I used to be an avid viewer of HBO’s Realtime with Bill Maher, at least up until 2016 when his show went off the rails completely and deep down the RussiaGate rabbit hole. It’s been disappointing, as Maher went from being the first mainstream television host to endorse Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Dem Primary, to turning around and chastising any liberal who refused to get up and vote for (the historically unpopular) Hillary Clinton.
I think now, what bothers me about Bill Maher’s show isn’t his constant barrage of cheap anti-Trump jokes. It isn’t that his panel is, week after week, nothing more than a revolving door of establishment media members who see eye-to-eye on most everything. It isn’t that he goes along with the war machine, and their current intervention in Venezuela. To some extent these items are predictable on a network owned by Comcast.
Instead, what bothers me most is Maher’s use of scapegoating millennials for whatever fits his agenda in that moment. He does it all the time. Some Bernie supporters decided to vote third party, or chose not to vote at all? Those damn millennials screwed us. Some college kids choose to protest — and inevitably shut down — a speaker on a university campus? Stupid millennials. Young people are less interested in capitalism than they are socialism? Get real, millennials.
I’m a 29 year-old, right smack-dab in the middle of the Millennial Generation (those born between 1983-1996). Throughout my life it’s been a theme that people my age are entitled by virtue of growing up with the latest technology, mentally soft because we were (apparently) given “participation trophies,” too ideal with our dreams, too unrealistic with the policies we support. Millennials don’t know how the real world operates, they say. That is the message we have been spoon-fed from the very beginning.
The problem with that particular popular opinion is that it doesn’t honestly represent us, and never has. I mean, yes, of course there are Millennials who are entitled. Some are mentally soft. Some do dream too big without a realistic plan. This is true. Yet it can also be said for literally any generation that’s ever existed. That is why it’s a bullshit line of attack. It is how the lazy, and the pseudo-intellectual, rationalize what they don’t understand about the world.
What Bill Maher can’t come to realize — maybe because he himself is a mega-millionaire — is that being spoiled and entitled isn’t a matter of age, it’s a matter of a class. From where I sit, entitlement complexes come from money and power; they don’t appear out of thin air from the generation with significantly less money and significantly less power than Boomers and Gen-X. So it’s not that putting down millennials is unfair or off the table, it’s that, most times, the criticisms are just flat-out inaccurate.
Last Friday Maher opened his monologue by taking only his latest in a long line of jabs at millennials, with a joke that is probably funny to everyone who agrees young people, always, deserve to get shitted on:
You’re not even excited about me, it’s Coachella, that’s what it is, right? It kicks off this weekend. Just what America needs, another reason to take drugs. [audience laughter] You know Coachella lasts two weekends, like a cabinet member who works for Trump. [audience laughter] And it’s pricey, none of that Woodstock come in for free shit. Oh no. But you get a lot for your money. Dozens of acts there who are competing for the affection of entitled millennials. I’m sorry I’m thinking of the Democratic Primary. [audience laughter]
Yes, it is cheap, low-hanging fruit. Yes, I am being petty about a corny comedian making a corny joke. And yet I am here, and I am writing about it. I just feel like millennials don’t have a ton of representation in the mainstream, even in spite of the fact that we are 75 million strong and make up the largest voting bloc in the country. If all things were equal, we would have more individuals sharing our perspective in Congress and on the news.
As a substitute for fair representation and honest criticism, the coverage millennials do receive on mainstream airwaves tends to be overwhelmingly negative. Fox News has basically turned into a 24-hour Look How Crazy Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is propaganda machine, sensationally twisting her latest fight for poor and working people into comparisons of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. I can’t imagine how anyone could watch that shit and think it is genuine, but then again the average Fox viewer is like 70 years old so many don’t know better.
The fact is, diehards in both parties are often ignorant of what millennials really are. Frequently the term “millennial” is used to describe any young person, when the reality is millennials are now aged between 23 and 36. Even the youngest among us who went to college have since graduated, while the oldest are on the doorstep to being 40 year-olds. I’m not asking anyone to cry for millennials or our primary issues with the current system of government, I’m just saying we are probably older, and possess more life experience, than you think.
The free speech police on college campuses — a faction of the left that I don’t identify myself with — would currently be between the ages of 18-22, presumably (because they are going to college), and those would actually be post-millennials. High school kids are post-millennials. Middle school kids are post-millennials. Even though all of us — millennials and post-millennials — are lumped together in the same boat, only one of those generations has exclusively “young people.”
Yet, all the evidence is out there. Bernie Sanders says it at all of his campaign rallies: millennials are the first generation expected to have a worse standard of living than their parents. On average millennials earn about $35,000 per year, which is roughly “20% lower than the average salary that a baby boomer had at the same age (in real terms).” Only 37% of millennials own a house, which is 8% less than baby boomers and Gen-X at the same age.
But that isn’t even the worst of it. The real problem for millennials — which already is and will continue to be a problem for the American economy — is that we are so much more in debt now than our parents or grandparents were at this stage of their lives. Some millennials who graduated from good colleges are on the hook in student loan debt the equivalent of a mortgage. And what many of them have since realized, just as I realized a decade ago when I was $40,000 deep in student debt, is that the economy doesn’t have enough jobs that pay well enough to offset that much capital.
The whole point here is that millennials do have valid grievances. With the cost of living so high, without enough good jobs to afford leisure spending, with healthcare being so hard to access without a full-time job, and with student debt as the cherry on top, it isn’t hard to pinpoint why the younger generations are so interested in something different. Capitalism has failed us.
I’m clearly not a supporter of Donald Trump, and it probably won’t surprise you to know that 67 percent of millennials disapprove of the 45th President. But whether millennials like it or not we do share a commonality with Trump supporters, given that we all (to varying degrees) receive the ire of the media establishment. MAGA people get it more with the rhetoric that they are all racists, or sexists, while millennials get it for our attempt to overthrow the Democratic Party.
The common thread we — that being millennials and Trump supporters — share is our disdain for the establishment. On the news, whether it’s Fox, CNN, or MSNBC, there is constantly this idea being pushed that the divide between right and left is as big as it’s ever been. I can only assume it’s some sort of crowd control technique, and it must work since that same narrative has been pushed over and over throughout the last century. Was there not a comparable divide over the “socialism” of The New Deal during The Great Depression? Was there not a comparable divide during Vietnam or the Nixon years? How about the Iraq War in 2003? How about the Obama years?
The American media, and the political establishment, have been playing this game for a long time.
When it comes to working class issues, most Americans agree. It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican or Independent. Ask a majority of people if they want Medicare For All, or increasing the minimum wage, or expanding Social Security benefits, or ending the perpetual wars, and a majority of Americans agree.
There are more millennials living in the United States than any other generation, and we have a stake in this country. It’s because we — as a whole — don’t earn as much, don’t own as much, and are more in debt, that our struggle is America’s struggle. I think we’ve waited our turn long enough. This isn’t a time to sit idly by while we watch the world burn down around us.
So I think there is a real opportunity, if not likelihood, that the same phenomenon which occurred in 2016 — where Trump’s silent majority pulled off one of the great upsets is general election history — happens again in 2020. Only instead of rural America coming out in unprecedented numbers, and working class white people voting against their economic interests, it’s going to be the millennials who pull off the upset. And it isn’t going to be to elect some run-of-the-mill corporate jerkoff (like Beto O’Rourke or Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden), and it won’t be a woman just for the sake of her being a woman (like Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand). It’ll be Bernie Sanders, the guy with integrity, who has been fighting for the same issues for the last forty years.
So if you are like Bill Maher and shitting on millennials gives you a bang, have at it, hoss. You can’t say anything that anyone under 35 hasn’t heard numerous times before. And just as calling Trump supporters racists and sexists doesn’t accomplish anything, and doesn’t help get them to over to your side, calling millennials “soft” or “entitled” is never going to be enough to shame them into thinking otherwise. It will only further entrench us in our belief that the older generations have put the country in this mess we are currently in and, like it or not, young people will be the ones to get America out of it.