Political Labels & Demographic Trends

This post will repeat a bit of some thoughts I’ve written about recently. I’m trying to formulate my thinking, but I’m not entirely clear. I see a shift in trends and I think generations is particularly significant. Some recent related posts:

The New Conservatism: GenX & Millennials
Future of Family Values

The main point in my recent thoughts is that the cultural tide is shifting and with it so is politics. With the Goldwater revolution of movement conservatism, the entire political spectrum shifted to the right. The Democratic party became centrist while the Republican party became increasingly entrenched in it’s fundamentalist base.

The culture war was a war of ideology and perception which the GOP was winning in many ways. It was true that divorce rates were up and drug use, but conservatives failed to understand the real causes. They got tough on crime and started righteously preaching morals.

How conservatives ultimately lost the war is that evidence became more clear that the Christian right wasn’t any more moral than the rest of society. Preachers were caught in money and sex scandals. The abstinence-only programs were absolute failures. Everything that Christians preached against were the worse in the most fundamentalist states (teen pregnancy, STDs, divorce… heck, even gay website membership was the highest in the Bible Belt), and the poor and needy were worse off in those same states (especially on women’s health issues leading to low birth rates and high infant mortality). Furthermore, the War On Drugs was a failure and a waste of money. The entire tough on crime attitude had led to the highest prison rates in the world and research has proven the entire legal system is racially biased.

Republicans have been in scandal after scandal, failure after failure. Finally, with Bush’s presidency, even conservatives were getting fed up. Also, various factors (such as increased immigration rates) led to a more culturally diverse society which favors a liberalism. The conservative xenophobia has become increasingly rabid and people are reminded of the Civil Rights movement when the GOP made a move for power by embracing and promoting racist hatred and fear.

The culturally diverse young generation came of age during Bush’s presidency. Some would claim it was the greatest failure in the modern history of presidents, but certainly it was a near fatal blow to the Republican party. Conservatives left the Republican party in droves, splinter groups formed, protests ensued, purity tests were demanded, and the libertarian tendencies became apparent again. Republicans had disliked libertarians more than liberals, but now the average Republican realized they had no where else to turn.

GenXers particularly have been attracted to libertarianism, but way before the Republican exodus. But this new demographic of libertarians are much more liberal and diverse than they were in the past. The progressive tendencies of Millennials and other factors are pushing the entire political spectrum to the left. The new conservatism will be centrist and moderate. The Neocons had their day in the sun, but a new era has begun. As Strauss and Howe point out, whichever party is in power when the shit hits the fan will be the party that gets sidestepped by the young generation in the Fourth Turning.

What feels conservative is that it’s a return of populism, but it’s not the populism of the right. In some ways, I think the leftwing populism is more libertarian than the rightwing version (as Chomsky would argue). If libertarianism is true conservatism, then leftwing populism is true libertarianism. Just check out history and see which group early last century was fighting both the government and the corporations.

In these times of change, labels become very confusing. The progressive Millennials show greater signs of moral behavior than do the Boomer religious right. It’s all there in the data. If valuing family and community is conservative, then Millennials are probably the most conservative demographic. However, it’s not a me and mine conservatism (my family, my community). Instead, it’s a we and ours attitude. To Millennials, there are no real and fake Americans. We’re all Americans. If patriotism is conservative, the Millennials would also seem to win on that account.

I’m not arguing about which generation is the best generation. As a GenXer, I have plenty of criticisms of Millennials. I’m just trying to understand the implictions of all this whether or not the trends match my personal opinions.

The Republican party is having an identity crisis… actually, the entire conservative movement is a bit up in the air. This is an opportunity for an entire party and maybe the rightwing movement in general to redefine itself. Whites are a shrinking demographic and so the new identity can’t focus on “white culture” Fundamentalist Christians are a shrinking demographic and so the culture wars don’t mobilize the populace. Certainly, the libertarian militia groups aren’t going to form the core of any mainstream party… but libertarianism as a general attitude might be what will reinvigorate the ideals of conservatism. There is a catch to this, though. This new libertarianism will have to be inclusive of both the right and left varieties if it’s to gain populist support.

What this means is that fundamentalism and “white culture” can no longer be the defining values of conservatism. Conservatives will have to free themselves of some of their xenophobia and become inclusive of an increasingly diverse nation. It will have to be a libertarianism that seeks to defend everyone’s rights, not just the rights of whites or fundamentalists or gun owners. The Republicans have an image problem, and it’s going to take a while to convince certain groups (blacks, gays, muslims, etc) that they’re truly welcomed as equals. The Republican party will make this shift or it will die out and a new party will replace it.

I could be wrong. I am considering all the demographic and polling data I’m familiar with and so my speculations are at least based in the facts I’ve come across. A shift is happening. Many people, both liberal and conservative, have been feeling dissatisfied with the sociopolitical status quo. The shrinking demographic of whites would like to think that the solution to the problem is to hold even tighter to the values of “white culture” The shrinking demographic of fundamentalists would like to believe the old culture wars can still be won. I think they’re wrong. We’re in the middle of this change. What we do now will influence it to an extent, but I think it’s mostly already set in whatever direction it will go.

One last thought… it doesn’t matter all that much who is right. Demographics are destiny and destiny is blind to our moral opinions. Let’s assume that “white culture” (or Western Civilization if you want to be more melodramatic) is superior to anything else ever conceived by any nation or people. Okay. Assuming that, present minorities will outnumber whites in the near future and whites will be the new majority. Those who promote this ideal of “white culture” also see it as inseparable from Christian fundamentalism. Christianity in general is shrinking in the US, and specifically fundamentalism seems to be losing power and/or seems to be in the process of being redefined. The only way white fundamentalist Christians can maintain their influence would be to take over the government and force their ideology on everyone else. That would be interesting. I’m sure they’ll try.

A lot of things are changing and I don’t think there is much anyone can do to stop it. People worry about the New World Order and I understand the criticisms, the fears. Even so, history of all civilization has been a steady increase in the size of nations and hence an increase in the size of the governments. Any given government could collapse or be destroyed, but that just creates a power vacuum where another government comes in. If the militia secessionists could overthrow our government, it wouldn’t lead to a libertarian utopia. The early Americans overthrew the British and then created another government that inevitably and quickly grew in size and power. The Civil War was fought about Federal power and States’ rights, but it just led to an even greater Federal government. The world is becoming increasingly globalized and no one is likely to stop that. Or, rather, the only thing that will stop any of this is if civilization in its entirety collapses (through plague, nuclear apocalypse, environmental collapse, etc). Otherwise, welcome to the world as it is and as it is becoming.

Going by the polls, Millennials more than any other generation seems to understand this shift. Instead of fighting it, they seem to be embracing it with open arms. I don’t know what the future will look like, but it’s going to be a Brave New World. Join in the march or let yourself be carried along… it doesn’t matter. We’re all going to get there together one way or another.

A Portrait of “Generation Next”

I was just looking at a Pew suvey.

A Portrait of “Generation Next”
How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics

Most of it I was already familiar with.  This young generation (defined as those born between 1981 and 1988) are strongly liberal and the most Democratic of any generation.  They also consist of a large percentage of atheists and agnostics.  They’re moderately interested in politics, but what is interesting is their specific political attitudes.

Generation Next is less critical of government regulation of business but also less critical of business itself. And they are the most likely of any generation to support privatization of the Social Security system.

So, they apparently are for big business just as long as there is big government regulating it.  They’re fine with privatizing Social Security which is something many conservatives supported (but I’d be interested if their position on this might change as it becomes more politicized by Republicans).  Related to all of this, they’re not critical of globalization.  They think “that automation, the outsourcing of jobs, and the growing number of immigrants have helped and not hurt American workers.”

They are progressive and optimistic.  Growing up with constant technological change, they embrace change.  Going by other data, I think there two most defining moments are the 9/11 terrorist attack (fear) and the election of President Obama (hope)… from fear to hope.

– – –

Update (1/26/11) – I just came across an NPR interview where Pew data is discussed. The page on the Pew site is dated around the same time (the following month) as the above report. So, it’s probably from the same set of data, but it is a different report. I just wanted to add this because something interesting was stated in the interview. The guest mentioned that Millennials tend to identify as liberals, that they actually use that specific label to describe themselves. In being asked “What Makes Your Generation Unique?”, 7% answered that it was because their generation is liberal/tolerant. It’s unlikely that their liberalism is to change considering they are more liberal than previous generations at the same age. This is remarkable considering how unpopular the liberal label has become with most older people. Here is what it says from the report:

To be sure, Millennials remain the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals; they are less supportive than their elders of an assertive national security policy and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda. They are still more likely than any other age group to identify as Democrats. Yet by early 2010, their support for Obama and theDemocrats had receded, as evidenced both by survey data and by their low level of participation in recent off-year and special elections.

That quote confirms another observation I’ve noted from other data (in particular, Beyond Red vs Blue). Only around a 1/3 of Democrats identify as liberal and almost 1/2 of self-identified liberals consider themselves Independents. So, there might be a loosening of the past alliance between liberals and Democrats which has existed since the Civil Rights movement. However, it’s important to note that these young liberals didn’t switch from Democrat to Republican. Like many other liberals, they’ve chosen to become Independents. Still, I suspect the Democratic Party will always have an appeal to Millennials. The Democratic Party has become identified with a positive vision of government and Millennials are the only generation that has a majority agreeing that “Government should do more to solve problems”.

The Tea Party Teens

Here is my response to the article The Tea Party Teens by David Brooks:

There presently is not coherent and respectable tea party that could actually win a presidential election. The tea party is more held together by what its members are against rather than for. There are some strong divisions (such as b/t the social libertarians and rightwing fundamentalists) within the tea party that will split it apart once the economic situation stabilizes.

The article points out that the issues of intellectuals are becoming less popular, but history shows that anti-intellectualism always flares up temporarily during politically stressful times. It is a bit disturbing on a personal level because I value intellectuality and intelligence in general.  It makes sense though.  When people feel afraid and uncertain, they look to group norms and shared opinions.  Intellectuality, on the other hand, is about thinking for yourself.  People are more likely to think for themselves when they’re not worried about everyday issues such as unemployment, unpaid bills, and home foreclosures.

So where are political trends leading.  It would help to look at it in terms of generations.

Let me start with views of the youngest generation on social issues.  Specifically I’ll focus on the most divisive of issues: abortion.  In general, 18-29 yr olds of any generation tend to be less supportive of abortion rights than the general adult population. There is no reason to assume this won’t be equally as true for GenY as it was for past generations.  However, there are some differences between older and younger GenY.  Older GenYs are extremely liberal and progressive on all issues and younger GenYs are a bit more conservative on social issues, but overall GenY is the most liberal of any generation.

GenY is the largest generation and so they sway public opinion polls, but it’s difficult to infer what this means for future politics.   Polls in the past have shown that a majority of GenY are pro-choice, but this generation is still forming their opinions and so this could change.

Another thing to keep in mind is that GenY is strongly averse to politically divisive issues. Even if younger GenY teens are more socially conservative, it doesn’t mean they’ll be supportive of government enforcing bans on abortions. Younger GenY may be more pro-life, but they’re less pro-life than the 65+ demographic which would seem to imply a general shift of increasing liberalism on the issue.  I definitely wouldn’t look to GenY to carry on the combative style of the Boomers in the political arena.  Strauss and Howe theorize that we’re coming into a period of cooperation and so the prediction is that issues such as abortion will lose their power as wedge issues.

Plus, polls have consistently shown that Americans in general are against total abortion bans and think abortion should be allowed in some situations.  Being pro-life as a personal belief is way different than being anti-abortion as a complete ban enforced by the federal government.

There has been only one recent poll that has shown an increase in those who identify as pro-life. But a single poll, just like a single set of research data, doesn’t prove anything.  Such a poll, for the time being, can only be seen as a fluke, but possibly it is evidence of something.  Only further polls over the next several years can demonstrate if there is a trend.

As for the Tea Party in general, I’ve seen data that shows the Bush administration has caused independents to increasingly lean towards the liberal. Another thing that is interesting is that GenX is the most Republican of any generation right now and yet GenX is very socially liberal. The political map of the next few decades is going to be very different. 

One further point is that younger generations are less open to mixing religion and politics.  I think that is extremely important for the Tea Party movement.  The personas who have dominated the Tea Party are the religious right figures such as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but many people in the Tea Party aren’t followers of the religious right.  If the Tea Party is to survive as a longterm movement it will have to become less stridently focused on religious values.  Instead, the Tea Party should align itself fully with the Libertarian movement including the liberal Libertarians.  Then maybe it could be a force to be reckoned with.

Future of Family Values

I was checking out the comments on an article I recently posted about (The Religious Wars).  I noticed the following comment which is typical of a certain religious attitude.

Sir:

I think that you have written an excellent article on the evolution of religion and one that I enjoyed,

I am an evangelical fundamentalist who takes the Bible as the inspired word of God as He is revealed in the scriptures. That leads me to treat all men with tolerance and to know that I do not hold all the answers.

I find that the one truth in the Bible that holds the most hope for the future is that of the need for strong families. Using grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and the like as role models grounded in faith will solve a number of problems in our nation.

A feeling of family as opposed to a feeling of “I” will make abortion, gay marriage and other questions not so polarizing.

Thank you again for a wonderful read.

— Tom

What stood out to me is that this belief is based on a hope rather than on any facts.  A simple perusal of demographic data shows that the Bible Belt is one of the highest concentrations of immoral behavior.  Many have pointed out (including myself in several other posts) that there is no clear correlation between ideological moralizing and moral behavior, and my guess is that the more ideological the moralizing the less moral the behavior..

Specifically, the emphasis on family caught my attention with the above comment. 

Boomers are known as the Me generation which is largely true, but this misses the larger view.  Their youthful transgressions of “immoral” behavior (drugs, free love, etc.) led to a backlash, but the backlash came from within the Boomer generation and not outside of it.  The Boomers did two things: (1) they focused their self-interest towards money and materialism instead of mere pleasure and freedom, (2) they supported a major uprising of the Evangelical Right.  Before the Boomers, the GOP was the party of civil rights (e.g., Marin Luther King, jr.) and Evangelism was the religious movement of civil rights.  But with Reagan GOP became the party of big business and Evangelical Christianity became righteously ethnocentric.  An ideological shift happened in politics and the Boomers added a dimension of ideological polarization.  This strange Boomer-caused phenomenon lasted for almost a half century.

However, we are now again at the beginning of a new era.  Supposedly, GenXers are more focused on family and are more conservative than Boomers, but GenXers are less ideologically divisive.  Also, an even larger generation (the Millennials) is taking the stage, and they’re even more different than Boomers.  On measurements of moral behavior, they tend toward the lowest numbers that have been seen in a long time.  They are conservative in certain ways including a focus on family, but at the same time they’re extremely socailly liberal.

My basic point is that society is re-focusing on the value of family on personal rather than ideological terms, but this re-focusing is going against the ideological grain of fundamentalist “family values”.  Millennials embrace both the importance of family and the importance of civil rights issues such as gay marriage.  Suck on that fundamentalists!

The New Conservatism: GenX & Millennials

I just watched most of this following video.  It’s a good video about the data on the various generations.  But if you’re already familiar with generations theory, then you probably won’t learn anything new.

The video just reminded me of the changing nature of politics.  Liberal and conservative are labels that, as they’ve been used in the past, don’t apply to what politics is becoming.

Both GenXers and Millennials are more conservative in certain ways than the Boomers, but in less obvious (read: less loud and divisive) ways.

GenXers aren’t politically active in a direct fashion because they mistrust big government and politics in general.  Instead, GenXers prefer influencing society through volunteering and the private sector.  GenXers have had massive influence on society considering their small size, but this influence has primarily been through the technological industry and in particular through creating new social media.

Millennials are even more conservative in their lifestyles despite being very liberal in their political beliefs.  On the level of personal choices, rates of such things as sex an pregnancy are down.  They accept the idea of sacrificing individual needs for the collective good.  They want a government to build and support community.  They value family and they value cooperation.  They are politically opposite of GenXers libertarianism.

What is going to change in the liberal direction is that government will play more of a role.  The reason for this is because only government can ensure a fair egalitarian society and only government can guarantee civil rights.  The GenXers may agree with the good intentions, but many GenXers fear such a potentially oppressive nanny state.  Certain freedoms may be sacrificed in the name of equality… and safety.

The ironic thing is that on the social level this future possible society may be more conservative than what we’ve seen in recent decades with the rise of the Evangelical right.  The Millennials, unlike the Evangelicals, won’t simply be a loud minority.  The Millennials don’t need to be loud because they shall change society through sheer force of numbers.

What is clearly ending is the GOP vision of the invisible hand of the market (which never existed anyways) and trickle-down economics.  Some will consider this to be a redistribution of wealth, but Millennials will see it as fair redistribution of opportunities.  Millennials refuse to believe the Republican propaganda that government fails because the Millennnials have observed how the government has particularly failed when Republicans were in power.  Of course, a party that preaches failure will fail.  Quite different from GenXers, Millennials are optimistic.  They know they’re inheriting large problems and so far that reason they know that large solutions are demanded.

The question now will be whether Millennial optimism will pay off and whether GenXer cynicism will help balance it.

Tea Parties, Smart Mobs, and Generations

Here is a response I gave to someone I know who is fairly conservative.  He feels critical of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and in that I agree with him.
As for the tax protests, I hope you don’t mind my typical long response.  I heard about them, but my sources may be a bit biased: The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.  They showed footage of it being heavily promoted by the Fox channel and attended by media stars.  But your point still stands.  Most of the organization probably was done by local people (such as the protest you attended).  And I’m sure the internet played a major role.
 
I don’t know what can and can’t be considered a smart mob.  I’d guess that most protests are (and have been) locally organized, even nation-wide protests.  Technology has made this easier.  I’d guess that almost all of the protests in the last decade or so have been largely based upon personal media connectivity.  Of course, those in power or seeking power would like to co-opt these social mechanisms.  Obama demonstrated how these new social forces can be contained within and guided by the mainstream political process.  Or, to look at it the other way around, maybe these new social forces have co-opted mainstream political processes… the beginnings of mobocracy?  As another example, you should see what Colbert can accomplish with a simple remark to his audience.  He managed, through a vote that NASA held, to get a piece of the space station named after him.
 
I think what was new with the recent tax protests is that it was a nation-wide smart mob that seemed to have been created by conservatives (true conservatives, you might say, not limited to any political party).  Interestingly, the Fox network was extremely critical of protests during the Bush administration (saying such things as if the protesters don’t like America, then they should leave), but now these same people feel that their voices aren’t as easily heard anymore (and now are supporting these protesters that happen to agree with them).  An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that some of the previous critics of the Democratic party have slowly become increasingly more critical of the Republican party as well.
 
Ever since the ’60s, protesting has been mostly limited to liberals and extremists (or at least that is how it’s often been presented in the media).  This trend is finally shifting (and the media along with it).  I’ve heard the organizing and financing that countered the gay marriage bill in California was largely supported by Mormons.  And now these tea party protests.  It’s interesting that it seems to have taken a community organizing Democratic president to create a social climate that inspires conservatives towards community organized protesting.  Or maybe civic-mindedness is just in the air.
 
The smart mob phenomena is interesting.  I just read an article about Twitter (“Let Them Eat Tweets” by Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times).  In the article, the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling said that “Poor folk love their cellphones!”  The basic idea meaning that those without power and wealth strive for a sense of value through connections and I would add strive to have their voices heard through a collective identity.  This applies to conservatives in two ways.  Many conservatives like yourself feel that the Republican party doesn’t fully represent them and they certainly don’t feel represented by the now in power Democratic party.  So, if you’re a concerned conservative who isn’t as influential (because of a lack of representation… or lack of power and wealth) as you’d like to be, then you’re forced to find new avenues of political action.
I was just thinking about the third party issue.  You might be onto something there.  The traditional two party system has been defined by and hence controlled by traditional media.  With new social dynamics in personal media, this shifts the power and structure of politics.  Prior to discussion boards, blogs, Twitter, and Youtube, the average person had no way to have their voice heard across the nation and across the world.  However, diverse people from diverse places can now organize (easily, quickly and inexpensively).  A party that actually represents the average person might even arise out of all of this.
 
The news industry is being challenged by the internet.  I wonder if this is a sign of shifting socio-political power and influence.  Those who controlled power in the past suddenly realize the game is more complex now.  Monopolies aren’t as easy to maintain as they used to be.  Even so, I wonder whether the power-mongerers will eventually find a way to control and muzzle the new media.  The media conglomerates were the emblem of the modern industrial age (and military-industrial complex?).  Are we entering a new era?  Will there be a new centralizing force of power or is centralized power no longer as viable as it once was?  Political monopolies (e.g., monarchies) lost much of their power in the past few centuries.  What similar historical change might lead industrial monopolies (e.g., international mega-corporations) to a similar demise?  And what kind of democracy might form out of it?
 
I’m also reminded of the protests and patriotism after 9-11 which crossed political lines.  There was a bi-partisan attitude for a while after the terrorist attack.  The families of the twin towers’ victims often weren’t aligning themselves with any party but simply wanted the government to take action.  Although the pro-peace protests were largely supported by liberals (and libertarians), the elected Democratic officials supported the war for the most part.  I spent some time with those involved in the peace protests.  There were people camped out for months.  It was a national protest organized by local citizens that was way more extensive than the tea party protests.  And the internet (before Twitter) was used for much of the organizing.  All these years later, I still receive e-mails from people on the peace camp email list.
 
The problem with protests is that they often don’t do anything more than gain public attention.  Still, in doing that, I suspect they have influence in the long run.  But in the immediate they can be dissatisfying.  I wonder how often protests actually lead to political change.  I suspect that change only ever comes when those in power feel threatened (either by rioting or by being voted out of power).  I’ve always been impressed by a statement made by Martin Luther King Jr.  He said that the only reason white people in power listened to him was because there was an angry young black man behind him with a molotov cocktail.  Basically, he was saying that the status quo only changes when those in power feel they have no other choice.  Or else, going by Kuhn’s model, you just wait for the older generation to die off which I’m assuming isn’t your personal agenda.
 
There is a big difference, though, between protests now and those of a half century ago.  The media is no longer as monolithic despite the government increasing its ability to control its propagandistic message more tightly.  I’d say the reason for this is that personal media has broken down the wall between producers and consumers of media.  It is now less clear who is an authority to be trusted.  Most present tv reporters aren’t any more knowledgeable than the average intelligent person because many reporters no longer research their own material.  Many reporters are just pretty faces, just talking heads.  Reporters are more like average people now and average people are now better informed (from multiple sources).  Any person who is persuasive, insightful and/or well-informed can gain attention and a following on the internet. 
 
More importantly, most of the dispersion of media info is non-centralized meaning no one is controlling it other than the social dynamics of the mob.  And the news industry doesn’t, for the time being, know how to get the genie back into the bottle.  But technological models are being developed to increase centralized control for profit and power.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the largest (if not the largest) internet company in the world (i.e., Google) has been helping the Chinese government to oppress its own people, and some see evidence that internet providers and browsers are filtering information by how they rank subjects.
 
In the ’60s, the government had agents infiltrate protest organizations and they even actively influenced the protest activities such as encouraging illegal activities (this technique was called COINTELPRO).  Surely there are now agents in the tea party protests and all over the internet.  Is COINTELPRO still being used?  It would seem that it was proven in court to still have been used as late as the ’90s (see Bari vs FBI).  I’ve heard the media follows blogs and Twitter in order to detect emerging news topics.  I don’t doubt that the government does the same in order to detect social change such as determining when and where smart mobs are developing.  On a different note, some media and political watchdogs have observed false “grassroots” organizations created as fronts by corporations in order to manipulate their public image or misdirect attention.  The war of media relations and propaganda is ongoing but the average person doesn’t notice because they’re watching mainstream media which is controlled by vested interests.
 
Will smart mobs defy those seeking to maintain control?  It’s particularly interesting to consider in terms of generational shifts.  The civic-mindedness in the air may be related to the civic-minded Millennial generation coming into power through their massive numbers.  It’s partly because of them that Obama won.  I just watched, from a 2008 presentation, Hais and Winograd speak on C-SPAN  about their book Millennial Makeover.  The authors see a political shift occurring that is directly related to the shift in media.  One of the authors said that the Republican party can be a part of this change, but they can only do so by changing their support for laissez-faire politics (and this was said before the economic downturn). 
 
The Millennials are the force that will outnumber even the Boomers by the 2012 election.  This upcoming political force tends towards more liberal views in terms of civil rights (because they grew up with liberal media such as Barney), but also they tend towards more groupthink (the last Civic generation being GIs who held power during the ’50s).  The Boomers were Idealists which is the generational type that is prone to divisiveness and polarized extremism (which has ruled politics for the last several decades).  The Civic generation tends towards unification and cooperation.  The old divisive political tactics won’t work for much longer (not until the next Idealistic generation that is). 
 
If a third party is to be created, this is the time for such a possibility.  But I don’t know if you’ll like it. 
 
The last Civic generation grew up during the depression and WWII.  This present Civic generation is growing up during the War on Terror and the present economic slump.  If the pattern holds, we’ll have a new high period such as happened in the ’50s.  Strauss and Howe describe the ’50s as having a prospering middle class and collectivist infrastructure.  It was the peaceful glory days of American might and power that Boomers knew as children.  However, it wasn’t a time that is remembered for its spiritual depth and cultural richness.  It was an upbeat and externally focused period.  The ideal of social responsibility was central, but so was the attitude of following the Jones’s.  Also, it wasn’t a time of libertarian values such as small government.  Nor for traditional moral values because traditional community identity waned (along with close connections with extended family) as urbanization increased and because materialism became rampant as society’s enthrallment with technological wonders increased.  However, because of all the social destabilization, there was new emphasis on the nuclear family as being the saving grace and bedrock of society.
 
From my perspective, much of the GI generation seems to correlate with what is going on with Millennials.  But, as always, time will tell.
 
Another interesting factor came up in the C-SPAN video from a question by someone in the crowd.  The person asked about the reliability of information on the web.  One of the authors said that this was mostly an issue for older folks.  Millennials are naturally suspicious of all info and always look for the spin.  That might be something that distinguishes Millennials from the GIs.  In the ’50s people trusted the media with little question because reporters were greatly respected. 
The potential failing of the Millennials is that they trust their peers too much.  Groupthink was a major force in the ’50s, but groupthink could be magnified to detrimental levels in the present world of personal media echo chambers.  The only thing that can counter this is the varied sources of info that is now available.

G.I.s and Millennials

In the theory of Strauss and Howe, the Millennial generation is the same archetype in the cycle as were the G.I. generation.

They are supposedly similar in that they’re both optimistic and civic-oriented generations, and similar in that they both have high expectations of society and themselves. The other similarity is that they both dealt with a major war (started by an attack on American soil) and financial crisis early in their lives.

However, the world is very different now. For the G.I.s, the Depression came before the war and so they returned to a country that was better off than when they left. The G.I.s were given tons of opportunities by society: cheap education, cheap housing, plentiful job openings, high wages, etc. Society actually lived up to their high expectations. Quite differently, the Millennials are fighting a war that can’t be won and they’re not treated as heroes on their return. What they get offered is expensive education, expensive housing, fewer job openings, and lower wages. To say the least, society isn’t living up to their high expectations.

Twenge claim that the Millennials are narcissistic and unrealistically demanding. As I see it, they may or may not be narcissistic in some ways, but certainly not in others. They are actually a very group-oriented generation, not that narcissism can’t include a focus on others because research has shown that it can. Strauss and Howe have written that Twenge was only looking at research that used self-reports. As such, Millennials speak in terms that sound narcissistic, but that is because they’re simply parroting back what they were taught by Boomers. However, Strauss and Howe claim that other evidence shows that their actual behavior is the opposite of narcissistic. For example, they volunteer more than the generations that came right before them.

Anyways, my point is that they’re no more narcissistic than the Great Generation of the G.I.s. The G.I.s were just as demanding of society and just as much wanted a good life right away. The G.I.s came back from the war and they felt they deserved a good life and not that they had to “earn” it. They wanted a good job, a nice house, and a perfect family; and they wanted it immediately. They got what they wanted, but we blame Millennials for the same expectation. The Millennials have also fought for America’s freedom. Why don’t they also deserve the good life that the G.I.s received? Why don’t they deserve to be treated as heroes for all of their sacrifices? Why do many people glorify the G.I.s who represent our past all the while criticizing the Millennials that represent our future?

According to the theory, Millennials have the potential to become another Great Generation. The Boomers, for good or ill, have dominated society for the last half century. When we speak of the present American culture we are speaking of Boomer culture. Boomers are at the start of the cycle. They disturbed the previous order and jumpstarted the digital age, but they’ve also been a brake on continued progress. They haven’t embraced technology and instead they’ve become known for their Neo-conservativism as represented by Bush Jr.

Interestingly, the G.I. generation is known for its many great presidents. But, despite their size, Boomers have had only two presidents (neither of which will probably be remembered as great… certainly not as inspiring speakers) before the smaller in number Gen Xers managed to get a president in. That is even more interesting because Boomers are known for their dominance of mainstream culture and Gen Xers have mostly played a lesser role in the background.

The generations following have been very different from the Boomers Neo-conservativism,. Gen Xers (because of?) their alternative tendencies and certainly because of their small numbers have been more conservative (in the traditional Libertarian sense). Millennials are supposedly more Progressive. As the theory goes, we are hitting the crises point of the Fourth Turning. Gen Xers role is to be the realist leaders that guide the civic-minded Millennials, and thus create a new social order. However, credit must really be given to the Millennials because it will only be their numbers that can counteract the numbers of the Boomers (and other previous generations).

Not to put the Boomers down, but I think America is ready for some real change. I know I’m excited to see where the world will go. Strauss and Howe predicted that if the Silent generation (the one following the G.I. generation) McCain was elected it would slow down the change that is happening and if the Gen Xer Obama was elected it would speed it up. They’ve been right about their predictions of the last couple of decades (e.g. school dress codes and school security in the ’90s, and major crises in the first decade of the new century) and so I hope they’re right about this one. However, they also predict that the following 20 years will be challenging and I wouldn’t mind them being wrong about that.

As a cynical Gen Xer, I’m not always the most optimistic about society. Gen Xers grew up as latchkey kids and because of this have some issues with abandonment and need for security. Gen Xers are actually more stable and family-oriented than the Boomers who had lives that revolved around their careers.

So, I’m cynical about the groupthink conformity of Millennials and their bland mainstream pop culture. I do fear that since they’ve grown up in schools that resemble something out of a police state that they might go too far in their acceptance of letting their civic rights be taken away for “the greater good”. To them, walking through metal detectors and having cameras watch them is normal. They’re used to having no privacy and so they don’t value it.

On the other hand, they have the potential of creating social institutions that actually benefit society as a whole. They will revolutionize society and I look forward in particular to the massive technological shift that will most likely happen in the near future. The world they will create will be a very connected culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more change in the next few decades than we’ve seen in a century or two.