“I just figure that when I’m that age Social Security and Medicare will be gone.”
That’s what one of my students said to me after a class lecture on early Chinese thinkers and their views on human nature and government’s role in people’s lives.
“Why doesn’t that get you so angry?” I asked. “My generation is having the party, and yours is getting stuck with our bill.” “If I thought that, I’d burn down every radio station that played Oldies,” I joked to lighten the mood with hyperbole.
I certainly understood why this 20-year-old had given up. Most of the messages around him inspire a hopelessness and helplessness.
There’s the “all politicians are crooked (or no good, or just out for themselves).” There are the constant media attempts to claim a false equivalency between “both sides.”
There are the messages that voting doesn’t matter in the midst of Republican moves to suppress voting and corporate PACS like ALEC investing millions in their candidates because they know voting really matters.
There are the distractions that older generations have created and make profits from to keep young people engrossed in their phones, their apps, their videos, and on and on. After all, their parents are on their smart phones as much as the teens.
There has been a decrease in the kind of long-form reading that gives context and depth of understanding. Even our newspapers fail to entice their declining readership to read below the first few paragraphs — if they publish more than a few paragraphs.
The long-term plan of destruction of the liberal arts in higher education envisioned by those like the Koch brothers and enacted by right-wing state legislatures while cutting state contributions to their colleges and universities — those liberal arts that provide perspective, history, ethics, nuance, and broadly human understanding — is turning these institutions into trade and professional schools fit only to spew out corporate drones.
Remember back when AT&T said it preferred liberal arts graduates over MBAs?
And now we approach yet another “most important election of our lifetime” with a need to work for the best now yet prepare for a storm that could solidify the undoing of reproductive rights, bring an end to the voting rights of those who want progress, and push LGBTQ people back into dark closets.
But all does not have to be lost even if the worst scenario comes to pass. Even then, the path to long-term change — even when we’ve lost the short term — is one that contradicts the hopelessness of that student.
First, it requires that we stop trying to convince the radical right wing to change their minds. All the evidence is that they won’t, that arguing will instead solidify them, and that the few anecdotes about the changed might make us happy in our relationships but will not produce real long term effects. Our money and energies must be spent elsewhere,
Political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, who is famous for her uniquely accurate predictions of election outcomes, concurs — the goal in winning elections is not convincing the other side or the few so-called “swing voters” but to turn on and turn out those who agree already. And, she says, this is the way to move forward in today’s climate in spite of what old-school pundits who are consistently wrong say:
“Bitecofer’s theory, when you boil it down, is that modern American elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote in the first place.”
A key to next month’s vote and each election hereafter is whether we can we activate those who agree with us, not compromising our values in the false belief that it will change any other side. That’s just now how it works anymore, as renown linguist George Lakoff continues to remind us.
So, getting that young student and his and future generations to act as politically involved citizens who get out to vote – the younger generations who are the future and who not only share more progressive values but who are going to reap the effects of our views toward inclusion, climate change, social safety nets, and a kind national culture — means convincing these young voters that voting is important, that voting matters, and that voting is about them, their future, and their values.
It involves nurturing through some sort of farm system a young candidate base and supporting them. It means creating or emphasizing organizations that help feed the pipeline.
It means pushing candidates who aren’t already millionaires, who have a future, and who can begin at a grassroots level in their political life.
It means seeking a diversity of candidates who represent the rainbow of human beings in terms of multiple demographics. It means LGBTQ organizations supporting candidates who mirror their own faces and loves.
It means seeing gender issues as all related whether that’s women’s reproductive rights, or the rights of trans children. It means thinking intersectionally that all issues are related.
Here’s where those on the left make their mistake. Believing in compromise or bipartisanship or some other mediation, they actually affirm the right-wing frame by giving it credence and compromising with it.
Even stating it in order to deny it invokes and supports the right-wing position in these so-called centrists. Instead, for example, of calling it brainwashing (what it is) we call what anti-gay-profiteers do “ex-gay therapy” or “conversion therapy” as if it actually is therapy. And even saying “so-called” before the terms reenforces the right-wing frame of the matter.
When we engage in a debate about whether sexual orientation is a choice or not, we enforce the idea that the view that it is a choice is valuable.
When we talk about “traditional marriage,” we give value to the frame that there is such a thing as one traditional form of marriage even when we recognize that “tradition” is really just a made-up category where one chooses out of all of history what one likes and leaves out the rest, which is actually more of history. But arguing and repeating their label “traditional” even to deny it affirms the frame in the minds of the moveable middle instead of invoking our own frame.
Should the worst happen in the next election, we cannot lose all hope. But from yesterday on we cannot continue to think that doing the same things over and over will promote progressive change.
And we must think beyond the next election not just to win one more election but to secure the future.
Just as all those in Florida at this writing are cleaning up from the worst that Hurricane Ian brought to them while hoping that somehow the storm would have passed with minimal damage, so must we — as we face an election that could mean regression — do both.
Every election from now on could be “the most important of our lifetime,” so, having a long-term strategy in place won’t hurt anything now but will save us from storm damages ahead.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.