A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.
Are you a millennial?
If you are between 19 and 35 years old, the answer is "yes." And if that's you, congratulations: you just became a member of the most important generation in American history.
Do you understand the science of climate change? Are you interested in America being part of a global economy? Have you made friends abroad whose livelihoods you have a vested interest in? Do you hope your LGBT friends and family are granted equal rights under the law? Do you want paternity leave, equal pay and healthcare rights for women? Do you want to see immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship offered for productive immigrants, or ones that were brought here as children, legal or undocumented, living in America? Is student debt making your financial life a living hell? Did Obamacare come out as a net positive for you? Would you like to see marijuana legalized? Are you tired of trillions of dollars being spent on wars? Do you want a smaller prison population?
This isn't a late night infomercial: if any or all of these things are true, we need you. America needs you.
President-elect Trump has made the goals of his presidency very clear, and though some may represent a serious threat to our ideals as Americans, others may resonate with us, as millennials.
The bad: he wants to "de-regulate the energy sector," which is code for allowing the fossil fuel industry to run wild while destroying the environment. He wants to "secure the border," which is code for spending billions of dollars building that infamous wall down south and then deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are productive and law-abiding citizens. He wants to "select conservative Supreme Court judges," which is code for dismantling federally protected LGBT rights, protecting the Second Amendment rights which were never in danger, and potentially sending landmark cases like Roe v. Wade back to the courts, which could mean overturning women's right to abortion. He wants to "repeal and replace Obamacare," which means millions of Americans — many of them millennials and minorities — are going to have a rude awakening about what life without health insurance looks like.
The good: When Trump says Washington, D.C. is broken, he has a point. Congress did close to nothing under President Obama, opting for obstructionism over governing. Republicans and Democrats alike have ballooned our prison population, deregulated the banking industry, spent trillions on war overseas, facilitated less economic progress in rural America, and sat idly by as new wealth went to the top. There is too much money in politics. The middle class is hurting. Minorities in inner cities are hurting. When he says Washington, D.C. is full of "nothing but lobbyists," he's right. All of this is Trumpism, and it isn't a bad thing to embrace it.
What's important is that we welcome this new generation of politics while we wholeheartedly reject the racist, xenophobic and anti-science stances of his team and his supporters.
So, how do we fix this mess we're in?
The 75.4 million millennials living in the U.S. outnumber those that voted for either Clinton or Trump by about 15 million, and thanks to young immigrants, millennial ranks will grow until 2036. We are the largest voting bloc in the country, but we aren't engaged in politics like we should be, we're not turning out to vote like I wish we would, and we need to get ourselves involved now to embrace, alter and correct the course America is on.
So, for one, we need to vote. In the year 2018, many of the open seats in Congress are up for grabs. Governors' races all over the country give an opening to balance out the landscape of our government that just became overwhelmingly Republican, to help stop the gerrymandering that favors Republican politicians, and put into office liberals that stand for equality and progressivism while abandoning the corporate elite alignment that destroyed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Liberals like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders need to be listened to. By 2020, there's a good chance a new era of progressive Democrats invested in bolstering the working class will have entered the presidential race. We should be willing to invite rural America, minorities and lifelong Republicans to vote for those candidates together.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to reach across the aisle. One of the most toxic qualities of American politics are the echo chambers we all live in, and our corresponding inability to speak to people who don't share our values. Being that millennials are the least party-affiliated generation in American history, we have an opportunity to shed partisan politics and join forces around ideas we share. Millennials need to educate ourselves and be able to level with someone about why we must address climate change, how immigrant crime is real but not as bad as Trump says it is, why LGBT Americans deserve equal rights, how our party is the anti-war party, the working class party, the party that stands for change and equality.
Conservative Americans from the rural parts of our country need to understand that "New York lifestyle" also means functioning diversity, connection to global economies, freedom for Americans who don't have it elsewhere and burgeoning innovation.
Safe spaces, trigger warnings and Facebook activism might make life more livable for millions of Americans, but it's doing a lot of damage, too. Liberals need to reckon with that damage.
Anti-mainstream media news outlets like Breitbart, Infowars and Drudge Report may push back against common talking points, but they also promote misinformation and lies. Conservatives need to reckon with that damage.
Many of the voters who elected Trump elected him because they are tired of a "politically correct," "soft" America. They're tired of being demeaned for their political views because they didn't go to college, and they are tired of the way liberals worship their political icons like President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And frankly, they have a point.
Thirdly, we need to stay engaged. For mobile-obsessed millennials, getting news and getting it quick has never been easier. Neither has organizing. So far president-elect Trump has tapped Steve Bannon, a man many believe to be a white nationalist and anti-Semite, to his cabinet. His transition team is full of the corporate lobbyists he campaigned against: an oil and gas lobbyist holds the energy independence portfolio. A Verizon consultant is picking members for the Federal Communications Commission. Reports are that Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton are top choices for secretary of state. Both are unabashedly pro-war, and in favor of war with Iran. All this should throw red flags up to the millions of voters who echoed his mantra to "drain the swamp." It sure seems like he's filling it.
The next few years give millennials an opportunity to change the course of our country like never before. But in order to do it, we need to leave our comfort zones and help mend the divide. We need to be proud of all the good that the government does, proud of President Obama's major wins and critical of his failures. We need to uphold, promote and share the work of journalists who are experts in their field, while simultaneously rejecting the Infowars crew Trump invited into the mainstream, a slew of "journalists" who have promoted conspiracies theories like Sandy Hook being an "inside job."
Millennials need to get engaged, not just with American politics and activism, but with the Americans who don't share their values. If we don't do it now, the country we leave for our kids will be no better than the one that just elected Donald Trump.
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Cover photo via Unsplash /Allef Vinicius.