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Would it surprise you to hear that younger generations have educated themselves well on big issues like climate change, inflation, healthcare, and abortion, but often don’t know the name of their own local representative?
As politicians struggle to relate to younger voters, wondering at our supposed lack of engagement, it may help to realize that young generations focus more on big issues and topics than the changing carousel of people who actually make up our political system.
I can say, as a Millennial, that I have seen such a skewed emphasis both in myself and in many others my age. Until I started working in talk radio, I didn’t realize the extent to which politics focuses on people. “Who did what, with whom? Who’s out of favor and who’s said the latest hot one-liner?” I actually resented the need to catch up on all the popular news hosts and learn the clubs and committees to which my state reps, commissioners, and others belonged.
Why does it matter? My schools and parents had taught me how to research both sides of everything from the national debt to stem cell research, and I could debate those topics for hours with my peers. It’s the big, abstract ideas that seemed significant to me. Why should I care about the gossip behind the eight people running for a primary who all spout similar talking points?
But of course, politics is all about people! After all, government is a group of people trying to manage other people, not a charitable philosophy club. But I think young people would rather have the latter.
I’ve started to wonder if our teachers did us a disservice. Our elders are happy to mock us when we don’t know the names of all the hot commentators and players in each political party. But you designed the education system. At best, I could say that our parents and teachers are also idealists, and would rather teach us big ideas than take us to a campaign rally to shake the hand of a candidate; or perhaps it’s easier to teach topically than make students memorize a list of politicians who’ll likely change in a few years. Maybe older generations have also tired of watching hours of cable news to keep up with the gossip and would rather talk of more significant matters.
At worst, the socialist democrats who’ve taken over much of our education system could be deliberately avoiding teaching practical information about how to understand and connect with the government from the local level on up. After all, socialists need an obedient electorate that doesn’t ask too many questions and doesn’t know who to go to when they have a problem. They’re quite happy to divert our attention from the boring, but vitally important, nitty grittys of local government and “small-scale” leaders, to issues so vast and unsolvable, that we conclude the government must be the only answer!
You may protest my assumption. After all, young people do obsess over important people, including political figures, worshiping at the feet of the Obamas, and whipping themselves into a frenzy for the likes of Bernie Sanders and AOC. Clearly, we care a lot about the character of our leaders, even canceling anyone who displeases us.
But the reason we are so quick to cancel is because we don’t actually care about the people. We care about the issues. Politicians should be models, influencers. Their voices and faces pleasant but ignorable, their bodies beaten into the right shape to wear paper cutouts, printed with the right words on the right topics. Many don’t want to see what’s underneath, unless it makes the words look more pleasant or angsty. Often, we only care about how you make us feel. Politicians should be good mannequins, carrying the baton from us, into the political arena, doing just as we want. As soon as an individual deviates from the proper script, they’re canceled. Because “character” these days means nothing more than how charismatically we conform to PC ideas.
But Republicans can fall into this trap just as much as Democrats, as we’ve seen most recently in Alabama’s Senate race. Everyone repeats that they’re the outsider, the biggest MAGA supporter, and a dedicated Christian. But at a certain point, focusing on these big issues and trends too much can make it impossible to actually trust the word of our candidates. Everyone is wearing a paper mask, and it takes hard work to act as a hiring manager and try to look deeper than the issues we’d rather discuss.
I do see young generations overcoming the imbalance in our education and learning not just what, but who matters in politics. Everyone focuses on different elements, and my generation just needs to do more deliberate work to get to know people who don’t catch our attention instantly on Instagram. Time also matters. How could citizens who’ve only voted in a couple of elections have already made assessments on hundreds of political players, matching the insight of those who’ve been in the game for decades?
It’s not wrong to look at politics from the perspective of “issues and policy first,” though if that’s all we focus on, it’s easier to become angry and dig our heels in too much, just as relying too much on cable news and political gossip can. One approach isn’t “right” or “wrong,” but balance is vital. Yes, young folks should leave off the Twitter wars for a while to go meet their actual candidates, but older folks could stand to take a break from listening to who did what on the radio and go down to the homeless shelter to see if their shining star is actually creating the change we need.
Caylah Coffeen is the host of Prayers For Life Radio in Huntsville, and a millennial who speaks up for truth and a future as bright as the stars. Her column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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