Young politicians are crucial to lifting up American democracy

Will Baker

American politics are undergoing a revolution in which each party’s stance is being drastically redefined. This reorganization has exposed a deep generational gap in American politics and culture. According to the Senate’s summary of the 115th Congress, the average age in the Senate is 61.8, one of the oldest in American history. This can be attr

Illustration by Caroline Goodhart

ibuted to U.S. leaders continuously forcing younger generations out of politics, prioritizing an adherence to the same political and social standards that their generations valued. In doing this, they are demeaning the political value of these young and often comparatively radical politicians. The failure to enact substantial climate change laws, education debt reforms and other resolutions to serious issues by older politicians is why the young politicians they stifle are so important to American democracy.

These developments have elicited a constant clash between generational factions: the baby boomers (1946-1964) and silents (1928-1945) versus the ideologies of younger Generation X (1965-1980) and millennials (1981-1996), the rising political generations. The ideals that young politicians espouse, such as climate change mitigation, healthcare and immigration, have been met with strong pushback from America’s older generations. The reforms that many young politicians share an interest in pushing forward have the chance to make real political change that a majority of old politicians have fallen short of.

Figures like U.S. Representatives Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), age 30, and Republican Matt Gaetz, age 38, are now leading a new wave of political change for their respective parties. But in doing so, they often clash with the old guard of U.S. politics. 

AOC has openly butted heads with older Democrats, including a notable confrontation with 75-year-old Representative Emmanuel Cleaver, as reported by Politico.

“I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Cleaver, “We just don’t need sniping on our Democratic Caucaus.”

AOC’s platform relies heavily on younger voters’ disdain of a government they find dysfunctional and run by those who are out of touch. An American Institutional Poll survey found that 48 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds see democracy as only serving the elite. AOC is able to garner the support of young people through policy that is relevant to their needs. Ocasio-Cortez has a record of supporting legislation for these young Americans, such as her support of the Student Debt Cancellation Act of 2019.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Representative Matt Gaetz is the ideal candidate for young Republicans. Last year, Gaetz engaged in a discussion about marijuana legalization with Kellyanne Conway, a former counselor for President Trump. 

I have worked to be a positive influence with the President on marijuana reform,” Gaetz said. “To my friend, Kellyanne Conway, I would say, ‘OK, boomer.’” 

This Gaetz-Conway exchange has a broader significance in national politics. Gaetz’s challenge of long held views within the Republican party shows the necessary change that young politicians are willing to enact in the face of their party’s traditionalism. Young politicians like Gaetz are able to better reflect the changing ideologies of the country, progressing from their party’s inherent traditionalism.

However, presidential politics are steadily moving away from embracing a break in tradition since the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.  According to Statista, the median age of Americans in 2019 was 38.4. Not only do the Senate and House exceed this mark by close to 10 years, but the Presidential candidates of 2020 were dominated by candidates aged 70 and up: Elizabeth Warren (70), Bernie Sanders (78), Joe Biden (76) and Donald Trump (73).

The entrance of independent Mike Bloomberg, age 78, into the Democratic race signaled a clear attempt to stifle candidates with younger constituencies. Bloomberg repeatedly attacked millennial-championed Bernie Sanders, denoting his policies with “communism.” Candidates joined in to attack Sanders’ agenda, which was by far the most popular with young Americans, gaining support from 59 percent of voters aged 18-29 and 68 percent of voters aged 30-44 in California according to a CNN exit poll.

In an interview with Intelligencer, Time Magazine correspondent Charlotte Alter pointed out the grassroots movements that these millennial-backed politicians have come from. Grassroots campaigns indicate a genuine constituency that is well connected to the candidate. Alter believes younger candidates have a better understanding of how to reach their constituents with social media. 

“Instagram is to AOC what radio was to FDR and television was to JFK,” Atler said. 

According to Pew Research, younger generations outvoted older generations for the first time in 2018 by about 2.1 million votes. The country will benefit from increased representation of Gen Z, millenial and Gen X ideals. Because young politicians have naturally accumulated a base through social media, their followings are constructed of people who have actively sought them out, allowing for government representatives to better align with those they represent as opposed to being aligned with the power structures already in existence.

A drawback that many see to an influx of young voters’ and their ideologies is the further polarization of politics in America. According to Pew Research, 65 percent of all adults predict that polarization will worsen in the next 30 years, a concern that has led to the aforementioned pushback of the ideologies of young Americans. However, the American public will actually benefit from young politicians’ shared values. According to a Pew Research study, 52 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds see climate change as a very big problem, versus only 39 percent of those older than 65. Alter believes young Republicans are much more pro-immigration than the older Republicans, adding that both young Republicans and Democrats are more committed to social and judicial reform. Although many policies embodied by young politicians have shifted dramatically from the ones supported by previous generations, they have a unified, bipartisan front behind them, creating a less polarized atmosphere.

Young people are being actively ignored on a national stage because of the supposedly radical change they represent, however, the value of these young politicians is far more important than preserving an old order. Young politicians can better represent the American people in their ideals as well as allow for unified change in America. These politicians are the democratic change that America needs, however this is only possible if young citizens go out and vote for the candidates they see creating change for the rising American generations.

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