Calm down, everybody: An ugly election is coming — but younger voters will save us

Stop doom-scrolling about Joe Biden's negatives! The other guy is far worse — and younger Americans get it

By Kirk Swearingen

Contributing Writer

Published October 1, 2023 12:07PM (EDT)

Protesters rally outside the state Capitol in support of Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville on April 10, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Seth Herald/Getty Images)
Protesters rally outside the state Capitol in support of Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville on April 10, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Seth Herald/Getty Images)

Remember those yard signs and bumper stickers during the 2020 presidential campaign that said "Any Functioning Adult"?

Well, here we find ourselves again, having been let down by the corporate media's less-than-robust concept of news, wading thigh-deep through the Trumpian "flood the zone with s**t" strategy all over again, this time not to the ironic soundtrack of the Village People's "YMCA" but Lauren Boebert's version of "Beetlejuice."

There's plenty of good news about Joe Biden's accomplishments and his standing as president to be heard from thoughtful citizens and U.S. allies around the globe, but you won't hear much of that from corporate media, ever-focused on the horse-race angle and not on the plain reality that we have a solid and even strong president running against a criminal sociopath who is seeking the office to stay out of prison and become a quasi-dictator to take revenge on his enemies and destroy democracy.

No, the coverage has been largely about Biden's "negatives" — his age and supposed unpopularity — not about the other candidate, who is also old and obviously unhealthy, as well as being a sociopath and would-be despot.  

All the media noise could make reasonable people anxious enough to need some counseling.

In a recent Rumble podcast, filmmaker Michael Moore provides that help, inviting a well-known psychologist he introduced as "Dr. Mike" to help us avoid unreasonable fear about recent polls that show Biden doing poorly in a matchup against the twice-impeached, multiply indicted guy. 

That episode, "Self-Help for Frightened Liberals," is well worth your time. (Moore has been prescient about elections before, including the 2016 catastrophe and the 2022 midterms.) One of his most salient arguments about why you shouldn't worry is the simple fact that the younger voting population is getting larger every year. Those voters want action on climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights, voting rights and the right for all of us to be safe from people who write manifestos and fetishize guns. They are motivated.

Questionable polling aside — in a recent CNN poll that showed 61% of voters disapproving of Biden's job as president, 60% of those polled identified as Republican — Moore (er, that is, Dr. Mike) had this to say about the Republican Party's appeal:

The American people left the Republican Party a long time ago, even before Trump.... The vast majority of Americans disagree with virtually everything the Republicans stand for. And in the 30 years since Daddy Bush was elected — that's 1988 — there have been eight presidential elections, and only once in 35 years have the American people given the popular vote to the Republican. That one election, in 2004, the Republican candidate for president won by only 100,000 votes. That's it. So, in these 35 years, over and over and over again, the American people, your neighbors, have said they want the Republicans out of office, to go away.

In an appearance on the "PBS NewsHour" last week, League of Women Voters president Deborah Turner spoke about trying to appeal to younger voters: "Lining them up with the reasons to vote and how voting affects their lives is how we get them to the polls." When asked by anchor Geoff Bennett about the perception on the right that higher voter turnout works best for Democrats and hurts Republicans, Turner had a simple answer:

It depends on where you are. But the key is that, when everybody is registered and everybody votes, the results will end up to be what the people want. And that has nothing to do with whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. So, when we register voters, we don't even ask what their party is. We simply say, "We want you to vote, we want you to be registered, and we want you to go to the polls and express your feelings, so that your representatives can represent you, your ideas, and your community."

It's not her organization's problem, in other words, that Republicans have long since stopped trying to compete for the hearts and minds of the majority of voters through policy ideas and good governance, and turned instead to cynical, undemocratic and profoundly divisive rhetoric, along with gerrymandering and voter suppression to help them retain minority control as long as possible.

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In the same PBS segment, Bennett played Turner a clip of an interview with Nora Vinas, deputy executive director at Engage Miami, a nonprofit working to engage young people in elections. She was asked why young people are getting more motivated to vote:

I think when you affect anyone in their day-to-day — what they can read, where they can go, who they can love — all of that makes people feel a certain rage and confusion about why it is happening. So, unfortunately, I think we have culture wars. And these assaults on books. And I also think it's a big motivator for young people to pay attention, and to care.

I would add that most Americans I've talked to personally want actual adults in positions of government power (hence, those 2020 yard signs). They are embarrassed and exhausted by the Donald Trump's endless nihilistic antics and those of his slavish cult members — Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene; it's exhausting even to list them. Those are all people who could not possibly have success in any industry outside the craven world of MAGA politics, where nothing matters but loyalty to the Hamberder King (which he will assuredly not reciprocate).

Retiring Republican Sen. Mitt Romney was correct when he told compulsive fabricator Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., "You don't belong here." But that wasn't nearly enough: He should have said that about a slew of so-called conservatives, especially members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Senate's "sedition caucus."

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Let's get back to the soothing message from Dr. Mike, shall we? He urged us to stop paying attention to polls and the media noise and absorb some salient facts:

How about this fact? In the eight years and three months since Trump came down the golden escalator in Trump Tower to announce he was running for president, in that time, over 32 million 17-year-olds turned 18. Thirty-two million young Americans became eligible to vote…. And I don't think you need me to tell you: They. Don't. Like. Trump. They hate him.

Younger people (members of Gen Z, millennials and even most Gen X voters) would probably prefer a new generation of leaders. Yes, some are probably unhappy about facing a choice between a 77-year-old and an 80-year-old. But they want actual adults in charge, not angry toddlers or wannabe fascists. There's more than enough chaos in the world; we don't need more of it in government. 

Any reasonable person, of any age, who listens to the media incessantly drone on about Joe Biden's age and perceived mental acuity might scratch their head and wonder why Donald Trump's stupendously confused and incoherent utterances are hardly ever mentioned. 

Younger people are probably unhappy about facing a choice between a 77-year-old and an 80-year-old. But they also want actual adults in charge, not angry toddlers or wannabe fascists.

The mainstream media may not want to come right out and identify Trump as a doddering, dangerous fool, but most younger people know one when they see one. They can also recognize lies and tell them apart from facts — and they can also recognize incompetence and even outright evil when they encounter it. Younger people know that far-right religious zealots want to take us back to the Middle Ages (when America was, uh, great?) and that a system where people are rewarded for loyalty to a wannabe dictator, not on talent or merit, threatens to undo many decades of social progress.

The fundamental questions before voters are simple enough: Who will tell us the truth, and who will do the hard work of governing? Who will stand up for our democratic system and try to bolster and improve it, rather than lie about it and tear it down? Who will stand up for working people and the poor? Who will address the world's most pressing concerns, like climate change and the rise of disinformation and agents of hate?

Is it the clear-minded, empathetic grandfatherly man with a long record of service as a senator, vice president and president or is it the vulgar, corrupt serial fraudster who after four years in the White House still lacks any understanding of government, who has been indicted on dozens of felony counts in four different jurisdictions, has been found liable for sexual assault, tells lies every time he opens his mouth and relies on incoherent fragments of word salad and meaningless catchphrases? 

Is it the pro-union president, or is it the faux-"pro-worker" faux billionaire?

Like the vast majority of us, but unlike the short-attention-span managers of mainstream media, young voters understand how best to answer those questions.

By Kirk Swearingen

Kirk Swearingen is a poet and independent journalist. He is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and his work has appeared in Delmar, MARGIE, Bloom, the American Journal of Poetry, Riverfront Times, Medium and Salon.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections Joe Biden Michael Moore Republicans Young People