Politics / We The People

Generational Shifts – The More Things Change, the More They Don’t


Maybe it has always been this way, older Americans appreciating more, younger ones less, about the greatness of America.  Older Americans have lived more history, seen combat or been part of a generation that did, know the roll and tumble of life, and value of freedom in restoring ballast.   Exceptions abound, but recent polls are instructive. 

For starters, older Americans love this country – deeply.  One Pew poll records that more than twice as many older Americans believe America “is the greatest country in the world” than those ages 18 to 29.  In another, more than 90 percent of older Americans count themselves “very patriotic,” a number tapering to 70 percent for “millennials” (i.e. born between 1981 and 1996). 

Not surprisingly, data reinforces intuition.  Many older Americans served in the military, a demographic data-point reflecting World War II, Korea and Vietnam – events that defined generations.  To younger Americans, these events are history lessons.

Similarly, America will have a quarter fewer veterans over 50 in just 25 years.  This means fewer local, state and national leaders from veteran ranks, which may affect policy.  On one hand, those who have seen combat work hardest to avoid it; on the other, they know stepping up is what preserves freedom.  America is no accident.

Generational gaps pop up elsewhere, sometimes sharp.  For example, without distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration, 79 percent of millennials say immigrants “strengthen” rather than “burden” America, while older Americans are not so sure.  Asked to consider all immigration together, they split with 47 percent steering to “strengthen.”   

The implication is that older Americans, having grown up primarily with legal immigration, are doubtful of illegal immigration – indeed, highly critical of lawlessness and a merger of illegal and legal immigration as one group. 

Another cross current:  Millennials trust diplomacy to resolve the world’s stickiest problems, demurring on military action, while those who lived through successive periods of failed diplomacy are more cautious. While everyone prefers peace to war, 77 percent of millennials have faith diplomacy will deter war, while 43 of the oldest generation believe that is so.

Another standout observation is the ideological tilt of those born the year Ronald Reagan took office or in the 15 years after that.  Most have no memory of Reagan’s powerful, historically informed, world-changing and conservative leadership.  He, too, is just a name from the past.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, they tip hard liberal.  They are more inclined to favor centralized government, redistribution of wealth, and socially liberal viewpoints.  They minimize the need for military strength to deter aggression, have less fear of socialism – having not lived through the Cold War.  They enjoy but may not recognize the source of their individual liberties.

Of interest, millennials freely decouple morality and faith, defining morality less cohesively, fewer attesting to religious faith.   One in three millennials consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.  Only one in ten older Americans do that – and older Americans describe themselves mostly as Christian, in Pew polls.

On numbers, 57 percent of millennials say they are “liberal,” only 12 percent “conservative.”  Among older Americans, more describe themselves as conservative than liberal. 

All this leads to two overarching conclusions, one obvious and the other less so. 

First, many policy positions held by older and younger Americans reflect generational views – about America and the world.  For example, twice the number of older Americans than millennials favor President Trump’s border wall.   Many older Americans fought for the national security the wall would preserve or remember what it took to preserve citizenship.

Second, the more Americans change, the more we stay the same.  Issues shift, some radically, but generations grow up.   Consolingly, another Pew study reached a profoundly reassuring conclusion.  Half a century “after the Woodstock music festival glorified and exacerbated the generational fractures in American life,” generations move on. 

Specifically, “the modern generation gap is a much more subdued affair than the one that raged in the 1960s” and “relatively few Americans of any age see it as a source of conflict — either in society at large or in their own families.” 

So, we Americans need to keep teaching and learning history – ours and the worlds.  We are all fortunate.  We are free to teach, live, learn, disagree and age with grace.  This freedom came from somewhere.  Appreciation for that fact only comes with age and leads back to love for America.  Generations of Americans tend to learn – whether we like it or not – slowly.  What they tend to learn, is how great it is to be Americans.

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Jack Thomas
2 years ago

It’s hardly a surprise that the younger generation is largely liberal in its views. It’s even less surprising that Millennials have little appreciation for (let alone knowledge of) what our Founding Fathers sacrificed so they could enjoy the freedom they have today. After all, look who’s been teaching them in elementary and high school: Liberals, to an alarming degree. Look who’s been teaching them in college: Liberals, almost exclusively at the university level today. You won’t get hired as a professor in 99 percent of major American universities unless you ARE a liberal. That’s a fact. And who does the younger generation get its news from, who do they trust? The NY Times, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, etc. — the least reliable sources for truth, but the richest sources for left-wing bias. And sadly, too many Millennials and even a lot of the 40+ crowd think the garbage they’re being spoon-fed by academics and the mainstream news media is Gospel. This is part of a systemic problem in our country that’s both insidious and dangerous. It’s eroding the younger generation’s sense of pride, patriotism, and appreciation for the greatest nation in the world. But then, how can we expect the Millennials to have a more positive viewpoint when you have the likes of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying openly at a recent press conference, “America was never that great.”

2 years ago
Reply to  Jack Thomas

I think the only good that came out of desegregation and “talk” of integration is realizing that “it’s better to know than not to know”.. Somehow living apart makes for irrational fears. not we can’t be overwhelmed today.. But I believe desegregation was smart because of the sad realization of how toxic isolation can be. Unfortunately it seems that’s not why Blacks wanted desegregation.. Like immigrants they feel a great alibi for “self-improvement” is aspiring a “quality of life” change.. This doesn’t necessarily entail introspection, conscientious soul-searching, meditation, prayer or any thought.. It remains SKIN DEEP and so the superficiality of the up coming generations because these are the people with the loudest voices but the most selfish psychologies. It sad to see Blacks promote this style of living among gays, feminists, immigrants and what have you.. Unfortunately considering themselves America’ s darlings when in fact and Reagan “hit it on the head” or at least his pundits by calling him The GREAT COMMUNICATOR.. This is what’s lacking young and old.. and poor communication means poor or no thought activity given to what is said or what is decided.. NO WISDOM and as we know that unsearchable wisdom beyond all understanding (to put it in monumental terms) is one source.. So I think we are seeing wisdom is not automatically a human potential but god-given through prayer.. Eliminating prayer? Well, that’s kind of a death trap since you’re only biting the hand that feeds you.

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