AN OPEN LETTER TO THE DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES

May 2, 2017

 

Dear Colleagues:

I recently attended my precinct meeting, at which they were passing out “Proud Democrat” pins.   I was happy to accept one because I have been a proud Democrat for sixty years.   My problem is, at eighty, I don’t have much longer to be proud and I don’t want to spend my declining years thinking we are a dying party.  Time is running out for the Republicans, too, who are fooling themselves that just because there is a sometime Republican in the White House and they own the majority of state offices they are in robust good health when, nationally, they are just on life support with the drip running out.

I realize that Donald Trump is energizing the Democratic Party.  The millions marching every weekend in protest of the Republican administration might give hope that the party of my grandfathers and father and mother is shaking off the message-doldrums that resulted in the 2016 election of Mr. Trump.  I know, too, that history is not on my side.  Under current conditions, it would be forgivable to expect that the two parties would continue to fall in and out of favor as the pendulum swings.   And I know, too, that third party movements move on and off the stage of Presidential politics and generally get absorbed into the mainstream.   Lastly, I can count and I know the number of voters in any President election seldom gets above 60-some percent of the eligible voters.  So, usually, the two parties hang on, get as close to the center as they can, and wait their turn.

But there is something going on in the country now – and has been a “sleepy giant” since the Vietnam War knocked most of the idealism out of one generation and latent racism and lack of opportunity did the same to a later one.  Anyone interested enough in politics to watch the “Bernie Sanders Phenomenon” must understand that the young are waking up.  The Senator knows.  He’s the one who woke them up and even though he is now being courted assiduously by the Democratic Party, he still refuses to abandon his Independent identity.  The young still “Feel the Bern.” And “Bern” is unique.   Unless the two major parties are listening carefully to what the young are saying they are going to lose their grip on the future, surrendering it to the extremists.  In the 2010 mid-term elections, only 21 percent of eligible 18-24s voted, while in the 2016 Presidential elections, 24 million 18-29s voted, about half of those eligible.  The age group 18-29 represents 21 percent of the entire electorate.  It is a block of voters well worth the Democratic Party cultivating because all research shows that this age group favors the Democratic candidates.  However, if both parties want to remain relevant, then they need to know how the youth, in particular the millennials, feel about politics, politicians, and our political and social system in general.  While the young do not, in most cases, have much time for politics, care enough about politics to make time, or, depending on how much education they have and where they come from, vote much differently than their parents, they cannot be ignored. Unless the nation is to be led by an aging oligarchy, they must be served.

The results of a poll of 3,034 youths 18-29 conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics should be required reading by the party faithful if they want to be able to count on the youth vote, because:

  • 83 percent of them have no faith in Congress, whether they are Republican or Democrat. I can’t help but think that if there is so little faith in Congress it translates into having little faith in our system to govern effectively regardless of Party affiliation.

  • 49 percent don’t think our justice system is fair. Once respect for the law is gone, your nation is gone.   If faith in the system is to be restored, credentials and demonstrated competency must be the selection criteria for law enforcement officials, not political cronyism.

  • Only 11 percent trust the media. Then how are they going to become informed?  Certainly not by spin doctors, as complicated as the truth may be for most to swallow.  The visual media, which has reduced information to entertainment designed to appeal to basest instincts, has a lot to answer for.  Whatever happened to the legacy of Walter Cronkite, once called the most trusted man in America?  24/7 cable news killed him off.   And we all know what’s happening to newspapers.  Do we really wish to be governed by tweet?

  • 57 percent trust scientists, the highest trust placed in any group. The military comes in second.

  • 55 percent believe climate change is caused primarily by humans.

  • 59 percent do not believe that protesting injustice will have much effect on changing the criminal system.

I’m going to stop at this last entry because it bothers me that today’s youth, at least most of them, do not believe that protesting in the streets is effective even against something as fundamental as life and death.  I remember when protests did amount to something:  the anti-Vietnam protests contributed to the decision of a President not to run again.  People died protesting for Civil Rights and their deaths made a difference.

But what have the recent protests against Trump’s administration resulted in, at least at this point?  We are in the process of testing whether the majority of those young folks polled are right or wrong about whether massive and continual protests really make a difference.  Has governing become so dependent on the “core” constituencies that the center, where compromise is usually achieved, is well-nigh impossible to assemble?  The Tea Party is only the most recent expression of the power of extremists when centrists fail.

Fortunately, we have elections to the House of Representatives every two years and we can “turn the bums out” if we’re upset enough and the protests make enough people think about an issue who otherwise might not.  As it is, most of the incumbents get returned to their safe seats anyway.   Is it any wonder that young people, when they pause to consider their options, find little to hope for?

It would be an egregious mistake to discount the passion of youthful discontent, even if they seem disengaged.  Many of the blood-in-the-street revolutions were fomented and led by people in their twenties and thirties, frequently ex-students with a knack for leadership.  Some of the names might be familiar to you:

William Wallace (early thirties)

Joan of Arc (about 19)

Maximilian Robespierre  (mid-thirties)

Thomas Jefferson (31)

Simon Bolivar (mid-thirties)

Lenin (mid-twenties)

Leon Trotsky  (late twenties)

Michael Collins (late twenties)

Fidel Castro (33)

…and the list goes on.

We can all hope we are spared the sense of hopelessness that accounts for conspiracies to commit violence.  America, at its core, is different – exceptional, if you wish – in believing that you can join with others of like mind to make a difference non-violently and our form of governance is such that it encourages that expectation.  But it requires participation and the most effective – and productive – form of participation is voting.  As a people, for the most part, we respect the outcome of our elections and then actively and patiently (at the same time) work for and await the change we want.  But there is one thing that we should demand: that our elected officials work together in good will and determination to serve the People, not some ideology that substitutes for knowledge and understanding.

If I was to take the Harvard study at face value, I would have to assume that today’s younger generation does not share my optimism.  They mirror their elders in their disdain for the Congress.

I believe it is critical that our two parties restore a sense of optimism to our nation and put reaching out to the youth of our nation as their highest priority.  We should spare them the slogans and deal directly with the issues they are concerned about.  I believe it can be done because the young people of my day – or, at least those I chose to associate with – were by nature optimistic and wanted to set what was wrong with our nation right.  And they expected to make a difference.

If we ignore the young and simply assume they will one day wake up and find that responsibilities of job and family preclude participation, then the nation has indeed met the enemy and they is us.

 

 

 

 

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