George Boardman: Millennials have become a punching bag for people who fear change
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Always looking for new ways to kill time online, people are increasingly inventing reasons to trash the generations that followed their own. With the exception of the Greatest Generation (the people who won World War II), critics have found something not to like about each subsequent cohort.
But nobody has taken more grief than Millennials, generally derided as clueless inhabitants of our increasingly complex world. Sheltered from the vicissitudes of life in their youth and raised with a sense of entitlement, Millennials are considered by their critics unworthy inheritors of the mantles of power and leadership.
Their alleged shortcomings have become a running joke among social critics and late-night television comedians. It’s a wonder the first Millennials born in 1980 have made it to their late 30s.
To be sure, they’ve brought some of this grief on themselves. I’ve seen articles written by Millennials who complain about how hard it is to use the post office, and who whine about not being able to live in expensive cities on minimum-wage jobs. Then there are stories about $7 slices of avocado toast and bachelorette parties that rival the cost of a modest wedding.
But Millennials are here in large numbers — the group of 93 million comprises people born roughly between 1980 and 2000 — and are getting special attention from the consumer marketing wizards, who apparently aren’t impressed with these potential customers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Scotts Miracle-Gro is offering gardening lessons for Millennials that cover such basics as making sure sunlight can reach plants. Home Depot, out to capture their do-it-yourself dollars, has produced a series of online workshops that cover such basics as how to use a tape measure. Coming soon: How to hang Christmas lights.
Conservative social critics take particular delight in blaming many of our social ills on this star-crossed generation. The introduction of radical Islam into western societies, tolerance of illegal immigrants and addiction to cheap goods that are probably imported from China have been blamed in part on Millennials.
The generation that had over-scheduled childhoods, tech-dependent lifestyles and delayed adulthood is said to be OK with socialism and communism but not capitalism, and a poll claimed 70 percent of them can’t name a senator from their home state. Savings are what they use for a vacation, not buying a house.
Many of the young adults in this cohort are supporters of Bernie Sanders (Sandernistas, if you will) who support such budget busters as Medicare for all and free college tuition, and pie-in-sky concepts like economic equality.
People who find fault with Millennials like to put the blame on — what else — a public education system that increasingly treats all ideas and organizing principles as equal. Moral judgments are not to be made, according to these critics.
Despite these handicaps, a significant number of Millennials have been able to make their mark in the world. While it’s true this group includes the likes of Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian, Millennials are founders of such companies as Pinterest, Instagram, Airbnb, Snapchat and Lyft.
Then there’s Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook who has managed to become one of the wealthiest men in the world well short of his 40th birthday. He took the path of one of our high-tech elder statesmen, Bill Gates, dropping out of Harvard to chase his dream.
I think conservatives hostility toward Millennials stems in part from the right’s fear that it’s losing the culture wars. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, marijuana, acceptance of alternate lifestyles, abortion, evolution or religion in the public square, younger generations have a much more liberal attitude than their elders.
A recent poll conducted by The Journal and NBC News found that less than one-third of Republicans said they felt comfortable with social changes that have made the U.S. more diverse. These fears are particularly strong among rural Americans and people without a four-year college degree, an increasingly large share of the GOP.
Thus we have the spectacle of the Family Research Council embracing Donald Trump at its Values Voter Summit, hardly the role model evangelical Christians envision for their children. They can’t resist Trump’s siren song to make America great again, whatever that might entail.
These people yearn for an America that’s gone and will never return, and they find themselves fighting a rear-guard action against Millennials and others they find threatening. Perhaps conservatives should embrace a thought expressed by a member of the Silent Generation, Bob Dylan: “For the times, they are a-changin’.”
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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