The Differences Are Generational, Not Ideological

The day after the second Democratic debate, Ron Brownstein had a very thought-provoking essay in The Atlantic-a publication that has become one of my essential sources of information. He introduced it thusly:

The same explosive question rumbled through this week’s Supreme Court ruling on the 2020 census and the two nights of Democratic presidential debates: How will America respond to the propulsive demographic, social, and economic changes remaking the nation?

The juxtaposition of these two events, purely coincidental, underscored how much of American politics in the years ahead is likely to turn on that elemental question. Trump’s determination to add a citizenship question to the census, which many think will depress Latino participation, demonstrates how thoroughly he has pointed his agenda at the voters most uneasy about these fundamental changes, a group I’ve called the coalition of restoration. Even after the Supreme Court, for now, blocked the citizenship question in a 5–4 decision yesterday, Trump immediately tweeted that he’s resolved to include it, even if that means delaying the census.

Brownstein suggests that all the splintering and tribalization we see around us can actually be re-categorized into two overarching and fundamentally opposed mindsets: one of  restoration and one of transformation.

There are, of course, other descriptions we might append to these categories: delusional (Make America Great Again) and aspirational (make America come to terms with its past and work toward a fairer, more inclusive future) come to mind.  Or just Republican and Democratic….

There’s no doubt which is the party of the past. The question so many of us obsess over is whether the Democratic Party is sufficiently aware of, oriented to, and able to navigate an inevitable future.

Especially in last night’s debate, the Democrats crystallized the question of whether the party can look back for leadership or must lean into America’s changing society by picking a presidential nominee who embodies it. That dynamic was underlined as much by images as by words, as two candidates—South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is a gay Millennial, and Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is of mixed-race descent—ran rings around, and sometimes directly over, the two white male septuagenarians at the center of the stage and the top of the polls: former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Brownstein argues convincingly that the primary contest isn’t between people of differing ideologies so much as different generational worldviews.

Whether or not it immediately moves the polls, last night’s debate raised the possibility that the axis of the Democratic race could shift from left versus center to new leadership that reflects the modern party’s diversity versus old leadership that does not.

The effort to add a citizenship question to the census is a perfect example of the GOP’s hysterical defiance of American reality. As Brownstein writes, suppressing the count of Latinos and other immigrant communities would be a powerful symbolic statement: what better way to deny an emerging American reality than to literally wipe millions of people out of existence by not counting them in the census?

People angered by this analysis–an analysis with which I entirely agree– say that proponents of generational change are being ageist. There may be an overlap, but age isn’t the issue. Ageism is discrimination against people solely because they’ve lived a certain number of years. Brownstein’s concern, and mine, is with people whose worldviews are rooted in realities that no longer exist.

We are all products of the world into which we were socialized.

No matter how many gadgets I use, I will never be as comfortable with technology as my grandchildren. Most older people–granted, not all–will never be as comfortable with, or as fully aware of, the political realities of today’s America as their younger counterparts.

Restoration isn’t possible. Transformation may be.


  1. If we are going to move forward and embrace the change in this nation we need leadership that reflects that change. I’m reminded of the case of how many of our current elected officials had never sent an email or text when asked, or how clearly none of them understood Facebook’s business model when questions were asked of Mark Z. At his appearance before them. It’s time to pass the baton.

  2. I’m not sure that the current divide in the nation can be attributed to generational differences in worldviews. How do you account for the large number of under thirty year olds who support Trump?

  3. most of the trumpers,,esc,and right wing flybolts are a product of thier own families views. some take criticizeing them as a slant against their family,and bubba their buddy. this is ongoing in converstion. but bring up the wallet,then their all ears. you cant make small talk when they disagree on everything.
    A tip, look at K Harris past actions on famlies who had school kids who didnt show for school. they were arrested. mainly low,middle,and no income parents. she devised a law to have your privacy documented,on personal ads. and because she can throw some flack, shes just a trained prosocutor,demanding the show… now it seems wells fargo execs,wants her to win….im asking why? corp greed,needs a supporter?..that fine she produced against wells fargo for the state of calif, seem quite inadequate.

  4. While the numbers do not indicate a majority, they do represent a third of the young people polled. The challenge comes in getting the remaining 66% to the polls.

  5. Yes. This is but part of the story, though. Joy Reid said it best on “Deadline: White House” the other day when she described the over-arching issue of embedded racism in Americans of all ages. She boldly stated that Trump appeals to the inherent racism in those who feel that they’ve been screwed by people of color. Trump’s psychotic obsession with Barack Obama, Mexicans and other brown people is liberating to those who are not willing to take responsibility or accept blame for their own problems and lost opportunities. Trump gave them the excuse they’ve always coveted about blaming the “other” for their situations.

    Therein lies the explanation as to why Trump-ites will never change their minds or their votes. Picture what would happen to their psyches if a 50-year old auto worker, say suddenly realized that it was CORPORATE AMERICA who cost him his job, not an immigrant. The brain explosion would cover the walls of his room. Trump allowed these folks to avoid blaming the bankers, Wall Street and the corporations for screwing them out of their futures – or at least those that they imagined. In short, this is the greatest and most successful con job every perpetrated on the American people, and 62 million voters swallowed it.

    So, as the sign says, “Get off your ass and go knock on doors.” Getting the under-represented to the polls in 2020 is critical to our survival. The 62 million truth avoiders are lost to us forever.

  6. Being an old fart myself, I think it may be of some concern that Presidents over 70 might experience some “sundowning” or late day confusion. I noted Biden’s energetic 4th of July parade in Iowa, opposed to his debate performance, which was at 9:00 p.m. Even 45, who does many rallies at night, may have sundowned on American history on the 4th. At his rallies he is spouting unscripted nonsense, so it’s hard to say anything definitive about it.

    I haven’t decided who I support for the nomination, but I am leaning heavily to supporting someone younger than Methuselah.

  7. Change, as usual, is inevitable. The question, I think, cannot be answered by resort to the calendar. Rather it comes down to whether our collective mindsets are for accommodation to change or resistance to it. Those who resist change, political, economic or social, are destined to be losers, but, as now, there is a lot of political bloodshed to be lost during the transformation that change demands.
    The Republican Party represents yesterday and (after all its suppression attempts to resist change have gone away) will, unless radically reformed and as I often suggest, go back to the Whigdom from which it arose. Yes, the young will take over the reins, and yes, some thirty years from now, the then young will take over the reins from the young of today, and so it goes, as Vonnegut would intone. Our task is to accommodate change during our reign and to keep our democratic values alive during the process.

  8. Vernon writes, “Trump allowed these folks to avoid blaming the bankers, Wall Street and the corporations for screwing them out of their futures – or at least those that they imagined.”

    Actually, the culprit was Barack Obama and Joe Biden who were both in a position to hold the perps accountable but chose to bail them out instead. This created the illusion that the government was to blame for the financial collapse. This is when the Koch’s took over the GOP and used billions to change the party into “anti-government” or libertarian free marketers.

    The propaganda flowed accordingly on Fox News and elsewhere. According to the SPLC, racism exploded during Barack’s presidency as well.

    Call it a convergence of factors which led to Trump’s victory. The young people who supported Bernie Sanders learned they were screwed by the DNC and Hillary Clinton voted Green Party which let Trump win. The DNC hasn’t learned a thing by advocating for Joe Biden. Pushing for Joe will guarantee another 4 years of the Trump familia.

    One last note, 70% of the under 35 crowd support socialism vs capitalism. The DNC stood up against socialism during Trump’s, “never will the USA be socialist.” Bad move and it shows the DNC is so far in bed with their donors that they cannot lead the transformation. The transformation will come from the Justice Democrats and Democratic Socialists who run candidates against the party-backed corporate agents of the status quo.

  9. Sorry Todd. Trump voters don’t give a damn about the DNC. They voted for Obama TWICE. As you might recall, Obama was the first president since Eisenhower to be elected by more than 50% of the electorate TWICE.

    But, you’re right about President Obama (Biden had nothing to do with anything) not standing up to Wall St. You also might recall that he was trying to save the economy from cratering thanks to George W. Bush’s band of thieves eliminating all regulations and exploiting the absence of the Glass-Steagall law.

    You simply can’t keep pointing your finger at the Democrats, when it is Republicanism and the Republicans who control – and are controlled by – the wealthy and the Wall St. banks.

  10. The donors completely own the Trump party and give just enough to the Democratic party to keep the leadership utterly immobilized. Biden, Pelosi, Schumer et al need to go.
    As Todd Smekens writes: “The transformation will come from the Justice Democrats and Democratic Socialists who run candidates against the party-backed corporate agents of the status quo.”
    I couldn’t agree more.

  11. Yes, Brownstein’s was thought provoking in the sense of Clintonian Triangulation is alive and well.
    Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is a gay Millennial, and Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is of mixed-race descent – appearances of course are everything (Sarcasm intended).

    Somehow I must have missed it where Buttigieg and Harris ran rings around Bernie. Corporate Joe took a few haymakers during the debate.

    I would agree with Jack Smith’s assessment of K Harris and her formerly tough on crime approach.

    By the way Vernon, your response to Todd, left out the fact it was Bill Clinton who was the “Great De-Regulator”. Bill and Hillary cashed in making millions on their speaking fees in subsequent years.

    The DNC has managed to keep intact the Super Delegate System. The Super Delegates exist just to make sure the scales are tipped.

    With the exception of Bernie Madoff, and Martha Stewart, Wall Street got a get out of Jail Card.

  12. Unfortunately, many young people blame the Democratic party and the baby boomers for the economics and the destruction of the middle class that was started during the tenure of Ronald Reagan. They are turning their attention against the Democratic party instead of against Trump and the Republicans. A lot of Bernie boys wanted change at any cost, “never Hillary,” and voted for Trump. Unless women and minorities vote in huge droves, I don’t see where much has changed, and I think Trump has a very good chance of being re-elected, I am quite sorry to say.

  13. I was treated to a display of obtuse Trumpiness recently at a reunion, where I witnessed people I grew up with in full denial of the more diverse America of the future (and present). These are small town white people who have chosen to stay there. It reminded me that there is no deeper analysis behind these motivations. These 50-something people are simply not comfortable going into the city, much less imagining a diverse country. Their little town and old friends and their church make them feel cozy, and they will vote against change every time. They aren’t really militant about the wall or anything, but they will respond defensively and become militant if they feel put upon. It’s really that simple.

  14. ML,
    Uh, no. It wasn’t. Yes, Clinton, while being politically neutered, by an unfortunate blowjob, signed the overturning of Glass-Steagal. But it was the Republicans who pushed for all the rest. Look it up.

  15. There are infinate ways to frame the argument. To me the simplist is those favoring sustainable vs those favoring hiding longer in temporary. I think that most of us now realize that it is possible to extend what and who we were and maintain the entitlements that it granted, but it’s not possible to maintain it against the reality of the world order that we are facing.

    The world of humans has due to the forces of our numbers and our technology created an inevitable world where what’s necessary to allow our reality is different than what brought us here. Our choices are to accept and accommodate and adapt to inevitable or to pretend that we can ignore it.

    We can continue to ignore what’s coming for a couple more years at the considerable expense of preparing for it.

    The younger one is the more motivated one is to prepare and the older one is the more motivated one is to hang on to familiar.

    The choice is to have reality imposed on us, or to anticipate and plan for and manage it.

    We won’t like the former at all.

  16. I am conflicted on the “restoration vs transformation” question. I am solidly Center-Left. I am left on social issues and economically pretty conservative.

    I see a conflict between “wisdom” and “change” that has to be navigated.

    I fully understand that we are a product of the time in which we grew up and came of age – and that those assumptions and life experiences are often no longer useful as tools to navigate the problems we face now.

    At the same time, there are plenty of experiences and history that do apply and we disregard that life experience at our own peril. For example: Who knew that racking up $30k – $120k in student loans would be devastating to one’s financial future?… certainly not a whole lot of 18-25 year old students. However there are plenty of us older folks who could tell you what a bad idea that was. Likewise, those of us who have lived through social movements – including civil rights and the fight for gay rights — know how those things take time.

    I really do take issue with a group of people — many of whom haven’t successfully run a business or had significant monetary responsibility (including those looking for a personal bail-out because they’ve made a mess of things) — using the disaster of the Trump presidency as a opportunity to advance policies that are as seriously half-baked and ideologically driven as anything that Trump has done.

    For example: the numbers for Bernie’s health care plan are out: “free” health care will cost us each $10,000 a year after subsidies from various new taxes. Existing Medicare and Medicaid recipients would pay more than they do now. Obviously some of us would pay much more than $10k a year because many couldn’t afford the additional expense. All of this is predicated on Medicare reimbursement rates that would bankrupt virtually every hospital if it were implemented universally – so that $10k a year number is likely much higher.

    There’s no way in hell I’m willing going to sign up for that deal. And my friends and family members who just assume they would be paying less for “free” health care would likely pay much more.

    There is a ton of work that can be done to bring about a much more fair, equitable and just country – but I’m not at all in favor of where some of this is heading.

  17. There is a potential energy of change on the college campuses not seen since the days of the Vietnam war….if it will show up and activate.

  18. Boomers….We got ours……To hell with you!!

    Young Generation….We got screwed!

    Democrats….Please! Can we have some decorum?John Bolton is human.

    DNC Candidate Biden…..””I don’t think 500 billionaires are…why we’re in trouble.”

    Democrats…We have to cut Social Security and Medicare for all isn’t possible.

    DemocratBots…OMG! RUSSIA!!! AND REPUBLICANS!!!

    Generational? No. The problem lies with political organizations willfully ignoring the bottom 80 percent of the population. Democrats cater to the top 15%. Republicans cater to the top 5%. Everyone else can go to hell. The younger generations see thru the transparency and the lies of both private organizations. Creating the “Generational” narrative is an attempt by the private organizations and their donors to control the narrative. More division.

  19. If you’re not part of the 1%, then you should be voting Progressive. Period.

  20. Many of us have been the victims of ageism, but I suspect most of us realize the diminished capacity is real.

  21. Those idealizing Mark Z and other young “leaders” should see how much common good they are doing. As for college students, their “activism”, as has been historically since the 70’s is a small minority on the far right/left. They are shamed by the high schoolers from FL on gun safety.

    Most college students are locked into their screens and, as often reported, think: “look at the mess you older folks have made – we’ll come back and clean up the mess once we get jobs and get established” – why 10M didn’t vote in 2016 (and ~4M voted for 3rd parties. They don’t get it that the tough work of change is understanding how hard it is and that it takes engaging the majority (who are moderate). They want it easy like the MAGA folks – just light a match to a bomb…

  22. Our health care costs what it does and that depends on our individual needs and the fact that in our present system there is no cost consciousness at all. We spend whatever it takes to extend every life as long as possible and are willing to pay every health care worker pretty much top salary and benefits for their contribution.

    That is indisputably not sustainable or in other words it is temporary.

    What can we afford and how do we decide what specifically we cannot afford?

    Those are the questions that need answering and then we have to figure out the transition to there.

  23. I don’t like the terms “accept change”, or “accommodate change”, or any term that suggests acquiescing to the flaws and evils of change right along with the virtues of change.

    I like the terms “manage change” and “govern change”, terms that suggest that wisdom and control are still important tools of governing.

    Unfortunately, I find that the under-50-crowd has no concept of wisdom and has massive objections to control, and they are completely overwhelmed by the novelty of the new.

    With the exception of Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete, all the younger Democratic candidates appear to be acquiescing personalities. Old dudes enamored of the past and young dudes infiltrating flower children values into government are both poor antidotes for the venom the Republicans have injected into America.

  24. Peggy – sorry, but you are engaging in agism (I hate that term) – not every 70, 80 or 90 year old is going to suffer from afternoon decline and some that do are wise enough to take naps to keep fresh all day long.

    If an 80-year old has diminished abilities, do we discard her? Suppose I tell you that she was among the top 1% of intellects and now is only among the top 10% – would you prefer a youngster from the bottom half?

    Don’t judge by sex, skin color, or age, but by the content of their character, to paraphrase MLK.

    Kurt – I may agree that Bernie’s plan isn’t the best, if it isn’t on the table we are left with less chance of reaching something that will work. If you eliminate the “left” and allow the “right”, you don’t end up in the middle. When Obama was crafting the Affordable Care Act, I called a meeting of the Indiana groups that had been working on healthcare reform. We all agreed that we wanted some sort of universal, single payer plan, and that by pushing for that we might end up with a strong public option, or even a weak one, but at least a public option. That, we agreed, was a reasonable final compromise position. Obama eliminated all suggestions from “well meaning but foolish liberals” and gave away half of everything before he began negotiating.

    Ideas like Bernie’s get corrected into more reasonable proposals and then, after negotiations, something decent emerges. I don’t want the only idea on the table to be Zeke Emanuel’s “give everyone $100 and tell them to manage their own damn healthcare” (no that isn’t a direct quote, just a summary of his ideas).

  25. Len,

    I believe there should be a public option that I would expect would gradually gain a majority market share. I think it’s probably the only way to eventually cut health care costs in half – which would be my goal.

    What I’m not in favor of is “Medicare for all” plan that would ban private insurance any time soon.

    Keep in mind that what happened with the Obama administration was not necessarily because it was “good policy” (no public option, no negotiating on drug prices – for example) but because it was the only thing that was politically feasible at the time. You have to have the votes in the House and Senate or you don’t get anything.

    It’s really easy to put forth all kinds of policy proposals when there’s nobody from the other side pushing back.

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