2. The Democratic Party is corrupt and irrelevant.
3. Donald Trump wasn’t as bad as everyone said.
4. I miss the good old days.
He emerged as a midlife crisis portrait of millennials working their way to the Republican vote.
Many millennials (including me) are now entering their 40s. It’s a decidedly adult phase of life that tends to correlate with a recalibration of priorities, expectations, and resentments. A substantial migration of millennial voters from left to right — including a sizable portion of those who might seem the least likely of converts — is sure to be a consequence.
Every generation of American progressives has seen it happen. Ronald Reagan created the “Reagan Democrats” from aging members of the wartime generation who supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, but were disillusioned with statism. A faction of left-wing boomers turned neoconservative as they grew more concerned about the Cold War; another made peace with neoliberal economics after dropping out of college and getting good jobs in the booming 1980s and 1990s.
Spend time listening to millennials on the left on their vast archipelago of blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and Twitch streams and you’ll hear clues about the conditions under which this generation’s change will unfold; their growing distaste for their own political tribe seems as much a product of cultural alienation as anything else.
Many millennial leftists say it openly: they are indifferent to “social issues.” It’s the economics that really concern them — and there are certainly plenty of indicators that can be cited to say that millennials face unique economic challenges across generations. But if engagement with this reality rarely rises above a rote denunciation of the capitalist system itself – the pursuit of which is not exactly an active debate in American politics – then economic malaise will not go away. probably not dictate many votes one way or another.
Unless apathy towards social problems is seen as a form of economic justice in itself.
America’s biggest brands have received a lot of fire from the millennial left in recent years for ostentatious signals of virtue — rainbow Oreos, Black Lives Matter shirts at Walmart, that sort of thing. There is rage at this imagined hypocrisy; American corporations are supposed to be filled with a bunch of greedy hypocrites who don’t believe in the causes they exploit to pitch their products. Yet at some point this anger becomes indistinguishable from purely aesthetic distaste – an instinctive revulsion at a highly visible new cultural shift that finds common cause with a populist right equally contemptuous of “woke capital” and the Liberal politicians they fund.
Further overlap comes from a shared perception that today’s social causes are simply not worth much. Just as some baby boomers felt their progressive views on civil rights and feminism justified indifference – or hostility – to the gay rights movement that came later, aging millennials who feel they have proven that they supported gay rights may find insistence from the younger generation. on things like pronoun introductions and fully race- and gender-balanced workplaces. Add to that that most disorienting anxiety of middle age – no longer knowing what’s offensive – and you have a generation ready to be at least a little reactionary-curious.
However, a shared hatred of the liberal establishment is probably the right’s most compelling case for conversion to the left.
In the days of Reagan, or even Newt Gingrich, conservative politics was philosophical and political. Theoretically at least, voters either supported the “contract with America” or did not. Today, however, the Republican Party has abandoned the very idea of offering a platform: either you hate grumpy, twisted lying libs, or you don’t. A left that already likes to dwell on the misdeeds of the Democratic elite – “denying” Bernie Sanders the presidency, etc. – is an open door for conservatives to push. Over time, the Democrats shift in the imagination of the millennial left from “no better” to objectively worse; the GOP is moving from “making good points” to being actively needed.
Fueled in part by illiberal animosity, Sanders-to-Trump voters were a well-documented phenomenon that helped Republicans reclaim the White House in 2016. Many of those voters never returned, and the Sanders coalition grew smaller. and more ideological in 2020. Yet Sanders’ migration to Trump continued, with some polls ahead of the 2020 vote suggesting the number of converts could be as high as 15%. This no doubt played a role in Trump increasing his share of the millennial vote by 8%.
Fast forward a decade or two and imagine millennials in their 50s and 60s. Do you think we will find a group of older people still interested in being at the forefront of leftist politics? Or a generation that has simply settled into a kind of conservatism that they would have recognized in their parents and grandparents – a conservatism born of confidence that they did their part when it mattered, but what the nation has need now is a strong republican government able to prevent a new illegitimate progressive movement from ruining the nation with its immature nonsense?
The second scenario strikes me as a matter of “when”, not “if” – and the “when” is already happening.