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Why is the Right Losing the Young?
What Andrew Sullivan gets right...and absurdly wrong.
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In today’s edition of Unfathomable Mysteries: Andrew Sullivan ponders the question: Why is the right losing the young? And what can it do to win them back?
It’s worth reading because he gets so much right… and so much very wrong. In the end, Sullivan’s analysis is extraordinarily revealing, but not, perhaps, for the reasons he intends.
The problem itself is pretty obvious, as young voters have increasingly been moving away from the GOP, and played a major role in breaking the Red Wave in the midterms.
The problem with young women is especially dire, with one exit poll suggesting that “72 percent of women ages 18-29 voted for Democrats in House races nationwide. In a pivotal Pennsylvania Senate race, 77 percent of young women voted for embattled Democrat John Fetterman, helping to secure his victory.”
What’s happening here?
“It’s dawning on many on the political center and right that the current younger generation in America is not like previous younger generations,” Sullivan wrote last week. “Zoomers and Millennials are further to the left to begin with and, more critically, don’t seem to be moving rightward as they age.”
He cites a widely read article in the Financial Times that argued that, by the time they turn 35, Millennials should be around five points less conservative than the national average if they were to follow historical patterns.
In fact, they’re more like 15 points less conservative, and in both Britain and the US are by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history … Millennials have developed different values to previous generations, shaped by experiences unique to them, and they do not feel conservatives share these….
A lot of things explain this, including a job market shaped by a global financial crisis, and declining living standards. Younger voters have also grown up in a “far more multiracial and multicultural world than anyone before them; seeing gay equality come to marriage and the military, experiencing the first black president and nearly the first woman; and the psychological and cultural impact of Trump and Brexit.”
So it is a mistake, Sullivan writes, to assume that “all of the young’s stickier leftiness — especially the most irritating varieties of it — are entirely a function of woke brainwashing, and not related to genuinely unique challenges.”
He begins his analysis with a candid admission: “The left’s advantage is that they have directly addressed this generation’s challenges, and the right simply hasn’t.”
The woke, however misguided, are addressing the inevitable cultural and social challenges of a majority-minority generation; and the socialists have long been addressing the soaring inequality that neoliberalism has created. Meanwhile, the right has too often ducked these substantive issues or rested on cheap culture-war populism as a diversionary response. I don’t believe that the young are inherently as left as they currently are. It’s just that the right hasn’t offered them an appealing enough alternative that is actually relevant to them.
Sullivan is quite eager to convince his putative new allies on the right that they have to embrace what he calls “smarter policies,” if they want to avoid being swamped by this demographic tsunami.
Let’s leave aside for the moment the impact of Dobbs — and the ongoing push for punitive abortion legislation — on the unwillingness of young women to vote for Republicans.
Sullivan’s suggestions include things like encouraging “much more house-building with YIMBY-style deregulation; expand access to childcare for young, struggling families; tout entrepreneurial and scientific innovation to tackle climate change; expand maternity and paternity leave; redistribute wealth from the super-rich to working Americans to stabilize society and prevent capitalism from undoing itself; and…..”
Wait for it now.
[Above] all, celebrate a diverse society — and the unique individuals and interactions that make it so dynamic and life-giving.”
After a half-decade of Trumpism, Sullivan hopes that the American Right will now realize that “Diversity is a fact — which is why white nationalism is both repellent and a dead end.”
In the ideal world of his imagination, the right could present an appealing alternative to woke-ism.
In an ever-more complex mix, do we resort to policing language, censoring and canceling, and a new, elaborate regime of active and supposedly benign race and sex discrimination? Or do we unwind the racial and gender obsessions, stop discriminating, encourage live-and-let-live toleration, and allow a free society to sort these things out, without top-down engineering.
I should say here that I find myself in sympathy with Sullivan’s position, but, as he admits, this is not what we are getting from the right these days.
“Technically,” he writes, “the right supports something like” what he describes. But, he acknowledges, “the emphasis is always on the negative against the other side, rarely on the positive. And the tone is awful, full of resistance, resentment and fear.”
Ditto race and trans issues. You can note that it is absolutely right to keep the appalling moral iniquity of slavery and segregation in the front of our collective consciousness; and it is simply true that African-Americans bear a burden from the past that is unique in its scale and depth. It’s also true that old systems endure in unintended ways that we need to be more aware of. Don’t be lured into minimizing this. It shouldn’t be minimized.
Here, Sullivan offers a series of tortured and, frankly, confusing proposals. Sullivan begins by suggesting that the right should start sounding more like… Barack Obama.
But then take the Obama position: look how far we’ve come, and don’t define America by this original sin because it is so much more than that. And then pivot to what can actually be done now: better and more policing; better and affordable childcare; encouraging stable two-parent families.
He proposes somehow blending this renewed Obama-ism with what he calls “South Park” conservatism that “constantly mock[s] the humorlessness, newspeak, and censoriousness of our new woke overlords.”
The natural demeanor of the young is to resist censorship, silencing and the stamping out of heterodoxy. Appeal to that. Let a thousand diverse flowers bloom. And make the woke seem like the miserable, micro-managing puritans they are.
Sullivan argues that “the tide is already turning in the broader culture: I see more eye-rolls at woke excess from my liberal friends than I used to; more canniness on the left about the cynicism of woke corporations; and exhaustion from the toxic dysfunction that has crippled progressive organizations.” Sullivan cites the influence of comedians like Bill Maher, Joe Rogan, Tim Dillon, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bill Burr or Matt and Trey. “They understand that a truly diverse society needs wicked humor to vent its tensions, not pious censorship and threats of cancellation to suppress them all.”
Somehow, somewhere, he seems to imagine that all of this will lead to younger voters flocking back to the party fronted by Kevin McCarthy et. al.
But his wish-casting also highlights the gap between the actual, real-world right and the right of Sullivan’s imagination.
What he describing is, in fact, the sort of centrist liberalism that has been roundly and enthusiastically rejected by a conservative movement that which bears little resemblance to the nuanced right of Sullivan’s hopes.
Sullivan thinks that cultural figures like “JK Rowling, Lil Nas X, Mike White, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald (!) and Arnold Schwarzenegger” will “help scramble the idea that embracing diversity means simply adopting the mantras of the woke sect.”
Unmentioned are the actual stars of the conservative movement as-it-actually-exists, such as Charlie Kirk and the trolls of TPUSA, whose approach to “diversity” bears little resemblance to what Sullivan is describing.
In December, at TPUSA’s AmericaFest conference of young conservatives, speakers included Tucker Carlson (who has pushed the Great Replacement Theory), seditionist Steve Bannon, election denier Kari Lake, Running Josh Hawley, along with My Pillow Guy, Donald Trump Jr., and his fiancé Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Last September, in the run-up to the election, a “Youth Summit” in Texas featured a speaker lineup that included Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, talk show host Candace Owens, and U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, “who wore a pistol strapped to her leg as she addressed the hall.”
These are the faces that the right is presenting to younger voters.
To be sure, Sullivan does not hold up any of these misfit toys as the key to winning back the young.
Instead, the one political figure he cites is… Ron DeSantis.
Sullivan argues that DeSantis’s numbers in Florida’s recent gubernatorial election demonstrate that “it’s perfectly possible to be nearly defined as anti-woke and win 61 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 29, compared with 66 percent from men over 65; and 47 percent of women in the same age group.”
This, he argues is “proof of principle.”
But, he admits, “if DeSantis wants to win the center, he needs to show that his love of real diversity is as strong as his loathing of the wokeness that claims to speak for it.”
But we have some questions.
When Sullivan writes about Ron DeSantis’s “love of real diversity,” is he talking about this Ron DeSantis? The one who just banned a course in African-American Studies? Or the Ron DeSantis. who once spoke at a conference hosted by a writer described as “driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Black movements.”
The guy who signed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill?
Is he talking about the Ron DeSantis who signed HB1467, a law that “bans schools from using any books that are pornographic or age ‘inappropriate,’ and allows parents broad access to review and challenge all books and materials used for instruction or in school libraries”?
Or perhaps, Sullivan was thinking of the youthful charisma of the guy who berated high school students for wearing masks at one of his photo-ops during the height of the pandemic.
This is the guy who will reverse the demographic tide by showing his “love for real diversity”? This is the guy who will be a magnet for the youngs?
1. Biden’s “No ‘There’ There” Defense Is Hogwash
Biden is completely wrong. The “no ‘there’ there” defense doesn’t distinguish him from Trump. It makes the two cases look alike. It positions Biden, like Trump, as a denier of obvious reality. Biden shouldn’t have had classified records in his home, his garage, or other unauthorized locations. But he did.
The correct defense of Biden is that his infraction is different from Trump’s. What was “there” at Biden’s home was improperly stored classified material. What wasn’t there, as far as we know, was evidence of any effort to prevent classified material from being found and returned. The latter is what prompted the court-authorized FBI search of Mar-a-Lago: months of Trump’s attempts to obstruct recovery of documents he had wrongly retained.
Biden needs to stop pretending there’s nothing there. He needs to speak frankly about what is there.
2. Former Ohio GOP Leaders on Trial in Epic Bribery Case
The complex case involves a multiyear sting operation by the feds in which electric utility companies (FirstEnergy Corp. being the major one) allegedly paid about $60 million in bribes to the legislative leadership to ensure the utilities received multibillion-dollar subsidies to keep nuclear and coal plants operating. Apparently included in the deal was the ability to charge their 4.5 million customers in Ohio up to $1.50 a month—which comes to over $200,000 every day.
I think it’s safe to say that Sullivan’s views on Rufo have evolved. Sully knew that Rufo was a “demagogue,” but was prepared to make allowances, because they had roughly the same enemies.
But, alas, his hopes were dashed, as he realized that Rufo is a cynical charlatan.