Inspired by the protests of president-elect Donald Trump over the last week — protests I disagree with in some ways — I’m ready to take a step back and focus on some of the bigger issues. Because while the protests will inevitably quiet down, the issues won’t.
I’ve seen a lot people on Facebook, of all age groups, shitting on these protestors while failing to acknowledge how we got here. In the eyes of many (Republicans mostly), this is simply a matter of not accepting election results. Which is missing the point.
We can’t normalize the idea that Donald Trump is just any old president-elect. He is different, and it isn’t complicated to admit. His path to the oval office is a graveyard of insulting many minority groups, including black people, Mexicans, Muslims, and the gay and transgender communities. Feeling alienated as something less than American — which Trump’s campaign did almost everything to ensure — is a perfectly fine reason to protest. Chanting “Fuck Donald Trump” and burning American flags, however, probably isn’t the best way to go about it. So I don’t necessarily disagree with what they are saying, but more how they are saying it.
Either way it’s their First Amendment right, and it’s not un-American for them to exercise it.
So, here, in this rather empty space, I’m just going to talk about some of the arguments from the other side, and explain why I think they are wrong. So here we go:
1. The idea that, growing up, the younger generation had everything handed to them, so they are protesting because they didn’t get their way.
Free healthcare, free public college, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding Social Security: these were the issues Bernie Sanders almost won the Democratic nomination with. And yeah, young people fucking loved it. Yay free stuff!
You know who else likes free stuff? Everybody.
Let us not forget that Social Security and Medicaid — two of America’s most popular programs — are socialist programs. We already live in a quasi-socialist nation, and tens of millions of lives have benefitted from these so-called freebies. This has been going on since the days of FDR, so the concept of wanting free stuff is far from brand new. It predates the births of many of our grandparents, and great-grandparents in some instances.
It is not controversial to say, speaking on behalf of millennials like me, that we, too, want to see our tax dollars going to programs that we can actually benefit from. Healthcare and college are a good start. Rather than, I don’t know, paying for military spending when America already spends more than the next dozen countries combined.
2. Young liberals have the time to protest because they don’t have jobs, and Republicans are too busy working.
Let me tell you a story:
Kid goes to college, does the right thing, graduates, accrues massive student debt in the process, can’t find a job in this economy. So he or she ends up working as a host at a restaurant making $10 an hour.
That is the reality for many of the best and brightest over the last decade-plus. This economy has not worked out for young people.
I attended Virginia Tech for a grand total of one year, back in 2008-’09. My mom had to take out two separate loans, totaling roughly $35,000, all told, just so I could live out my childhood dream. And I rewarded her by dropping out.
Unironically, there is a good chance my life would be in worse shape if I had actually graduated, because then we’re talking about something in the range of $150,000 that I would be paying back over the course of the next 20 or 30 years. Does that seem particularly fair? More importantly does that seem, in the moral sense, right?
In a different economic climate — one like a Western European democracy, where tax dollars pay for college — it would make more sense to finish school and get a degree. Here, it’s a financial burden. (I chose a public, out-of-state university, so I kind of did it to myself. But the point remains.)
Education is important, you guys. And it should come with great shame that America ranks 35th in the world in math and 27th in science, according to Pew Research. It’s easy to poke fun at how stupid Americans are, but it’s hardly just an opinion. We are supposed to be the world leader, remember?
I believe in liberal principles, and I have a job that pays for me to live on my own and afford what I need. But many people like me, who got grades and got accepted to the college they wanted to study at, haven’t been as fortunate.
So perhaps the more human thing to do is to have a little empathy, rather than just branding everyone who’s protesting as lazy. Because it’s a bullshit argument and many do have legitimate concerns and reasons.
3. There is nothing worthwhile left to protest, so the youth is just looking for something to complain about.
Millennials have shown to be the least prejudice generation in America, putting more emphasis on equality and opportunity than the more traditional values of patriotism and competition, per The Atlantic. We care about climate change more than any generation. We care about protecting the rights of women more than any generation. We care about helping the poor more than any generation. These are things we should be proud of.
So why are we the assholes?
You’re right, we don’t have a Civil Rights Movement. We don’t have a Vietnam War to protest. We don’t even have the Iraq War to protest, and that was only 13 years ago.
But that doesn’t mean our issues aren’t legitimate. There isn’t a generation in the U.S. that owns a monopoly on what our priorities should be. This is the future of our country, too, and the stakes are arguably higher for us due to the greater amount time we have left, not to mention the increasing number of problems in need of fixing. There are far too many, whether from being uninformed or just plain dense, who equate people criticizing America to being un-American. And to them I say: it is not un-American to want to make this country a better place.
If ever there was an argument to be made that this country is being “taken away” by liberalism — and it’s kind of amazing that Donald Trump convinced white men that of all the things wrong with America, that they are the ones being persecuted — it’s that millennials overwhelmingly lean to the left. And further, that even those millennials who identify as conservative are much more liberal than their parents and grandparents.
The dinosaurs will eventually die off, and America will continue on the path it’s currently on. Which is why I’m a lot less worried about the future than I am with the present: the left has won the war of ideas with my generation, even in spite of the result of this election. And it’s my sincere hope that Republicans, or Trump supporters, are happy right now. Because this could very well be the party’s last days in the sun.