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Why The Right Is Losing The Young
And what the woke actually get right.
It’s dawning on many on the political center and right that the current younger generation in America is not like previous younger generations. They’re immaturing with age. Zoomers and Millennials are further to the left to begin with and, more critically, don’t seem to be moving rightward as they age. A recent, viral piece in the FT added a new spark to the conversation, arguing that if Millennials matured like previous generations, then by the age of 35, they
should be around five points less conservative than the national average, and can be relied upon to gradually become more conservative. In fact, they’re more like 15 points less conservative, and in both Britain and the US are by far the least conservative 35-year-olds in recorded history … millennials have developed different values to previous generations, shaped by experiences unique to them, and they do not feel conservatives share these.
And the key experiences, it seems to me, are: entering the job market in the wake of the financial crisis; being poorer than your parents when they were the same age; lacking access to affordable housing and childcare; growing up in a far more multiracial and multicultural world than anyone before them; seeing gay equality come to marriage and the military; experiencing the first black president and nearly the first woman; and the psychological and cultural impact of Trump and Brexit.
These are all 21st century phenomena — and simply not experienced by the generations immediately before them. Socially and culturally more diverse, the young are also understandably down on the catastrophic success of neoliberal economics. So of course they are going to be different. When it was their turn on the wealth escalator, it essentially stopped.
Sometimes we forget that these deep factors are what are most seriously in play. And the biggest mistake many of us on the center or right tend to make is assuming that all of the young’s stickier leftiness — especially the most irritating varieties of it — are entirely a function of woke brainwashing, and not related to genuinely unique challenges. A lot is — the indoctrination is real and relentless — but a lot isn’t. And it’s vital to distinguish the two.
The left’s advantage is that they have directly addressed this generation’s challenges, and the right simply hasn’t. The woke, however misguided, are addressing the inevitable cultural and social challenges of a majority-minority generation; and the socialists have long been addressing the soaring inequality that neoliberalism has created. Meanwhile, the right has too often ducked these substantive issues or rested on cheap culture-war populism as a diversionary response. I don’t believe that the young are inherently as left as they currently are. It’s just that the right hasn’t offered them an appealing enough alternative that is actually relevant to them.
That doesn’t mean cringe pandering. It means smarter policies. Some obvious options: encourage much more house-building with YIMBY-style deregulation; expand access to childcare for young, struggling families; tout entrepreneurial and scientific innovation to tackle climate change; expand maternity and paternity leave; redistribute wealth from the super-rich to working Americans to stabilize society and prevent capitalism from undoing itself; and, above all, celebrate a diverse society — and the unique individuals and interactions that make it so dynamic and life-giving.
Diversity is a fact — which is why white nationalism is both repellent and a dead end. How we adapt to diversity, however, is a choice. In an ever-more complex mix, do we resort to policing language, censoring and canceling, and a new, elaborate regime of active and supposedly benign race and sex discrimination? Or do we unwind the racial and gender obsessions, stop discriminating, encourage live-and-let-live toleration, and allow a free society to sort these things out, without top-down engineering.
Technically, the right supports something like the latter. But the emphasis is always on the negative against the other side, rarely on the positive. And the tone is awful, full of resistance, resentment and fear.
Think of the way Republican leaders greeted the Respect for Marriage Act: a majority of Republicans support it; it’s the law of the land anyway; it’s a way to demonstrate to the next generation that you get them. And yet the GOP, with some important exceptions, couldn’t do it. And if they voted for it, they were defensive, scared of the Christianist right. What a fantastically missed opportunity.
Ditto race and trans issues. You can note that it is absolutely right to keep the appalling moral iniquity of slavery and segregation in the front of our collective consciousness; and it is simply true that African-Americans bear a burden from the past that is unique in its scale and depth. It’s also true that old systems endure in unintended ways that we need to be more aware of. Don’t be lured into minimizing this. It shouldn’t be minimized. But then take the Obama position: look how far we’ve come, and don’t define America by this original sin because it is so much more than that. And then pivot to what can actually be done now: better and more policing; better and affordable childcare; encouraging stable two-parent families.
Similarly, protecting gender-dysphoric and often gay kids from experimental, irreversible treatments becomes much more persuasive when you simultaneously champion the dignity and success and humanity of trans adults, and their right to dignity, equality, and respect. You’ll be slimed as “transphobes” anyway — but the public sees through that in the end.
And find words that can better express the right’s approach to a diverse country. Something like this (if I may):
The left wants you to succeed because you’re black or Hispanic or gay or transgender — but that reduces you to a single part of your identity, and does so forever. We want you to succeed as an individual whatever color or creed or sex or gender you are. We want to treasure all Americans — black, brown, white, gay, straight, immigrant, native-born — for the unique individuals they are, the character they show, the hard work they do, and remove any obstacles to their success.
And then constantly mock the humorlessness, newspeak, and censoriousness of our new woke overlords. The tide is already turning in the broader culture: I see more eye-rolls at woke excess from my liberal friends than I used to; more canniness on the left about the cynicism of woke corporations; and exhaustion from the toxic dysfunction that has crippled progressive organizations. Comedians have led the way: think of Bill Maher, Joe Rogan, Tim Dillon, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Bill Burr or Matt and Trey. They understand that a truly diverse society needs wicked humor to vent its tensions, not pious censorship and threats of cancellation to suppress them all.
Other leading cultural figures help scramble the idea that embracing diversity means simply adopting the mantras of the woke sect: JK Rowling, Lil Nas X, Mike White, Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald and Arnold Schwarzenegger spring to mind. The natural demeanor of the young is to resist censorship, silencing and the stamping out of heterodoxy. Appeal to that. Let a thousand diverse flowers bloom. And make the woke seem like the miserable, micro-managing puritans they are.
I suspect this kind of South Park conservatism has much more appeal to young men than to young women. But addressing substantive issues like childcare, maternity and paternity leave, and climate change can bring younger women along too. I also think this kind of appeal works with minorities and immigrants who came to America in part to leave their old identities behind, and become Americans in the classic, unhyphenated sense. And note these policies help everyone, not just the young.
And when you look at DeSantis’ numbers in Florida’s recent gubernatorial election, you can see it’s perfectly possible to be nearly defined as anti-woke and win 61 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 29, compared with 66 percent from men over 65; and 47 percent of women in the same age group. It’s proof of principle. But if DeSantis wants to win the center, he needs to show that his love of real diversity is as strong as his loathing of the wokeness that claims to speak for it.
That’s the formula for beating the woke: appealing beyond them and their obsession with “white supremacy” to the dynamic, cultural experiment that America in 2023 truly is. Counter the grim view of America as a locus of oppression that is now so prevalent in the elites, and offer freedom and a diverse individuality instead. You may be surprised by the electoral and cultural dividends.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my in-depth discussion with Glenn Loury on race and his remarkable life; a piece about the importance of not mischaracterizing your critics; reader dissents over drag queens and evil gays; six notable quotes from the week in news; 19 pieces on Substack we recommend on a range of topics; a Mental Health Break of mesmerizing dance moves; a wintry view from Canada and another from Portugal; and, as always, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a relunctant subscriber:
Ok, ok, fine, I’ve subscribed. (Actually, I was a subscriber before, so it’s more of a re-subscribe.) When I read the Dish I usually really like what you write, and the way you write it — even when I sometimes disagree a little. But I’ll be honest with you, when I see some of your posts on Twitter I think, “What an asshole!” But I’m going to chalk that up to Twitter’s effect on you rather than your effect on Twitter. Twitter clearly makes many reasonable people express themselves like assholes. (I’m sure I’ve done it, though I seldom post these days.) Anyway, I’ve decided to forgive you so that I can again read the full content of the Dish. Keep up the good work!
New On The Dishcast: Glenn Loury
Glenn is an academic and writer. At the age of 33, he became the first African-American professor of economics at Harvard to get tenure, and he’s currently a Professor of Economics at Brown University, as well as a Paulson Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His longtime podcast, The Glenn Show, is now on Substack, where he regularly appears with John McWhorter. He’s currently writing a memoir of his incredibly colorful life, The Enemy Within, which we talk about at length.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — how the insistence on the permanence of “white supremacy” hurts African-Americans, and how we are all “hypocrites” to some extent. That link also takes you to commentary on our episode with Nick Miroff on the fentanyl and immigration crises, as well as reader commentary on black characters in Hollywood and animal rights. Here’s a snippet from Nick:
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy. Next week is Matt Taibbi.
I wrote an item about two new pieces in New York magazine and the Washington Post that mischaracterize Christopher Rufo and JK Rowling — available here for paid subscribers.
Dissents Of The Week: Return Of The Evil Gays
A reader writes:
I have to disagree with your (tongue in cheek?) characterization of Omar as evil. Rather, he was one of the most moral characters on The Wire, living by a strict code of conduct. Yes, he stole (and killed), but only from those who were professional crooks. He was a righteous individual, at least within the context of the world he lived in.
Point well-taken. He was still a murderer and a thief. Another dissents over an omission:
You forgot to mention Lydia Tár! That’s an evil lesbian cancel-culture-turned-upside-moment for you!
Dammit! You’re right. Talk about an evil dyke! Alyssa Rosenberg and I discussed Tár’s lesbianism on the Dishcast last month:
Read more dissents — over drag queens — and my responses, here. Lastly, a massive correction from a Pet Shop Boys fan:
Apologies, but the Evil Gay Santos quote is from “Being Boring,” not “Left to My Own Devices.” The opening of that verse is even more heartbreaking in relation to Santos: “Now I sit with different faces in rented rooms and foreign places. All the people I was kissing: some are here and some are missing.”
I’m ashamed. The most damning correction I have ever had to make.
As always, keep the dissents coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting more than a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as the NHS emergency, the latest campus insanity, and Elon Musk coddling the CCP. Below are a few examples:
Bryan Caplan embraces dissent over his new book, Don’t Be a Feminist. Laura Jedeed also welcomes criticism — over her cover story on a right-wing training camp. Ditto from Scott Alexander on whether the media lies. Vive dissent!
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
See you next Friday.