How The Young Can Save Us

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Above Photo: Oakland, 1971. Black Panther children in a classroom at the Intercommunal Youth Institute, the Black Panther school. Stephen Shames from the book Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers (Abrams). Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery.

Although Trump has caused a huge amount of trouble in just the few months he has been president, this doesn’t necessarily define the future. As the Review has noted from time to time, failing cultures often raise a lot of hell in their declining years, witness the Indian ghost dance cult or the segregationists fighting civil rights in the South. But history is not defined by noise but by change and the latter can often be inevitable despite the former.

Thus, while there are reasons to believe that the Trump regime represents a move toward fascism, an alternative argument is that Trump, in his extraordinary combination of mental instability and incompetence, signifies the collapse of the powerful corporatist model of recent decades.

What will determine how this comes out will be not just how well the Trump madness is handled by the rest of the country, but whether the young seize this time to redefine American politics as was done by the Populists in Reconstruction, the Progressives of the early 20th century, the New Deal/Great Society Democrats and the 1960s rebels.

There is no doubt but that America’s initial acceptance of Trump was due in no small part to age. Here, for example, are Trump’s share of the 2016 vote:

  • Under 30s: 37%
  • 30-44: 42%
  • 45 and older 53%

The generational shift was greater than the difference between men and women. Further, those under 45 represented 44% of the vote and these are the voters with the longest left to live.

In short, the future of America is, whether you like it or not, is in the hands of those under 45. Will they rediscover the success of the 19th century Populists or the 1960s activists or will they turn their backs on politics and hope it just goes away?

There are some early favorable signs. For example, the Indivisible movement, which started with an online guide last December, has gained 5983 groups nationwide in less than six months. And some appealing figures are cropping up despite the mainstream media’s obsession with the destructive powerful of Washington. Like Joe Kennedy III, 37, a representative from Massachusetts who has a 95% voting record from the liberal Americans for Demcoratic Action and is being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.

And then there’s Stacey Abrams, in her 40s and the black minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives who has announced she is running for governor of her state. Watching her on TV this morning I was struck by how she has that sadly disappearing quality in American politicians (with a few exceptions like Joe Biden), which is to say that she speaks United States and not campaign gobbledygook.

But there are several important problems that are not getting enough attention. Such as why did those 45-64 vote for Trump in the same proportion as their elders? They’re going to be around for awhile and so need to be reached.

Then there is the media’s news preference for power and evil that gives a small number of politicians such as Trump an undue amount of attention. I have never seen so much time given to White House propaganda such as Sean Spice’s babbles as is currently the case. As a result we don’t know all the states and cities, for example, that have come out in favor of the Paris accords. And the public has little sense of the leaders of black, latino, women or labor movements.

One of the ways to change this would be to create a cross-cultural movement that shared, say, a dozen priorities, backed by ethnic minorities, women, labor and other causes. As there was during the days of Martin Luther King, there needs to be a visible, easy to find opposition to the institutional madness centered in Washington.

Finally, the white working class needs to be brought back both as a partner and as a cause.

Over half of those with no or just some college education voted for Trump and if you eliminate the minorities in those numbers, the figure would be even higher.

Labor unions, which liberals began to desert some three decades ago, can help in this. But so can a recognition that the working class can’t be expected to vote right if those with more power and money choose to ignore or dis’ them. It’s not an issue of ethnicity and class. As Stacey Abrams put it recently, “You’ve got to walk and chew gum at the exact same time.”

This is a grim time but even this political cynic appreciates that it is the folks who come with a new picture of what the future could look like who do the most for us. We need to fight Trump with one hand and build a better future with the other. And, right now, the young are our biggest allies.

  • Jon

    “One of the ways to change this would be to create a cross-cultural
    movement that shared, say, a dozen priorities, backed by ethnic
    minorities, women, labor and other causes.”
    Just what the Green Party’s Green New Deal does. It is imperative that we not only vigorously oppose the ruling class but to encourage mass defections from the existing parties that are morally, though not financially, bankrupt. As one of those sixties activists, I really appreciate the youth of today who are following, with as much energy, our footsteps.

  • DHFabian

    Placing hope in the next generation has been standard. I don’t put much stock in the statistics of “voting by age.” Such surveys are made by very small samplings of the population, and tend to be used to “prove” whatever the speaker wants. The Reagan Generation was defined by the young, with their excessive zeal for capitalism. The middle class young applauded Bill Clinton’s right wing agenda for years. Clinton ended actual welfare aid and took the first steps to similarly “reform” Social Security (targeting the disabled), and the consequences have simply been disregarded for the past 20 years.

    Broad research has consistently confirmed that most voting choices come down to economic issues. “It’s the economy, stupid.” In post-Reagan America, older people are often dismayed by how far to the right younger people have leaned, especially on core socioeconomic policies. Actual welfare aid was ended, and the first steps to similarly “reform” Social Security were taken by the Clinton administration, starting with the disabled. Young liberals shrugged, and maintained a rally to protect the advantages of the middle class. Either they believe that our capitalism is so successful that there are jobs for all, or they agree that only those who are selected to be of current use to employers are worthy of survival.

    In 2015, young voters cheered for Hillary Clinton. In spite of a very long record that defines her as pro-war, anti-poor, pro-corporate empowerment, they stuck a “bold progressive” button on her lapel.

  • DHFabian

    In recent years, we’ve gone to great lengths to acknowledge very specific sectors of the population, to the exclusion of others., relying on stereotypes that not only fit poorly, but have been deeply divisive. Consider the broad condemnation of all white men, for example, or the “disappearing” of the results of our deregulated corporate state — the truly poor.

    This remains the anti-New Deal era. What Democrats promote is the direct opposite of the New Deal. Complicated issues, but think about this: What came to be called AFDC was actually first included in FDR’s Social Security Act, a core part of the New Deal. The Great Society was built directly on the foundation of the New Deal. Bill Clinton ended that, and took the first steps to similarly “reform” Social Security, targeting the disabled. The middle class shrugged. They aren’t interested in the consequences.

    Complicated issues, but today’s Americans reject the ideology that resulted in the New Deal. The New Deal recognized the grave short-comings of our capitalism, and focused on the necessary steps to address this. Today’s America no longer acknowledges those grave short-comings.