Some days I turn on the TV to catch a few segments of “Morning Joe,” the morning political talk show on MSNBC. I tuned in last week for a roundtable discussion of a new poll done by Harvard’s Institute for Politics. The survey looked at political sensibilities and views of millennials—who the poll says are fearful about the future—all of whom will be of voting age in 2018. Sitting across from hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the pollster explained that millennials would emerge as “the counter to populism,” would turn “fear into fuel” and would “tip over every institution that doesn’t bring them in.”
Initially, most of the “Morning Joe” table seemed to heave a sigh of relief. With a silent chorus of Hallelujah, they reached the immediate conclusion that the millennials will rid America of the scourge, the “anomaly,” meaning Donald Trump.
Then came the deeper dive. According to the poll, only 34% of millennials say they will definitely vote in 2018. The table freezes. Cause for concern! Two thirds would prefer to see a Democrat rather than a Republican majority in Congress. Another general sigh of relief. Question from MSNBC wingman Willie Geist: Doesn’t this mean millennials are Democrats? No, says the pollster. Millennials are more independent. 75% are not strong supporters of either party. The table grimaces.
The poll reports that 67% of millennials feel that the greatest threat we face comes from inside the country, from the President, from disharmony and from the racism within ourselves. This makes Mika feel better. She asks: What does this mean for the state of the Democratic Party? It seems that the table is set. But, the answer isn’t so simple. First, says Joe (a more honest voice at the table), the parties are dying. The Democrats have no cogent answer, no program. Then the clincher from Joe: It’s only a matter of time before the parties get blown to bits. I’d be very shocked if we didn’t have an independent president in the next ten years. The pollster adds: Only one in three millennials believes the Democratic Party understands them. Then, a philosophical observation by the old hand newspaperman. Mike Barnacle wonders, Are we suffering so much damage that we can’t repair it?
This “Morning Joe” conversation, a healthy one, hit some notes that independents care deeply about. The good news is that there are many, many untelevised rooms across our country where the failures and the future of our democracy are being examined, away from the glare of cameras, careers and political opportunism. Away from the conclusion that Harvard’s pollster proposes, namely, that we need “top down leadership” to engage young people on these issues. If positive change turns on top down leadership, we are lost. Fortunately, it doesn’t.
Mika wants the Democratic Party to be the answer to political decay. Though I think it’s a fool’s errand, I don’t object to the wish. But I do object to the arrogant assumption that the Democrats, and only the Democrats, can save our country. So do a lot of people. That’s one reason Trump won. After all, the damage to which Barnacle presumably refers was not only inflicted by Trump but by a corrupt liberalism. Twenty-five years ago, liberals were celebrating the so-called end of history. Today many are desperately reacting to the end of liberal domination.
If the new millennials poll is to be read honestly, it must be taken to be an anxious rejection of domination by parties and ideology, the interlocked system that keeps Americans from coming together to create new sources of power. The biggest threat we face is an inside threat. And that threat is about many things, including how the party system, extra-constitutional and bloated with the extraordinary governmental privileges granted to it, will be permitted to remain intact and in control. Albert Einstein famously observed, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” The current political arrangement is determined to reinforce old ways of thinking and doing everything, which means reinforcing the existing power relations.
At an important State of Our Democracy conference outside of Cleveland last month, several leading left intellectuals argued that the depleted state of the labor movement—once the bedrock of liberal New Deal politics—required creating a new base for the Democratic Party. Land trusts, food coops, and the like—made viable by the purchasing power of universities—could fill the void. These would become “the laboratories of democracy” that the labor movement once was. Democracy could be revitalized. This path would be futile, others said. Instead, it was passionately argued, we need “to stand by the battered and compromised Democratic Party” no matter what. “No matter what-ism” is, as I see it, what the millennial generation is rejecting.
What troubles me about the current bloodletting over sexual misconduct and abuse is that I worry that it will be used by the dominant players in media, politics and entertainment to reinforce their dominance, albeit with a politically correct veneer. Based on the current climate, Mahatma Gandhi would have been terminated. This, in my opinion, is just another form of abuse of women. Men behave badly, very badly. Of that there is no question. Women are deeply hurt by that behavior. However, abrupt firings, severing all ties, suspending due process, forcing resignations and public humiliations are mainly about corporate liability and defining political brands, not about changing the culture of relationships.
My dear friend Lenora Fulani, a developmental psychologist who also ran for President as an independent in 1988 and 1992, called me up the other day and said, “If I want to join the women’s movement, where do I go?” It was not a rhetorical question. As a black woman, a woman from a poor family, a woman who organizes and therapizes in the poor communities, she did not see a place for herself and those she represents in the current feminist upheaval. The upper echelons of corporate media and governing conglomerates will be more careful with women from now on. And they should be. But culture change? Many liberals have a way of rejecting trickle-down economics while embracing trickle-down culture change. Neither works. My hope is that men will find ways to take responsibility for each other’s actions. I’ve seen it happen over and over again among ordinary men that I know, and I’ve been the beneficiary of this on many, many occasions.
By the time this article is published, we will know the results of the Alabama Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. It will be mercilessly spun and exploited by partisan interests on all sides. I’m not sure that any 14 year-old girls exploited by older men, whether 30 years ago or today, will benefit, no matter the result.
I do believe, though, that ordinary people in our country—including millennials—are trying to find other and caring ways of doing politics, of achieving fairness, of handling abuse, of expressing human sexuality, of developing our country. I’m inspired by them and, hopefully, contributing to the process of empowering them. So, Dear Reader, there’s every reason to say Happy New Year.