Millennials are a crowd that have been baffling experts for years, creating a whole industry dedicated to deciphering their whimsical political and consumer tastes. As this demographic comes of age, they’re changing America, in ways that are shocking many longtime political insiders. One of the most dramatic departures from longstanding political tradition in the United States has been Millennials’ fervent embrace of democratic socialism.
The word socialism, which only a few years ago had such negative connotations that no one dare use it in mainstream American politics, has become a ready-to-use label for a popular brand of politics.
The rise of Bernie Sanders has provided a platform for socialism as a mainstream alternative in what was traditionally a center-right leaning America. These recent developments are alarming folks across the political spectrum, especially free-market enthusiasts, who find their political home in right-wing politics.
Right leaning folks from around the country gather once a year for the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. While covering the event, I was greeted by an army of red-shirted Millennials fervently distributing stickers and buttons with slogans like “I love capitalism,” and “big government sucks.” In the age of Bernie Sanders, CPAC has become ground-zero for the defense of American capitalism.
Many say Millennials’ embrace of socialism can largely be explained by the terrible economy and job market. In a world where young people feel the system is rigged against them, they can be led to believe that growing the government is only answer to a dysfunctional economy.
Justin Dent of Generation FKD, an organization that encourages financial literacy and political engagement among Millennials, believes that young people have a very poor understanding of what they’re endorsing when they support socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders.
“Millennials are being sold on the idea of a revolutionary politics against the establishment,” Dent said. “We don’t dive into the specifics of the policy issues, we’re just concerned that we’re the first generation to be worse off than our parents.”
Many agree that a big tent conservative movement may be the only way to counter the rise of socialism. Whereas CPAC in the past was about making sure that all conservatives were towing the party-line, this year’s tone is decidedly different. The threat of fringe politicians of all varieties derailing our country’s commitment to the primacy of free-markets means that the conservative movement has to change and speak the new generation’s language.
“In order to engage Millennials across the political spectrum and gently remind them of the importance of free market capitalism, conservatives will have to evolve,” Dent said.
Photo taken at National Review Foundations booth.