In God We Trust

The California Primary: Millennials' Last Fling


By Jeffrey Folks

Millennials, who first arrived in 1980, are the largest generational group in American history.  As such, they tend to have a deep-seated, some would say exaggerated, sense of their own importance.  Now that the last of the millennials, those born in the late 1990s, have reached voting age, the millennial generation is exerting ever greater influence on presidential politics.  The campaign of Bernie Sanders, one of the most radical leftists ever to run for the presidency, is almost their exclusive preserve.

Sanders's platform is well targeted to the idealism of most millennials.  It offers free universal health care ("Medicare for all"), free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage, expanded federal housing subsidies, immigration reform (including "dismantling" detention centers and allowing illegals to receive Obamacare and other federal benefits), LGBT rights, further climate change restrictions on fossil fuels, support for the Iran deal, making the wealthy pay "their fair share," and a host of other liberal proposals.

The great thing is, according to Bernie, that all of this costs us practically nothing.  Almost all of it would be paid for with new taxes on corporations and the rich.  And in Bernie's world, corporations and affluent investors would not pass along these costs to consumers.  They would just take the hit and keep providing goods and services at the same cost as before.  LOL.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the fantasyland nature of his campaign, Sanders is running neck and neck in elected delegates with Hillary Clinton (who lives in her own fantasyland of women's victimization, an end to "mass incarceration" of minorities, and "no material marked classified at the time").  Sanders may well win the California primary and a host of others held on June 7 and legitimately claim an equal right to the nomination, despite the inevitability of Hillary's "clinching" it.  When the Democratic convention opens on July 25 in Philadelphia, it is certain that tens of thousands of millennials will be there, some inside the convention hall as Sanders delegates but most demonstrating outside.  If the violence we have seen in Albuquerque and Las Vegas is any indication, Sanders supporters will not go away quietly.

That is because of the importance that so many millennials attach to the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  The Sanders crusade has come at a pivotal moment in the lives of the millennial generation – pivotal because, as a group with an average age of 26, millennials are now on the cusp of real adult responsibility, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a difficult and fearful time in life.  No wonder Sanders's supporters opt for fantasyland – it is so much more pleasant to imagine a world of free everything than to tumble into the adult world of work, parenting, and monthly bills.

That magic number, twenty-six, explains the temper of the millennial generation at this time.  As it turns out, the average childbearing age in the U.S. is 26.  Children require nursing, watching, feeding, sheltering, and schooling, and parental responsibilities last for decades.  Despite delayed childbearing and a preference for mom's basement, millennials as a group are about to become parents. That responsibility will put an end to the extended adolescence that many in this generation have enjoyed.

All that is as it should be.  In settling down and raising a family, millennials will discover the greatest joy of their lives.  If they are lucky, they will find lasting love in their marriages, and in their role as parents, they will gain a sense of purpose and meaning.  Eventually, they will see that it is all part of a plan.  Life is good, and they are an indispensable part of that goodness.

But for now, what with the hopes of the California primary and the Philadelphia convention ahead, many millennials are still cocooned within the dream world of adolescence.  Those who are not still lodging at home are housed, for the most part, in small apartments with no maintenance issues, no grass to mow, and no property taxes to pay.  They are new hires, enjoying the honeymoon period in which occasional mistakes and a bit of craziness are still excused.  Above all, they are free to dream, and they are still dreaming of an endless summer that resembles their own childhood more than it does the hassled adulthood of their parents.

The Sanders campaign is the last hope for that millennial dream of freedom – not that it will succeed, and not that, if it did succeed, it would bring about the freedom millennials think it would.  A similar regime in Venezuela has not turned out so well.  The Sanders campaign is an indulgence – for many millennials, the last fling before they take the plunge into the waters of adulthood.

The Sanders campaign is one last hoot – a holiday from thinking about the unpleasantness that lies ahead.  Because from the point of view of adolescence, adulthood is unpleasant.  House payments, car payments, childrearing, endless alarm clocks, not to say paying off college loans – it all adds up to the realization that one is no longer special, no longer entitled.  Who could resist one last summer of freedom?

Soon it must end.  Very soon, Sanders or no Sanders, the millennial generation will descend into adulthood.  Soon they will marry, bear children, move to the much reviled suburbs, haul their kids off to soccer matches in oversized SUVs, and complain of noisy neighbors and dandelions in the yard.  They will become managers at work, in charge of steering worthless new hires toward productivity.  They will begin paying taxes, lots of taxes, and many of them will become conservatives.  It is only a baby step from the Sanders moment to this abyss of responsible citizenship, and the millennials are about to take it.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).