And what the woke actually get right.
It’s dawning on many on the political center and right that the current younger generation in America is not like previous younger generations. They’re immaturing with age. Zoomers and Millennials are further to the left to begin with and, more critically, don’t seem to be moving rightward as they age. A recent, viral piece in the FT added a new spark to the conversation, arguing that if Millennials matured like previous generations, then by the age of 35, they
should be around five points less conservative than the national average, and can be relied upon to gradually become more conservative. In fact, they’re more like 15 points less conservative, and in both Britain and the US are by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history … millennials have developed different values to previous generations, shaped by experiences unique to them, and they do not feel conservatives share these.
And the key experiences, it seems to me, are: entering the job market in the wake of the financial crisis; being poorer than your parents when they were the same age; lacking access to affordable housing and childcare; growing up in a far more multiracial and multicultural world than anyone before them; seeing gay equality come to marriage and the military; experiencing the first black president and nearly the first woman; and the psychological and cultural impact of Trump and Brexit.
These are all 21st century phenomena — and simply not experienced by the generations immediately before them. Socially and culturally more diverse, the young are also understandably down on the catastrophic success of neoliberal economics. So of course they are going to be different. When it was their turn on the wealth escalator, it essentially stopped.
Sometimes we forget that these deep factors are what are most seriously in play. And the biggest mistake many of us on the center or right tend to make is assuming that all of the young’s stickier leftiness — especially the most irritating varieties of it — are entirely a function of woke brainwashing, and not related to genuinely unique challenges. A lot is — the indoctrination is real and relentless — but a lot isn’t. And it’s vital to distinguish the two.
The left’s advantage is that they have directly addressed this generation’s challenges, and the right simply hasn’t. The woke, however misguided, are addressing the inevitable cultural and social challenges of a majority-minority generation; and the socialists have long been addressing the soaring inequality that neoliberalism has created. Meanwhile, the right has too often ducked these substantive issues or rested on cheap culture-war populism as a diversionary response. I don’t believe that the young are inherently as left as they currently are. It’s just that the right hasn’t offered them an appealing enough alternative that is actually relevant to them.
That doesn’t mean cringe pandering. It means smarter policies. Some obvious options: encourage much more house-building with YIMBY-style deregulation; expand access to childcare for young, struggling families; tout entrepreneurial and scientific innovation to tackle climate change; expand maternity and paternity leave; redistribute wealth from the super-rich to working Americans to stabilize society and prevent capitalism from undoing itself; and, above all, celebrate a diverse society — and the unique individuals and interactions that make it so dynamic and life-giving.
Diversity is a fact — which is why white nationalism is both repellent and a dead end. How we adapt to diversity, however, is a choice. In an ever-more complex mix, do we resort to policing language, censoring and canceling, and a new, elaborate regime of active and supposedly benign race and sex discrimination? Or do we unwind the racial and gender obsessions, stop discriminating, encourage live-and-let-live toleration, and allow a free society to sort these things out, without top-down engineering.
Technically, the right supports something like the latter. But the emphasis is always on the negative against the other side, rarely on the positive. And the tone is awful, full of resistance, resentment and fear.