Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997, have become the generation the right loves to hate. Only days after the November election, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” to discuss the outbreak of anti-Trump protests. Rather than take seriously the issues that voters were protesting, Conway chose to use this as an opportunity to denigrate young voters: “We are just treating these adolescents and millennials like precious snowflakes.”
Accusations of being snowflakes, entitled, whiners and slackers have constantly been leveled at our nation’s young adults. They’ve even been described as “the lamest generation.” But the attacks on millennials by those on the right have been especially vicious. Back in 2015 Breitbart ran “7 Reasons Millennials are the Worst Generation.”
The right-wing attacks on millennials aren’t just vicious; they are old and tired. In fact, Trump supporter Bill O’Reilly gets credit for being at the forefront of these assaults. Well before his recent scandal, O’Reilly had trouble attracting the younger demographic to his caustic punditry. His viewers traditionally skew to seniors. Rather than think about why younger viewers didn’t want to tune in to his show, he referred to young viewers who preferred Jon Stewart as “stoned slackers.”
There is nothing new about older generations insulting the young; even the so-called Greatest Generation was criticized for being “over-mothered.” But the attacks on millennials do have a new edge and intensity to them. Political scientist Russell Dalton argues that millennial Americans may be the most disparaged generation of young people in our nation’s history.
But here’s the catch. In 2015, millennials became the largest voting bloc in the nation, overtaking baby boomers. And, despite the hype, millennials are voting. Even more, they are protesting and organizing and making their voices heard. And one thing they are saying is that they don’t like the Trump administration.
It isn’t news to say that the GOP has a millennial problem. In fact, millennials have long expressed disgust in the two-party system in general, but they have been especially wary of a Donald Trump administration. Leading up to the election, there was a sharp division between millennials of color and white millennials. Polls showed that 67 percent of black youth and 36 percent of Latino youth were “scared” of the possibility of a Trump presidency.
Despite the fact that the general myth is that millennials are lazy, selfish and unengaged, overall turnout in the 2016 election was slightly higher than 2012. And overall political engagement by millennials is higher than we have seen for young people in decades. Unsurprisingly, most of the millennials who voted for Trump were white. While Trump drew more millennials than had been expected, he still only won one-third of young voters.
But those few millennials who did support Trump are turning on him. A new study by GenForward shows that 57 percent of millennials see Trump's presidency as illegitimate, including about three-quarters of blacks and large majorities of Latinos and Asians.
Overall, only 22 percent of young adults approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 62 percent disapprove. GenForward polls further show that across all racial and ethnic groups the majority of millennials disapprove of Trump. With 71 percent of African-Americans and even 55 percent of whites against him. They are overwhelmingly negative on his policies and his demeanor.
Those who study millennials knew that even if Trump pulled out a win in 2016 “his insular appeal to his preponderantly white coalition has exposed the party to a clear long-term risk.” As the Atlantic reported before the 2016 vote, “Win or lose, all evidence suggests Trump is further alienating a Millennial generation that is already cool to the GOP — and is poised to become the electorate’s largest cohort in 2020.”
During the campaign Trump tried to appeal to millennials by running an ad with his kids. It was a stunning failure.
The ad featured a photo of his three millennial-aged children and suggested that a vote for Trump was a vote to change the system. The response to the ad offered the Trump team a special dose of millennial snark when it turned into the meme of the week. Jokes compared the Trumps to "Batman v Superman," "Children of the Corn," "The Purge," "American Psycho, "Harry Potter" antagonist Draco Malfoy and many other pop culture references.
— Adam @ SWCO (@AdamFrazier) September 3, 2016
Ivanka has also failed to appeal to our nation’s young adults. Millennials, especially females, were supposed by wooed by Ivanka Trump, who was repeatedly billed as the moderate who could keep her dad in check. That, of course, was before it became clear that she doesn’t even understand what the word “complicit” means.
A new poll shows that only 21 percent of young women have a favorable view of Ivanka and only 32 percent of millennial males like her. She draws approval from only 9 percent of millennial women who identify as Democrats.
While that survey indicated that young women are basically unhappy with the whole Trump team, the low numbers for Ivanka suggest that the millennial demographic isn’t buying the idea that she supports issues that matter to them: “If these women continue to have a negative impression of her, Ivanka may need to rethink her strategy for convincing them that she is serious about her mission of empowerment.”
What may be more astonishing is the idea that anyone ever thought that Ivanka could be a champion for working women. Millennials have a special knack for seeing through bullshit and their one common personality trait is skepticism. So it is little surprise that they don’t trust the Trump team and they see through the Ivanka artifice.
Millennials are also pulling away from party politics — a sign that both Republicans and Democrats should take seriously. A new poll by Accel and Qualtrics finds that:
- 41 percent of millennials don’t attach to a party
- 91 percent of millennials believe everyone is entitled to basic health care
- 86 percent of millennials say they are entitled to a livable wage since 61 percent of people making minimum wage are millennials living with student debt and living back at home
This data reveals that millennials may be frustrated by the two-party duopoly, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have clear political issues that matter to them.
Millennials are the first generation in U.S. history to graduate from college with debilitating debt. Average student debt is $35,000. That is a financial burden older generations simply did not have. And millennials earn about 20 percent less than their parents did. On top of that their loans carry high interest rates. Attorney Sean Goodbody explains that “Some of the primary loan types carry interest rates of 6.8 percent, 7.8 percent, or even 8.5 percent. For comparison, the average interest rate for a 30-year mortgage is 3.94 percent.”
This financial reality means millennials want work, and yet millennials are disproportionately unemployed. As Forbes reported in August, “The data is actually pretty scary: 44 percent of college grads in their 20s are stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs, the highest rate in decades, and the number of young people making less than $25,000 has also spiked to the highest level since the 1990s.”
A record number of college graduates work a minimum-wage job. So it’s little surprise that wages are of major importance to them.
Rather than take their concerns seriously, though, they find their social causes denigrated by the Trump right. Only a few days after the inauguration, Breitbart ran a piece that suggested that the millennial left needed to “stop being so offended.” The piece explained that the term “snowflake” had been adopted by conservative commentators to describe the contingent of whiny, self-absorbed millennials. The term meant that they needed to stop “reacting to things” they found offensive.
But here’s the thing: No matter how much this generation gets bullied, they aren’t going to back down. They are justifiably pissed and they have the numbers and the willpower to effect change. Condemning them for protesting causes they believe in will only backfire.
The problem with millennial bashing isn’t only that it’s a bad idea to undercut the youth who represent the future of the nation, and it isn’t only that it’s a suicidal political strategy; it’s that it assumes that millennials are not concerned about legitimate issues. One of the reasons why the extreme assault on millennials — on their character and their causes — is so disturbing is that we are attacking the very generation that we have done the worst job of supporting.
But if you listen to Conway, you’d think that these young voters are protesting because their feelings are hurt. The attacks come from the Democrats, too — don’t forget that Hillary Clinton offered her own share of disrespect to millennial issues. There is a real tendency to disregard the valid concerns of millennials. Whenever they raise their voices, they are likely to come under attack for being whiny and spoiled.
But the snowflakes are gathering in force. This is a generation that is extremely savvy politically and active socially. This is also one of the most optimistic generations we have seen in decades. They might be sick of the system, but they are ready to work to change it. They are the most educated generation and they have experienced significant economic and political insecurity. That combination — a challenging reality and an optimistic outlook — is why they are such a political force.
Even more important, this is a generation that is drawing lines of connection across parties and across generations. Their basic attitude of tolerance and inclusion will be a powerful counter to the divisive polarization that has dominated right-wing politics. As Jeffrey Sachs put it, millennials "are also decidedly less partisan, and will support politicians who address their values and needs, including third-party aspirants." As Arohi Jain Rajvanshi explains in a piece encouraging millennials to work with Indivisible, millennials care less about parties and more about “value based government.”
It’s worth remembering that the accusation of “snowflake” has spilled well outside of the millennial age group. Recall that Milo Yiannopoulos used it to dismiss a protester at a talk in Houston in September 2016 when he still worked with Breitbart, declaring that it was his event, not the “silver-haired snowflake show.” “Madam,” he smirked, “I’m grateful to you for coming, but to be quite honest with you, fuck your feelings.”
Yiannopoulos may be now disgraced, but that attitude still persists. The Guardian reported that the term snowflake has expanded to basically refer to anyone who is fighting for social change. If you are complaining, then you are called a whiny snowflake and told to toughen up.
Anyone who disagrees with the Trump agenda is dismissed and insulted. But being passionate and emotional about social problems does not mean that the protesters are weak, nor does it mean that their concerns are not legitimate. The Trump team strategy of name-calling, shaming, belittling and mocking millennials and their allies may make baby boomer Trump voters laugh, but it is just enraging the general public.
Despite their efforts to sideline protesters, Trump and his team keep getting lower and lower approval numbers and their failures continue to stack up. Looks like the snowflakes are becoming a blizzard.