The hidden political fact: the power of the young

Sam Smith

Rarely mentioned in the mass media’s discussion of politics is the huge role played by age in the nature of our politics. What we are seeing is the disproportional efforts of older Americans to turn back the clock on various issues at a time when the clock is running out on them.

This doesn’t mean they don’t have enough time left to cause a few major disasters. Nor does it mean that all seniors are responsible for this, only that the odds of being drastically wrong are much higher for older voters. Nor does it mean that it is the only factor damaging our land. For example, the bias of the electoral college or a Senate where nine states, with over half the population, that have only 18% of that body’s votes.

What it does mean is the huge influence of how the media covers politics, a feeling of futility or despair among many younger voters, not to mention the worst president we have ever had.

I know something of what’s going on because I was part of a generation- the “silent” one – that also knew something was wrong but not how to fix it. Some of us joined the “beat generation,” which reacted with music, literature, dress and other forms of cultural separation, but not in effective action. Still, we were part of the warmup band for the 1960s. In 1960, real action was discovered by a handful of young blacks who sat in at a lunch counter and within months were being emulated all over the country. As one of the first protesters noted:

In 1959 I was fortunate enough to get an academic scholarship to A&T. Junior Blair and I were roommates. Frank McCain lived down the hall from us. David Richmond lived in the city. We were all in the same algebra class and we gravitated to each other and became friends. We would get together and discuss current events, political events, things that affected us — pretty much as college kids do today. Bull sessions. The question became, What do we do and to whom do we do it against? There were many conspicuous forms that we could have chosen, but Woolworth seemed logical because it was national in scope and somehow we had hoped to get sympathies from without as well as from within.”

It is too early to tell, but perhaps the NFL national anthem protests will have a similar impact. What we do know Is that it has already changed the national scene. The young have been rediscovered as a political force.

The odds, though, remain against them. The Quorum blog, for example, listed these striking stats:

Today the average American is 20 years younger than their representative in Congress. In 1981, the average age of a Representative was 49 and the average of a Senator was 53. Today, the average age of a Representative is 57 and the average of a Senator is 61.

1/3 of Representatives over 60 represent districts with a median age of 35 or less.

There are 44 congressional districts in which the age of he Representative is more than double the median age of their constituents.

More than half of the Senators up for reelection in 2018 will be over the age of 65.

18 of the 33 Senators running for reelection in 2018 will be 65 or older. If they win, another six years in office would put Senators Feinstein, Hatch, Nelson, and Sanders well into their 80’s.

The importance of this disparity can be seen by looking at some other figures. For example, Hillary Clinton won 55% of the votes of those under thirty but only 45% of those over 65. Only 20% of those under thirty approve of Trump.

54% of those under 30 are pro DACA, while only 42% of older Americans are. 48% of young Americans support single payer as opposed to only 30% of those over 65. And 47% of those under thirty support same sex marriage while only 26% of older Americans do.

In short, the age gap in political thinking is greater than, sometimes, the differences between establishment members of the two major parties.

It’s way past time to bring this truth into the open, to encourage and celebrate the young bringing their politics into the mainstream and to recognize that the Trump disaster, like a hurricane, can do much damage but still has only a limited life left.

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