How Brexit and Bernie Sanders’s downfall betrayed millennials
Does our vote really count? (Photo: Rob Stothard/AP, taken from The Guardian)
Millennials aren’t afraid to voice their opinion. As one myself, I would gladly march for government transparency, speak out for LGBT rights, and fight for a woman’s right to choose. We used to be criticised for feeling entitled, for being complacent, for being dependent; but now, after we are voicing our thoughts, it seems like our opinions don’t matter.
This bitter rejection of our political views hurts future participation, and furthermore, it sponsors a dangerous sentiment of mistrust and anger.
Shortly before I began to write, Twitter was filled with outrage from millennials who voted Remain during the EU referendum, and are now faced with the prospect of dealing with the fallout. According to a YouGov poll conducted after the referendum the majority of those under the age of 49 voted in favour of Remain.To them, it seemed unfair that the older generations who didn’t need to contend with the long-term results unilaterally decided their future for them. In more ways than not, the end of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and Brexit exemplifies how millennials fought for their vision of the future, but were overridden by an older generation.
This is not a piece written to attack older generations, nor is this a criticism of those who voted Leave — this is a piece that tries to give voice to those who are disillusioned into complacency.
Bernie Sanders is not a gifted orator like how political commentators say of Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio — nor does he play to the masses like Donald Trump. But Sanders is gifted with the ability to resonate with millennials, to unite them around values that they all share: a living wage, increased income equality and equity, and greater state support for education and healthcare. In fact, an astonishing 84% of registered Democrats that were 30 or under supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries. The main difference between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns is not just political convictions, but rather, age.
Sure, the argument exists that millennials are a lazy and dependent generation bred for Sanders’s brand of socialism. But millennials are the ones that owe on average $35,000 in student loans; they are the ones that are more likely to be unemployed or imprisoned in the middle class because of stagnated wages. In short, millennials have every right to fight for what they believe in, regardless of their motivations.
Yet despite broad support from millennials, it is Clinton that has won the Democratic primary, not Sanders.
Though I’m not British, I fully endorse and supported the Remain campaign. Like many non-Brits, I expected the United Kingdom to vote remain — which, to us, seemed like the most rational choice. Yet, once again, like many non-Brits, I was stunned by the outcome, especially from an electorate known for being intelligent and rational thinkers. But the difference between the Remain and Leave campaign was not rationality versus irrationality, but rather, youth versus age.
Considering only the relatively informed electorate (which eliminates the thousands of frantic post-referendum queries on Google about the EU and Brexit), according to the YouGov poll, an average of 65.5% of those under the age of 49 voted to remain — a figure that is more representative when considering 75% of those between the ages 18-25 voted Remain. Yet, the results tipped in favour of those above the age of 49.
“We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.” - Nicholas Barrett
But the truly terrifying aspect is that the vast majority of those who voted to Remain were driven by a nationalistic fervour. Admittedly, Brexit was rooted in a misconstrued, and romanticised past -- it represented an yearning to return to an age of “independence” from external influences. Not only is that an outdated and foolish thought, it defies the liberal school of international relations that globalisation and interconnectivity have come to characterise.
Hundreds of tweets, much like the ones above, echoed the anger felt by British millennials. They did not choose the result, yet they are the ones forced to accept the burden imposed by this result. I know that as a Taiwanese national, if my older generations voted unilaterally to change my country’s status, I would feel equally betrayed, equally ashamed, and equally angry. A country’s future should be decided after hearing and considering the views of those who will be impacted the most. Millennials.
Brexit, Donald Trump, 2016 political rhetoric. These are part of the downfall of representative democracy. The demise of democracy with reason.
Admittedly, no matter the anger, no matter the price, these are all parts of the majority rule under a democratic process. However, at the end of the day, it will be millennials who pay the price. It is us who will pay the taxes to fund healthcare, Social Security, and infrastructure. But it is also us who will suffer the consequences of a decision made for us overwhelmingly by an older generation. For all intents and purposes, Brexit and Bernie Sanders’s demise can be seen as just another attack on our generation’s future. As the Leave Campaign aptly (and ironically) puts it, “You do not speak for us, and we hold you in some contempt for your failure to represent, or even understand, our concerns.”
While this is not a blanket criticism of democratic system as a whole, we must understand two main criteria which modern democratic practises are built upon. Modern day democracies attempted to shift away from a direct democratic process for several reasons, but amongst them is a fear for the rise of a populist democracy. With Brexit and Trump’s rise, without a doubt that our system is heavily flawed. Democracies rely on information, rationality, and respect for the minority; But today with Brexit, misinformation and irrationality dominated the political discourse, and after the decision, millennials, as the minority, was bereft of any protection mechanisms. From this, we shouldn’t be criticising the concept of majority rule however, but rather, perhaps what we need to consider is how modern democracies have drifted from representative democracies, as well as consider the reasons why an entire generation’s voice are not being heard in the current system.
We millennials did exactly what Generation X and those before asked us to. We stood up for our beliefs, and resoundingly voted for those. Yet, the sad truth is this: Our roars have fallen on deaf ears. While I, like many others my age, try to believe in the best of humanity, but it is hard to believe that millennials like us can continue to fight, can continue to speak as they have spoken if their choices continue to be trampled upon. Sanders and Brexit are done deals — but it doesn’t have to spell the end of our fight.
To my older generations, if you want us to live in complacency, keep doing what you’re doing. But if you want us to be invested in our future, listen to our thoughts. Listen to the song that we sing. Support our fight for our future.
To my older generations, hear us roar.
Chuang is a contributor for The Millennial Times.