Millennials have been raised during a difficult point in our country’s history. We’ve been through a financial crisis, housing crash, and wars. However, we have also grown up during the exciting “information age.” For those reasons, we have each developed highly sensitive personal BS meters. So, don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes. Distractions, partisan politics, and petty infighting may have been the norm in the past, but honestly, it’s getting old. We are tired of it.
Millennials will redefine American politics. In doing so, we should restore the philosophy of our most famous founder into our nation’s political fabric.
George Washington, during his Farewell Address in 1796, warned of the dangers of powerful and competing political parties. Washington especially warned of excessive “party spirit.” He meant that, although some formation of political parties was inevitable and that parties, with limits, could be “useful checks upon the administration of government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty,” the population was in danger of becoming fractured by obsessively identifying with one party or another.
As one Forbes article put it, “[Washington] compared the competition of parties to inflammation. ‘A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.'” We are witnesses to Washington’s prophetic prediction. Instead of vigilance, Americans have, as Washington predicted, allowed party politics to consume what could otherwise be simple, honest, and collaborative governance.
Once the American population began dividing itself by vehemently identifying with one political party or another, competition and division between the parties (and hence between the American people) grew. Now, we are fractured. Broken.
Millennials have the opportunity to get past the era of big parties, and to usher in a new era of personal, ideological, and intellectual independence. To do so, I’ve thought of some suggestions:
First, we should understand that each of us has a completely unique background. Our personal experiences lead us to adopt our personal, spiritual, and political beliefs. One reason that so much partisanship exists is because each of us considers our beliefs, including our political ideologies, to be sacred. We want to protect them. When they are attacked, we naturally want to attack back. Especially when someone degrades a deeply-held belief based on stereotype.
As millennials, we are smart enough to rise above political stereotypes and misunderstandings. For example, generally, conservatives are not racists, and liberals are not lazy. Conservatives do not want to harm the poor, and liberals don’t feel entitled to handouts. Can we find some on the right and left that fit those stereotypes? Of course! But if we ever want to become post-partisan as a generation, the stereotypes have to go. We must understand that the strong majority of us are intelligent thinkers who base our beliefs on our unique experiences. The life experience of one is no more important than the experience of another.
Second, we should recognize that serious words have serious meaning. Words like “racist” and “hate” should be reserved for the most severe allegations. When hurled recklessly at a person online who, by all accounts, you do not know and have never met, those words do nothing but cause harm and division. I am not saying that there are not hateful people, or that there are not racists. There are (e.g., Donald Sterling). But let’s be honest: Those types of words are used by people who are unable to come up with reasonable, well-thought arguments to counter another competing viewpoint.
Finally, don’t be a blind sheep. Your party, no matter which one you belong to, does not have it all right, all of the time. Don’t fall in line, lock-step, only because your party tells you to. Your party does not need to dictate to you what you should and should not believe. Think for yourself, allow others to think for themselves, and respect each other’s individual beliefs and conclusions. Let’s debate each other’s ideas, even passionately, but in a way that can bring people together, not in a way that creates emotional and ideological crevices based on personal attacks.
“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.” – George Washington
Let’s look back at what caused the divisive partisanship engulfing our country and stymieing our democratic debate. As a generation, let’s fix our broken, hyper-partisan system controlled by political parties that are too powerful, and that seek to categorically divide instead of unite. Let’s restore Washington’s ideal by being vigilant and by placing more value on individual belief than on party platforms. As human beings, let’s respect each other, realize that each of us loves our country and will fiercely defend what we believe to be in her best interest, yet come together through patriotism and intellectual debate.
We can, and we should.