-party system in place. The two parties simply represent the same system, the continuing concentration of power where it is out of reach of influence from the common person.
We don’t like Trump because he scares us, and we don’t like Clinton because she represents the people who screwed us over. No matter who wins between those two, our damnation to the sisyphean task of attempting to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps perpetuates itself for another four to eight years.
Hence the appeal in just saying ‘screw it,’ and telling the two-party system that we are done with it, and then going off to back a third-party candidate. It isn’t about ‘throwing away a vote in protest,’ this is a calculated move because it is the only thing we have left in our toolbox to try and change the system. The exposure of the corruption inside the Democratic National Committee, a supposedly neutral organization, which lead to the constant undermining of Bernie Sanders’s campaign has only added fuel to the engine driving this push to ‘smash the system.’
This is why I think that Michael Moore’s opinion that Donald Trump will win is correct — it’s not pessimism and my ever-increasing cynicism and loss of hope in my fellow Americans, it’s simple psychology. Donald Trump is the ‘change’ candidate this time around, and that’s a stance that always puts a candidate in favor with the downtrodden masses who aren’t usually polled by the pollsters. Factor that in with the alienation of a large swath of millennials by the Democratic National Committee’s mistreatment of the candidate we supported, a large swath that will stick to our beliefs and vote for a candidate that speaks what we believe in, rather than a candidate who simply is the ‘lesser evil.’
The ‘lesser evil’ mindset is a lie pushed by the two parties in power, and it is one that is carefully calculated to ensure that they remain the only two parties in power. “Vote for us because we aren’t them,” completely hides the fact that there are other options available. And since most voters don’t do a sufficient amount of research to even examine these other options, the lie works.
In Conclusion, We Lose
Fellow Millennials: Hillary doesn’t give a damn about us. Trump doesn’t give a damn about us. Bernie treated us like people, who reminded us that we are, to paraphrase Howard Beale in Network, ‘human beings, and our lives have value god-dammit.’ Our best hope for finally undoing some of the damage that was dealt to us by the policies of the Clinton and Bush years which came to an inevitable apex during the financial crisis of 2008 was crushed by the unrelenting tide of corporate influence on the Democratic National Committee. It was smothered by the desire of the Democratic National Committee to have another feather in its cap, rather than choosing the candidate that was polling better. We lose this election no matter who wins.
We bought into the lie all our lives, stay in school, go to college, and you’ll do fine. So we went to college, got a degree, and graduated to find that all those entry-level jobs we trained for suddenly no longer existed or now required four years of experience. Think back to that 51% underemployment number again. Many of those 51% have college degrees, and have found themselves working minimum wage or near-minimum wage jobs, forever fighting against the inevitable tide of bills, student loan payments, and the expectations of the society that sold us out in the first place. Meanwhile, the media harps on us for not buying cars, not buying houses, living with our parents, and so on. Well, that’s all some of us can afford to do!
And now we’re told to choose between two candidates, neither of whom seems intent on treating our problems like real problems. We’re called lazy, bratty, wussies, unmotivated, obsessed with ‘safe zones,’ underconsumers, ‘without gumption or focus,’ ‘the ADHD generation,’ and so on. The acid that the older generations spit at us reeks of their desire to hide the fact that they are the ones responsible for the problems we face. They accuse us of not understanding politics, while ignoring the fact that we’ve had to sit and watch the dysfunction of the current political environment in the hyper-sensationalized media environment for the better part of two decades.
Trump scares us because he’s doing his best to exemplify everything we were taught is ‘bad’ in history classes. Hillary doesn’t want to shake up the system that has screwed us over. There is no choice to make here, they’re both terrible for us in both the long and short run.
It doesn’t matter which of them you vote for — a vote for either one is a vote for the perpetuation of a system which tells you that you have a choice, but then presents only two options and insists that you have to choose between one of those two. All our lives we are told to think outside the box, and then when it comes time to vote anyone who thinks outside the box is stigmatized and demonized for choosing a different solution than the two options presented. Well, I say that the box can kindly find the nearest corner and go fornicate with itself this election season — I’m voting for what I believe in, and what I believe in is not the perpetuation of this broken system which has gotten us nowhere. Telling me that I’m throwing away my vote will get you nowhere, because I’ve seen just what happens when the mythical ‘next time’ rolls around — more of the same ‘vote for the lesser evil rather than for what you believe in.’
And since I never really found a good way to close out a piece of writing like this that is predominantly flavored by my own opinions, I shall leave you with a reasonably relevant quote from Thurgood Marshall (with emphasis added).
We cannot play ostrich. Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. In the chill climate in which we live, we must go against the prevailing wind. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better. (Thurgood Marshall, Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech, 4 July 1992)
And finally, in the words of one of my personal heroes…
Good night, and good luck. — Edward R Murrow
PS: If people think I should write more, let me know. Maybe I’ll start doing more proper research papers again, rather than opinion pieces like this.