Updated: Apr 4, 2020
This week’s post will be a relatively short one as I’m coming off of a five-part series on how conservatives differ from liberals. But a Twitter thread shared by Vince Coglianese, Editorial Director at the Daily Caller, caught my attention. The thread consisted of little to no commentary but listed stat after stat, article after article, depicting an alarmingly dire plight for Millennials.
Here’s a sample:
We Millennials are a curiously paradoxical generation. We’re often reminded—sometimes less than graciously by our elders—how good we have it. We’re reminded we live in the most prosperous time in world history and how the United States is at relative peace with no foreign enemies even remotely capable of rivaling our military might. What could we possibly have to complain about?
And yet, most Millennials I know have a vague uneasiness that times are not quite as perfect for us as they’re often portrayed to be. But we have difficulty sufficiently expressing why we feel this way. We might point to some example in our own lives, but personal and anecdotal accounts cannot persuasively explain mass phenomenon. And broad, simplistic explanations never quite seem to capture these problems.
Past generations could point to hard, tangible things such as war or economic depression; but our problems seem opaque. Take a look at that list of stats and data points again. Is there one clear, all-encompassing answer or cause that explains why Millennials are struggling to save, lonely, suicidal, religiously unaffiliated, dying earlier, deeply in debt, still living with their parents, and having less sex?
The temptation is often to blame Millennials for our woes—“No one forced you to take on all that college debt,” “Back in my day people went to church and got to know their neighbors. You want friends? You’ve got to get off your phone and make them,” “Young people these days just don’t want to work, and they’d just as soon stay single, living in their mom’s basement”.
Now, to be fair, there certainly is room for a frank conversation about taking responsibility for our actions. It is true that part of the problem we find ourselves in is of our own making and—even where it’s not—the best course of action to resolving problems isn’t to cast blame on others but to set about the difficult task of dealing with the issue at hand. But a frank conversation about personal responsibility doesn’t mean we should be content with deafening silence when questions are raised about the root causes of some of these problems.
I recently had Joseph Sternberg, editorialist and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, on the podcast to discuss his new book The Theft of a Decade. His book tells the tale of how the Boomer generation’s economic policies over the past several decades have robbed Millennials of their economic future. And, while that thesis may sound like Sternberg is searching for a non-Millennial scapegoat, I found his book to be intensely nuanced in exploring how certain decisions made before we were born or in positions to make such decisions will likely impact our lives.
Sternberg writes, “One of the biggest things [Millennials] seem to want is answers. We can tell the economy isn’t working well for us, and that the kind of security we thought our parents had isn’t available to us. Millennials want to know why that is and what we can do to fix it.” It’s hard to address a problem when you can’t discern where we came from, how we got here, and what’s been tried before that failed. Seeking answers to these questions isn’t the same as shirking our collective responsibilities. If we’re going to get out of some of these quandaries, we’ll need to learn to both take responsibility and find the answers to how we got here in the first place.
Looking back over that list of stats, of course, would suggest that our “problems” are far greater than merely economic. We’re facing a crisis of purpose, faith in institutions, confidence in the future, belief that we “matter” to those in authority, and meaningful associations that enrich our lives. I believe conservatism holds the solutions to much of what ails us. But not the thinly-veiled nationalism or populism on the Right that often masquerades as “conservatism”. We need a robust understanding of the traditions of Burke, and Kirk, and Eliot, and Buckley, and Nisbet, and Voegelin, and Sowell, and so many other impactful voices.
As conservatives try to appeal to Millennials it’s necessary we speak to these issues that—surprisingly—few people seem interested in talking about. Even if no immediate solutions are evident, and even if the conservative believes government is not the solution, they cannot be ignored. Millennials are searching for answers. Conservatives should embrace that opportunity.