HRC’s Millennial Problem: They’re the Children of Reagan’s America

She Snapchats. I’m still bemused by this every time I think about it. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign Snapchats and considers it Millennial outreach. The point, presumably, is to interest potential voters under age 34 in her candidacy for the US presidency; to, ultimately, persuade them to engage on her behalf in the basic civic, the basic political, act.

She wants their vote. She is a figure singularly positioned to ask for it, and it should be a straightforward thing to do.

And the way she’s going about asking for it? By not doing so. By using tech-savvy bells and whistles to package campaign media containing less political content than there is in the “Kim Jong-Style” K-pop parody by The Key of Awesome.

I’m bemused by how her campaign has tried to engage Millennials, first and most crucially because it represents a rather ironic coming full circle for Hillary Rodham (Clinton). I’m frustrated as an older cohort Millennial, because I imagine that due to who she is, she could be, would be, just the person needed now to try to bridge the generational political divide, and because I know that the quality and nature of the conversation between her and Millennials that this campaign (and hopefully her administration) should be about is what will shape the future of American liberalism.

As a Millennial Clinton supporter, I am frustrated at the lack of that substantive political engagement with my cohort, who have yearned for it.

And yes, there is the specter of Trump. Millennials are a solid anti-Trump vote. But that is not the same as a pro-Hillary Clinton vote.

Why oh why, is she, of all people, letting this opportunity to have a real political conversation with Millennials pass by? Why isn’t she talking about living through and shaping the political history that molded our present day struggles? Why isn’t she building a political case with Millennials when that’s what she needs to do to join them affirmatively to her candidacy and her party?

Going into the homestretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party’s coalition is unified, especially in the face of the paleoconservative white blue-collar backlash candidacy of Donald Trump. But there is one plank of comparative weakness in the support for the Democratic Party’s nominee: voters under 35, especially those aged 18–29.

In other words, those Americans known to advertisers and cultural critics as Millennials. These young voters formed the backbone of the insurgent candidacy of Sen. Sanders, an ideologically social democratic political independent septugenarian from Vermont. They were attracted by his straightforward and vehement denunciation of what he and they view as an economic and political system marked by structural inequity and corruption, of an American society and political culture far to the right of the rest of the developed world, and of a political system responsive to money and little else, certainly not to the issues these young voters cared about: racism, inequality, lack of economic opportunity, climate change, or opposition to militarism.

And as they thrilled to the Sanders campaign’s theory of the case against the US political system after even eight years of a Democratic presidency, and then as his campaign lost the primary, it became increasingly clear: these Millennial votes were based on something at once broader and narrower than discontent with student loan debt and the poor post-Great Recession entry-level job market, primary as these economic concerns were to many.

To a significant degree, the Millennial Sanders vote was an anti-Hillary Clinton vote.

And subsequent polling has confirmed antipathy towards Hillary Clinton among main-cohort Millennials, as well as given hints that it seems to be primarily characterological in nature.

The implication in the eyes of many observers over 40 is that Millennial supporters of Sanders dislike Hillary Clinton for primarily the same set of reasons, many of them tied to misogynistic media and cultural portrayals and socio-political opposition to her as a public figure representative of the advances of Third Wave feminism, that form the basis of older voters’ (and older public figures’) dislike of her.

This misogynistic viewpoint is bound up in the backlash against the social shifts of the 1960s and 1970s, which shaped the Baby Boomers’ views of the political possibilities open to them and the priorities they would bring to American public life.

I would suggest that Millennial dislike of Hillary Clinton is, however, distinct from that of their elders, and in a way that is not in and of itself based on antipathy towards their elders qua elders, nor in youthful rebellion for the sake of rebellion. Nor is it the result purely of a technological divide between those whose young adulthoods were shaped by the typewriter and those whose young adulthoods were shaped by Microsoft Word. Is there any technological dimension to this alienation, yes. Millennials truly are baffled and made suspicious by the lack of tech savvy that impartial analysis points to as the root dynamic behind Hillary Clinton’s email server controversy. But this is merely a particularly technologically inflected gloss over the chasm in political consciousness that separates HRC and Millennial voters. Snapchat has nothing do with this.

I would suggest that Millennials should be thought of in political terms first and foremost based on the original meaning of their label: the eldest were the high school class of 2000, meaning that they were the cohort born in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What formative experiences shaped the mindset of those who turned 18 during and after the year 2000? Election 2000 has everything to do with it. The events of 1998 do. Newt Gingrich, who they do not know of, does. The Oklahoma City bombing does. And yes, the Bush administration — during which all but the youngest Millennials came of age — has everything to do with it.

I would assert that Millennial dislike of Hillary Clinton arose because of a divergence in their historical political memory from that of Baby Boomers active in American politics continuously since the early 1970s, such as the Clintons, and that that divergence informs their view of her and her husband as political actors and policymakers who shaped the 1990s.

What is the nature of this divergence in historical political memory?

The first joint venture of Bill and Hillary Clinton into the grassroots ground work of electoral politics was the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern, an anti-Vietnam War liberal seeking to unseat Richard Nixon.

Millennials can, if they choose, read about that campaign and the America it occurred in in the works of Hunter S. Thompson and Rick Perlstein, although it appears few of them have.

Hillary and Bill Clinton lived and worked it, as twenty-somethings. McGovern lost, of course, in a forty-nine state rout. You know that, if you are a Boomer — how and why that defeat shaped the Age of Reagan.

You know how and why the country swerved to the right after 1980. Millennials were born into and came of age politically in that right wing country. And they are baffled and angry about this status quo. Most to the point? They think the Clintons were complicit in it. The crime bill, yes. Welfare reform, yes.

DLCism, generally. It all looks like one big sellout to people who went from bopping along to *Nsync to watching the Bush administration and singing along to John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”.

Horribly ironic, yes. Perhaps cruel. The authentic HRC stood against Newt Gingrich, against the post-Reagan right wing. She endured 1994 as a crucible in the ways of Washington. There was only so much political room in the mid-1990s for liberals trying to work down in the arena, something that Sen. Sanders never really had to contend with.

The oldest Millennials were in middle school in 1994. The youngest weren’t born. All need the political history lesson, from the candidate who lived it. No Snapchat required.

Then she should ask for their vote.