How to rewrite democracy: Unite the generations

How+to+rewrite+democracy%3A+Unite+the+generations

Tim Eggert

This is a strange, albeit delicate, moment for the nation. Unprecedented strain is being placed on the stability of democratic institutions from internal and external pressures, and intrinsic principles of transparency and diplomacy have tarnished before our eyes.

With each refresh of the historical newsfeed brings unparalleled events and a new definition of democracy. And, like most historic breaking points, young people are at the center.

Most recently, it’s been those our age, and younger, who have united to elevate advocacy for gun regulation in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Alongside the protests, calls to lower the federal voting age from 18 to 16 have emerged as an argument for translating voices into votes, and to validate and secure post-millennials’ current and future positions within American democracy.

Although the protesting students are defying the stereotype of American kids as apathetic narcissists, and the case for a lower voting age has notable momentum behind it, this isn’t the easy fix for harmonizing individual activism and collective civic participation.

Instead, we need to reform the cross-generational conundrum. Generation X, Millennials and their successors must unite under a common democratic narrative.

While the ideological divergence can be traced further back than the 2016 presidential election, it’s a good place to start.

Gen. Xers and Millennials outvoted Boomers and older generations, and it seemed like the “younger” majority of the voting population was mutually invested in upholding the bedrock of American democracy. They combined to cast a majority of the 137.5 million total votes cast, and Millennials nearly doubled their total votes from the 2008 election.

Yet, when the 2016 election results became widely known and analyzed, some Gen. Xers condemned Millennials for the outcome even though “their president” had secured the popular vote.

But the blame went deeper than that. Millennials were accused of propagating political tribalism through Pepe memes, delegitimizing the election with their smartphones and satirizing democracy through the lens of the hashtag.

The indictments were unjustified. We had proven that we were vigilant of Trumpism even before 34 million of us voted, but nobody took us seriously, especially Gen. X. Our campaigns for social, racial and sexual justice were ignored and classified as socialism, ultra-liberalism and extreme, idealistic perceptions of democracy.

A year later, the Millennials are in a place of ideological limbo. Some doubt that 2020 will be the escape we desperately need; others hold a “We got ourselves into this, we’ll get ourselves out it” attitude. Most, however, are merely trying to survive the wave of defeatism, and those under 18 who are coming together as socio-politically conscious citizens are our life-preservers, our democracy- preservers.

Our generation’s biggest fear— exactly what Generation X and the abstainers want—is to settle into a complete dismissal of the democratic doctrine.

What Gen. Xers seem to have overlooked, however, is that we haven’t forgotten the last 30 years. Some of us witnessed Reaganomics, others beheld the Democratic Party revolution, most remember the War on Terror and all of us still have the taste of Obama-era ideology in our mouths.
We’re refusing to inherit Gen. X’s narrative because we want to draft our own, and those following us—the post-millennials—deserve to contribute to it.

Generation X has familiarity with the same situation. In 1971, outrage from the fact that 18 year olds could fight in Vietnam but couldn’t vote made the age change from 21 to 18. Boomers and Gen. Xers held the Silent generation accountable, and as a result, the 26th Amendment empowered all 18 year olds.

Now, however, Gen. X wants to prevent the empowerment of its own successors. Sure, each generation is entitled to its own chapter, but not the whole narrative itself. It’s because of Gen. X-era policy that Millennials are currently dealing with a lack of social programs, and will continue to.

Clearly the collective narrative has changed over the last 40 years, and the cross-generational rifts still exist. Maybe we’re just as guilty of the separation as Generation X, but, we can both redeem our respective generations by mutually investing in the empowerment of the post-millennials.

Empathy and acceptance guarantees this. Moreover, our support of post-millennials assures a stable cross-generational relationship as we evolve toward the next election—when the now 16 year olds are finally old enough to vote. Remember: they’re witnessing the same evaluation of democracy as we are.