It started as an online survey by victimsofcommunism.org and has wound its way through the media, news and social. “It” is a survey result finding that approximately 70% of American Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) would vote for a socialist candidate instead of a non-socialist. It’s fed a breadth of spin-off articles breathlessly reporting the results as well as a slew of memes – many troll-created – mocking millennials. This particular little meme crossed my Facebook feed several weeks ago.
Why so surprised?
If folks are surprised that upwards of 70% of millennials would support a socialist, then consider this percentage: 80% of millennials don’t expect to receive Social Security when they reach what we consider as retirement age. I’m surprised that so many of the X, Boomer and Silent generations are so obtuse as to consider this news. What Millennials have witnessed from their earliest youth is the Great Reversion, a thorough dismantling of benefits and privileges that were earned by and afforded to their elder generations: income, education, health insurance, job opportunities…all of it. Millennials are the first generation to be raised and come of age in this period, while their generational elders had at least some benefits of the preceding society and economy.
Maybe we need to first determine if Millennials are talking about the same Socialism as their elders. Just remember this at the outset: most individuals don’t reach a meaningful state of political awareness until at least their teens and what they witness during that period will largely shape their long-term political outlook. So…what is Socialism?
There’s a distinct difference between what is meant by the two generational groups. That the original survey came from victimsofcommunism.org is telling; it is a non-profit organization created as an “educational and human rights foundation” (per their website) by unanimous Congressional action after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The two principal nations – the Soviet Union and Communist China – billed themselves as Socialist and those most affected by their atrocities – including the generations of Americans who engaged in a sometimes deadly Cold War against them – will identify Socialism with the death and damage wrought by them.
Millennials view Socialism as something different however. In the earliest years of the Millennial period, the Soviet Union was in decline and a distinct political resistance had formed in Poland. When Millennials reached elementary school, the Berlin Wall fell and was followed within two years by the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. The existential threat of totalitarian Socialism ceased and Millennials came of age without noting it as a meaningful factor in their lives. As the earliest Millennials aged and were joined by their younger peers, they found a new brand of Socialism in the countries of Europe, later the European Union. In many countries, there was free or minimally priced healthcare for the citizenry. There was also heavily subsidized and reasonably priced higher education as well a network of state supported social programs that assisted citizens. That these nations had free and democratic elections put a stake in the notion that Socialism, as experienced by their elders, was evil and deadly.
What Millennials hadn’t experienced, which their elders had, was determining how these programs were funded. There’s an aphorism of uncertain origin: if a person isn’t a socialist at 25, then he has no heart. If he isn’t a conservative at 50, then he has no head. Generations disagree with one another. I once argued with my parents about taxes and drove my mother to a near-stroke by arguing that we should be willing and ready to pay our fair share of taxes; my father reminded her that I would soon be paying my own taxes as an adult and my attitude would probably change. He was right and my willingness to yield my earnings to the government declined dramatically when I was responsible for putting a roof over my own head. But that dinner conversation was decades ago and despite graduating from college in the midst of a serious recession, my wife and I were privileged to enjoy the benefits of that period before Things Economic went seriously south.
How far south?
Far enough south that the youngest Millennials are through college and recognizing that the economic odds are stacked against them. Think about it: your hope for a middle-class life is dependent upon having some form of higher education yet obtaining that degree will leave you with an average student loan balance of $35,359. If you land a job with health insurance, it’s increasingly likely to have a high deductible plan since more employers are shifting in that direction to offset the rising cost of having insurance whatsoever. Fully 66% of all personal bankruptcy filings are attributable to the impact of medical bills, even with the presence of health insurance. Housing is going to be costlier as the student debt load impacts your ability to save for a down payment to buy a house, yet the median rental cost has increased by almost 50% since 2001 (through 2015) while median household income has been static over that same period. You will be responsible for your own eventual retirement via personal savings and expect that the Social Security net will be exhausted and closed. And honestly, if persistent mass shootings in public venues and schools elicit nothing more than thoughts and prayers from those in power, can you actually believe that any meaningful assistance will be forthcoming that same group?
Millennials are learning how deceptive the American economic system has become. It has been based for decades upon the notion that we are consumers with a crucial role as an economic driver first for the domestic, and later, for the global economy. What we are experiencing is that we have instead become the consumed, fodder for the corporate predators who have gained a disproportionate level of control in society.
Yeah, it’s daunting. If I were a Millennial, I would find it daunting. So they will band together as a voting bloc to push for a public response that helps them, much as their great-great-grandparents did when they elected FDR in a landslide over Herbert Hoover. As the American Middle Class continues to erode, the Millennials are living the deterioration and are willing to forego a larger percentage of their present earnings in the expectation that their futures aren’t those of poverty and hopelessness.
One final comment. I like Sam Elliott and if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as his gloriously badass mustache. But let’s do it homage by not taking it in vain on what is a meme likely created by trolls to sow further discord. Take a moment to try to walk in the shoes of a Millennial and you’re liable to find that they can’t afford the kind with good arch support.