For far too long, a conservative ideology has dominated politics all around the world, with corruption and the exploitation of our environment just considered part of the game. Donald Trump’s rise to power exemplifies this.
I remember a conversation that I had with a friend about why older generations dislike millennials so much. His reply was somewhat profound and stuck with me. It’s because “we are challenging everything.” This appears disrespectful to the world which has been operating with its eyes half open…
Michael Jackson’s famous song, Man in the Mirror presents a commonly held view among older generations that “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”
It’s too late for that. We face the reality of a global economy predicated on the continued and ever-expanding production of resources. We use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the yard-stick for what makes an economy successful or otherwise. This measurement came to the fore under the Third Reich during World War II and, in short, determined whether Nazi Germany was successful in their war efforts in terms of their output/production. It has since been adopted all over the world and the United States’ position as the global superpower has effectively come down to the insurmountable size of it’s military (what is commonly referred to as the military industrial complex) and it’s enormous population – now approaching 330 million.
And, of course, the new emerging superpower is China. Their almost 1.4 BILLION strong population is being supplemented by a growing military within a dictatorial regime and they have already overtaken America as the largest economy in the world.
Ask yourself though, would you like to live in China? It’s so polluted that you can barely see the sky or breathe fresh air and political freedom is effectively non-existent (as shown in the riots that have been tearing the relatively free Hong Kong apart in recent months). China is also employing a foreign policy tactic akin to colonialism, most prominently in Africa, but that’s a story for another day. And, in America, people are dying because they can’t afford healthcare or they’re drowning in debt from it (not to mention from student loans). The education system is flawed and, for goodness sake, Donald Trump is president!
How did Trump become president though? Many will argue that it’s because he has shaken up the system, breaking up the neoliberal status quo, represented by 2016’s democratic nominee for president, Hilary Clinton. And they’re absolutely right – Clinton would have been a disaster, because it would have kept the same old political narrative running. Electing a politician that makes all kinds of promises, smiles to your face and profits from their power behind your back has taken us to where we are today. Now is Trump still a corrupt liar? Yes. However, his excellent marketing strategy and “drain the swamp” narrative hit home. On the other hand, something that goes unsaid is that in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, Trump’s rallying message of bringing back coal mining jobs and other dying industrial occupations won him a ton of incredibly important votes. Not to mention, Hilary skipped those states on her campaign trail.
Why does it matter?
Because a production-based economy doesn’t determine happiness and it certainly doesn’t equate to wealth being shared across the board. Trump’s tax cuts and economic policy are commonly touted as being the central success of his term as president. However, if you don’t invest in the stock market, you aren’t seeing that wealth. Those massive tax cuts that Trump and his fans love to boast about benefited the ultra rich (with Amazon paying $0 in taxes last year), but when it came to the middle and working classes, there was no reflection of lower taxes in their paychecks. Now, after tax season has come and gone, they’re starting to realize that Trump screwed them over big time.
And it doesn’t all begin and end with Trump. In a political trend that has come to be known as Trumpism, we have seen this far-right, anti-immigration, economic fear mongering propaganda spread around the world. It originally started, most prominently, with Brexit. Now-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, effectively blamed the open border, free trade policy, which has made the EU such a desirable territory to live in, for Britain’s economic struggles. He ignored the fact that all of the massive industrial resources, such as coal, are becoming less and less valuable by the day. Jobs are being lost, families are getting poorer and the biggest businesses all over the world are making their fortunes through an economic resource that is now more valuable than oil… information. Big tech is on the rise and thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people around the world are falling behind. They either lack the education or simply don’t have access to the resources needed to adapt to this new era of occupations. And what’s more is that the silver-tongued politicians are blaming it on demonstrably false claims that immigrants and social welfare programs are central to how we’ve come to this the state of affairs. So the people who have fallen behind and desperately need government assistance to stay healthy, well-fed and housed are now unable to live life with any sense of hope or prosperity.
There are countless examples around the world that mirror this narrative. In Brazil, you have Jair Bolsonaro, Britain has Johnson and even in the birthplace of democracy itself, France, the primary challenger to Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 election, Marie La Penne – a far right politician that very much fits the Trump mold – won almost 40% of the vote (over 10 million votes) .
In my home country, South Africa, xenophobia is effectively part of life. Government welfare programs are short-sighted and always fail. The ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) has been offering low-paying jobs and all kinds of false promises to a massive population of disenfranchised and even destitute people. When those programs fail to take off, the order of the day is misdirection and ad hominems, blaming foreigners, white people and the old apartheid regime for their failure to take any meaningful action or oversee any kind of progress after 25 years in power. It’s not only tragic to see this happen in South Africa, but to see the beginnings of this political rhetoric prevailing throughout the world. Widespread protests and riots in the name of democratic freedom and economic empowerment are rightfully dominating headlines all over the world, from India to Ethiopia to Venezuela for a variety of reasons based on the state of political affairs around the world, foreign and national.
This is all a consequence of an attitude towards politics that basically comes down to “it is what it is” or “there’s nothing we can do” or “politicians are always going to be corrupt”. This attitude has existed for a good 60 years. The 60s was the last time we saw anything that resembled a political movement demanding change, and to think of that decade brings back fond memories to a time of radical change and progress, with hippies, flower children and Woodstock all defining a group of people that took a stand against the powers that were overseeing a world order that was unpalatable to them.
And this is where millennials come in… We are NOT accepting this societal status quo that our parents have been happy to condone. We are seen as entitled because we aren’t allowing oil and gas and the fossil fuel industry as a whole destroy our planet. Clean energy is on the rise and, instead of looking to America’s system of unrelenting capitalism, we’re basing our core principles on the Scandinavian model.
Denmark, for example, ranks down at 52 in terms of the biggest economies. However, they measure incredibly low at 27.6 (which is better) in terms of their Gini coefficient, which is a measurement of equality, and 11th in the world on the Human Development Index (HDI). This is because they use a mixed economy, which employs both capitalist and socialist strategies to keep their economy running and to empower individual citizens. The median annual income in Denmark is around $43,000. In the US, it’s $31,786. That’s a massive discrepancy. Denmark also ranks incredibly well on plenty of OECD indexes, including housing indicators, jobs, community programs, environmental health, community engagement, healthcare, safety and work-life balance.
To exemplify the increasing power of the millennial sentiment in the United States, one can point to Bernie Sanders’ rise to prominence. Sidebar: isn’t it incredible how the ultimate progressive politics icon is a disheveled ,78-year-old white man? And then you see a growing number of ostensibly progressive democratic candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Andrew Yang and even freshmen congresspeople like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley. It all really started with the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and millennials have slowly been becoming more and more involved in politics than any generation in recent memory.
Now you may say that America is not representative of the world as a whole, but the way I see it is that the United States is a trend-setter. Trump is the perfect example of this. The way that he kick-started the far-right movements around the world goes to show that America’s politics have a way of influencing and shaping political ideology all over the world. Not to mention, the sheer dominance of America in almost every aspect of the world’s interaction with foreign communities. We all watch American movies, use American-made iPhones, and spend hours of our days on American owned social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And the majority of the most prestigious academic institutions, like Harvard, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon and MIT are all in America! So all of the most important research is done in the United States of America. There’s simply no doubting that they are the primary force in modern culture and sociopolitical philosophy.
So we, as millennials, are throwing political apathy out of the window. We are demanding that politicians start looking at fixing the environmental disaster that is certainly pending. We are demanding that they put an end to the ridiculous wealth disparity between the top 1% and everyone else. We are demanding that they take the money out of politics and we are demanding that politicians answer to the people, not corporations and billionaires.
Young people (although millennials are teetering on the edge of no longer being “young”) are refusing to accept the status quo. It may well be too late, but we are determined to put a stop to global warming and become carbon neutral. Greta Thunberg’s position in the global spotlight, being named as Time’s Person of the Year for 2019, shows exactly how determined the new generations are to make this world a better place to live in. Although, Greta is not actually a millennial, she’s a Gen-Zer, her attitude has been shaped most by the generation that came before her, not Boomers or Gen-Xers.
Millennials want to reshape the economy and what it means to be thriving as a nation – rather than this obsolete system that was put into place by literal Nazis. We demand change – and, guess what? We’re all of voting age. We’re the largest generation by population to ever walk this earth, so far, and we now have power by numbers. So the 2020s will surely be the political age of millennials. Here’s to hoping that we can change the world!
This article was written as an opinion piece and reflects the ideas of the author and not those of The Essential Millennial.