In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he tells his student, “Let no one look down on you because you are young.” Yet all too often in today’s conservative movement, young voices like mine are dismissed simply because of our age.
If you’re a middle-aged conservative, don’t tune us out. We’re trying to tell you something important, and if you care about the future of this country you need to listen.
I understand why our voices are often ignored. After all, we’re young. We’re “millennials.” We haven’t been through what you’ve been through. We don’t know what it was like in the past.
But “experienced” can also mean “set in your ways.” It can mean “out of touch.” And for conservatives, it can mean getting left behind.
I get why many of you are content with the current state of the conservative movement. Republicans control the vast majority of state legislatures and governor’s mansions, both houses of Congress, and the presidency.
Yet consider this: President Trump may have won the election, but he lost the popular vote by three million. Your generation is getting older. My generation loves Bernie Sanders.
You can coast on the changing voting patterns of white, middle-aged, blue-collar workers for a little while. But it won’t be long before you’re buried under an avalanche of millennial voters.
The sad part is, many of you are squandering a golden opportunity. On the surface, my generation may seem like big-government fans, but we’re surprisingly liberty-minded. We love innovation, and we’re frustrated by regulations that are holding back our Uber-riding, AirBnB-renting, robot-delivering future.
We’re also concerned about the future and unhappy about the status quo. Millennials are overwhelmingly pessimistic about things like Social Security and the tax code. We’re convinced our generation will be worse off than our parents are.
Yet when my generation looks at the conservative movement, they’re turned off by the messaging coming both from the rank-and-file and from public figures like talk radio hosts and politicians. Here’s just a sample of the things I’ve actually heard older conservatives say:
· People living on government assistance are lazy, freeloading “welfare queens” who refuse to get a job, like to bum off of taxpayers, and use their food stamps to buy steak and lobster (and they’re probably minorities).
· Illegal immigrants just come here to commit crimes, take American jobs, and live off of welfare. We need to build a wall, round up all “the Mexicans,” and ship them to the border.
· Millennials are lazy, oversensitive, stupid snowflakes who live in their parents’ basements. They’d rather buy avocado toast than a house, and they’re killing everything we love.
· Anyone killed by law enforcement is a thug who had it coming. If they weren’t breaking the law, they wouldn’t have been shot.
· People addicted to drugs have no one to blame but themselves. They don’t deserve any help; they deserve to be sent to prison.
Yes, the mainstream media and the Left will try to paint us as racist, sexist, bigoted monsters no matter what we do or say. But don’t you see how language like this only gives them more ammunition?
Even more concerning, young, freedom-loving millennials are starting to feel like older conservatives have abandoned the principles you used to stand for. Conservatism now just means anything that opposes the Left.
That’s dangerous, because if our only principle is “oppose the Left,” it can lead the movement down a dark path.
· It can lead to allying with the alt-right, a movement that supports abortion, opposes free markets, and is antithetical to conservative principles.
· It can lead to excusing serious problems with public figures simply because they get under the Left’s skin (see: Milo Yiannopoulos, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, etc).
· It can lead to taking sides with the KKK, neo-Nazis, and White Nationalists simply because the Left also showed up and threw punches.
· It can lead to being intentionally offensive simply because to do otherwise would be “politically correct.”
· It can lead to ignoring serious problems within our movement and engaging in “whataboutism” instead.
· It can lead to supporting big government when it can be used to interfere with the Left’s agenda.
· It can lead to dismissing real concerns from minority communities about a growing police state.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With the Left’s headlong charge into extremism, the Democrat party is becoming less and less appealing to Americans of all stripes. But unless something changes, those Americans won’t consider the Right to be a viable alternative.
Thanks to our youth, freedom-loving millennials have a fresh perspective. And we’ve realized something many older conservatives have missed: conservatism has an image problem.
Instead of talking about welfare queens and freeloaders, what if conservatives took this approach when talking about poverty:
Government assistance programs trap people in a generations-long cycle of poverty that makes it almost possible to escape. Instead of giving people the tools they need to build a better life for themselves and their families, welfare programs keep people in subsistence.
Even worse, outdated regulations like occupational licensing and well-intentioned policies like minimum-wage increases remove the first rung of the ladder to success. People are being robbed of the dignity that comes from creating something of value that others want or need.
The Left may still say we hate poor people, but language like this makes their attacks seem petty and disingenuous instead of bolstering them.
Let me be clear, what freedom-loving millennials like me want isn’t for you to compromise on your principles. We’re not asking you to become a “RINO” or a “Democrat-lite.” We’re also not calling for political correctness.
What we are suggesting is that conservatives need to start talking about our principles in a positive, compassionate way that draws people to us, not drives them away. We already believe conservative ideals are the best way to ensure people can live a free, prosperous life. So let’s start acting like it.
Let’s use personal stories. Let’s appeal to emotions as well as reason. Let’s seize the moral high ground. Let’s stop attacking the very people we’re trying to help. Let’s start fighting for people, not against things.