So why the hell is Hillary Clinton barely beating him?
Undoubtedly, a great deal of the reasons lie with Clinton herself. She is a wooden speaker trying to run for President following in the footsteps of the smoothest orator of a generation in Barack Obama. She’s been burned by the press so many times that she must feel that she cannot give a simple answer to any question–the same way someone with PTSD jumps at the sound of a firecracker–making her appear to be a suspicious equivocator. She has been so successfully demonized by conservatives and the main stream media since the 1990s, that even though she’s running against an opponent who tells multiple lies within a single sentence, she’s the candidate the press feels compelled to tell us is considered ethically challenged every time her name is mentioned.
But she’s running against Donald Trump for Pete’s sake. The one who really does lie for a living. The one with actual direct ties to enemies of our country and whom he frequently praises and with whom he identifies. The one who has defrauded more people out of more money than ten Bernie Madoffs.
If only Joe Biden….ah well, dreaming does no good. And I’m not going to reiterate the case against the Republican nominee because I’ve done it so many times before. But to say Trump is the most clearly unfit presidential candidate ever to win the nomination of a major American political party, would not do my incredulity justice. He is a racist, a proto-authoritarian, and a menace to the free world.
Yet despite running against a candidate who combines the racial acrimony of George Wallace, the online sanctuary of white supremacists (his current campaign manager is Steve Bannon, the ex-Executive Director of breitbart.com), the pro-Russian bagman, Paul Manafort,(his second of three campaign managers), Hillary Clinton has barely been able to break 48 percent in any national poll.
She does significantly better in head-to-head match-ups than in the actual four-way race, thanks to the significant number of voters expressing support for Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party standard-bearer Jill Stein. Support for these minor candidates is most pronounced among a crucial demographic: millennials. Twenty-six percent of voters aged 18-29 say they will vote for Johnson; ten percent back Stein.
What explains the millennial willingness to risk a Trump presidency? Well, with Johnson it’s because he favors legalizing marijuana, but a lot of it stems from cynicism towards Clinton. The failure of the American Broadcast News media to maintain its watchdog status in favor of constant coverage of the Trump circus hasn’t helped.
Seventy-seven percent of voters 18-34 find Clinton untrustworthy, compared to 65 percent of all likely voters, which is bizarre given Trump’s already stated propensity to lie even about his lies. There’s also not a small degree of lingering bitterness from those who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, only 52 percent of whom, according to an Economist/YouGov poll, plan to back the party’s nominee (Sanders won millennials overwhelmingly, and was in Ohio Saturday to try and convince voters there to hold their noses with one hand and pull the lever for Clinton with the other).
As I’ve written before, Clinton’s inability to pick up nearly 50% of Sanders backers stems in part from a left-wing anti-imperialism belief that considers her to be a warmonger.
But there’s something much more ominous about millennial opposition to Clinton and the callous indifference towards the possibility of a Trump presidency. It seems to be a strange brew of genuine moral beliefs, lack of historical context and, well, narcissism.
Millennials are the first post-draft generation to have matured after the Cold War. Baby boomers grew up listening to their parents’ tales and historical teachings of American determination and heroism after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. belated entry into World War II. Many boomers’ parents suffered through the rationing of everything from rubber to sugar for the war effort. Boomers’ moms might have worked on assembly line factory floors because there were so few able-bodied males left in the country. Baseball, America’s Pastime at ts zenith before the U.S. entered the war, saw 500 of its major stars trade in their uniforms for military garb. Automobile factories were converted to produce military vehicles including tanks.
So for most of the boomers’ parents lifetime, self-sacrifice was a virtue and considered patriotic.During the millennials generation, patriotism has taken a back seat to the glorification of one revolution or another.
Millennials were also spared the feelings of despair over the critical wounds to the American Dream that seemingly came crashing down around them as a President (Kennedy), his Attorney General and beloved brother (Robert) were assassinated on live television; not to mention the violent upheavals that came with the Civil Rights Era with its own assassinations (MLK & Medgar Evers), and persecutions with deadly consequences.
Millennials might have read about the ravages of international communism, the McCarthy hearings, the slaughter of students at Kent State and Jackson State Universities, the threat of all-out nuclear war with Russia’s Kruschev, the every-day televised horrors of the Vietnam War and fear of being drafted, the war between the Press and the Nixon White House playing out every night on the Evening News, but they haven’t experienced the scale of the daily tension and crushing fear that came with them.
Throughout Boomers’ early years, the United States was locked in Cold War struggle against an expansionist Soviet empire determined to crush Democracy and all it stood for, and the world lived under an all too real threat of nuclear holocaust. The anti-Vietnam War movement may have bred cynicism about America’s global role, but American power was pitched as necessary to protect freedom, not only here at home, but with our allies around the world.
Millennials, by contrast, grew up intellectually aware, but psychologically and physically unthreatened by the world and its dangers until 9/11. But even then, unlike other age groups, over half of millennials believe U.S. actions might have provoked, and thereby, at least partially deserved those attacks.
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times. “Older people think, ‘we’re a great people, we got attacked by these crazy people, and now we are dealing with it and we have to be careful,’” Trevor Thrall, co-author of a study on millennials and foreign policy, told Voice of America last year. “Millennials are the only generation the majority of which think the U.S. must have done something to provoke 9/11.” Thrall’s study established that millennials “perceive the world as significantly less threatening than their elders,” “are more supportive of international cooperation than previous generations,” and “are also far less supportive of the use of military force.”
They are also deeply skeptical—like many others—of American exceptionalism. A 2014 Pew poll found that only 32 percent of millennials believe America is better than other countries, compared to 64 percent of baby boomers, although that’s down from 85 percent before the Watergate Scandal.
But perhaps the compelling reason for millennial indifference towards the prospect of a Trump victory is a lack of historical context. They will vehemently protest this assessment, but millennials, mainly American ones, are too young to have any memories of the Cold War, never mind World War II, when fascists ruled Europe and millions of people died as a result. Trump’s echoes of fascist movements past has no significance with them beyond classroom settings.
It’s the same difference between seeing a tornado rip through a neighborhood on television, and being in that neighborhood as it happens–feeling the fear, helplessness, and aftermath firsthand.
One of the most disturbing poll results I have ever read is the recent World Values Survey finding that only 31 percent of Americans born in the 1980’s say it is “essential” to “live in a country that is governed democratically.” That figure compares to about 64 percent in Europe, where the memory of totalitarianism is both physically and chronometrically closer.
American millennials seem to take our freedom, if not our relative prosperity, for granted. This new generation has so little personal experience with authoritarianism, self-sacrifice, daily fear, and widespread narrow-mindedness that over two-thirds have admitted that they wouldn’t mind living in a non-democratic society. Since they have no personal frame of reference, when they see Trump, they think only of a silly reality television show star, not a burgeoning autocrat with a larger-than-expected fanatical, white supremacist, fascist, well-armed following.
If Trump wins, they’ll get their chance to witness real upheaval on a nationwide scale first-hand. Until then they will go on believing that idealism is the same as realism.