Can Jacinda Ardern inspire a new generation?

The intermittently hopeful Chris Trotter asks  Can Jacinda Ardern, like President Kennedy before her, inspire youth?

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.” –  John F. Kennedy

Nothing in President Kennedy’s inaugural address resonated in the hearts of young Americans, and the youth of the world, like the words quoted above.

Nothing in what Ardern has said so far comes close to anything like this rhetoric.

The big question for 2018, therefore, is: what are the motives and values connecting New Zealand’s 37-year-old prime minister with the generations born after the post-war Baby Boom?

The full measure of that success is captured in Kennedy’s proud boast that, thanks to humanity’s technological prowess, “man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

The Ancient Greeks would have called this hubris – and they would have been right.

But what of the generation for whom Jacinda now speaks? Untempered by war; undisciplined by the existential stakes attached to global ideological competition; unimpressed with their nation’s colonial heritage; and uncommitted to the universal definition of human rights for which Kennedy pledged his country’s all on that chilly January morning in 1961: for what will the Millennial Generation “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe”?

Well, for a start, they would probably refuse to be bound by such an open-ended and reckless pledge. “Any price?”, they would respond. “No, not any price. The world has had enough of men who commit the lives of millions to the fulfilment of promises they had no right to make.”

For a great many millennial women, JFK, himself, is a problem. “If #Me Too had been around in 1963,” they ask, “how many women would have come forward to denounce the President?”

Politics, media and the ability forr anyone to speak up have changed markedly in the last sixty years.

Jacinda’s millennials are not well disposed to big promises, all-encompassing systems and unyielding ideologies. They have grown up amidst the havoc wrought by a generation far too prone to alternating fits of selfless idealism with bouts of hedonistic excess. That all their Baby Boomer parents’ enthusiasms boiled down to, in the end, was the cold and selfish cynicism of neoliberalism, taught them all they need to know about the malleability of human aspirations.

The Labour Leader’s brisk “Let’s Do This” slogan was perfectly pitched to an audience more intent on achieving small dreams than grand visions.

Or was it largely a typical reaction in the age of celebrity worship with little though of the politics? It was probably a mix of both – Ardern did impress with how adeptly she stepped up into the Labour leadership role, and she did what was needed to do a deal with Winston Peters (but given his animosity and legal action against people in National  that may have been fairly easy to achieve).

Sanders and Corbyn were the proof that growing old did not have to mean growing cynical and cruel. The Millennials looked at the career politicians of their own generation and saw far too much evidence of wholesale generational surrender. How had so many twenty-something minds been taken over by so many hundred-year-old ideas? Sanders’ and Corbyn’s bodies may have been old, but their thinking was as young as the kids who cheered them on.

I suspect a lot of Ardern’s support was quite a bit more shallow than Trotter thinks.

This, then, is the torch which the Prime Minister is being asked to carry into 2018. The inspirational torch of authenticity which dispels the darkness of hypocrisy. If she truly wishes to change their world, Jacinda must first prove to her generation that the world is not changing her.

That’s an impossible wish.

Any politician is changed by the world they grow up in, and by how their career unfolds. Anyone suddenly elevated to being leader of a country has to change considerably to manage many conflicting pressures, and in reaction to events as they unfold.

Ardern will change New Zealand a bit for sure. Whether she will change the country in a direction and to the degree that Trotter wishes is another matter. It’s unlikely she will come close – but Trotter’s ideals seem to be stuck in the past, and the millenials and whatever else post baby boomer voters and MPs are labelled.

Ardern has already changed significantly – she has moderated Labour policy ‘promises’, and she has already lost the openness and energy that she launched her leadership with.

The holiday break, such as it is for a new Prime Minister, may give Ardern the opportunity to refresh and launch into 2018 with a grand vision for a new generation, but she still has to deal with the needs and the votes of the baby boomers.

It will be an interesting year – it’s hard to predict how Ardern will evolve as Prime Minister, but Trotter is likely to continue as a political manic depressive.

 

 

 

 

 

The young vote in the US

A lot of young people in the US are not happy with the current political system and what it delivers. Many of them are also not happy with the two major party choices in the presidential  election.

Bernie Sanders got a lot of his support from the younger age group. This demographic now has the dilemma of whether to punish Hillary in the polling booths, or doing what they can to keep Donald Trump out.

There could be a rise in support for other candidates – there are others standing for president but it’s hard to tell what impact this will have on the end result.

Alternet: Are Young Voters Sick of the Two-Party System?

As the reality of a “binary choice” between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump becomes all too clear, a large portion of young voters are rejecting the two-party system that has long dominated the U.S. political scene.

According to a poll by GenForward, only 28 percent of people in the crucial 18-30 demographic agree that the “two major parties do a good job of representing the American people.”

The future looks even bleaker for the Republicans: more than two-thirds of young voters—and especially young minority voters—say the Grand Old Party does not care about them. (First step to fix this, I humbly submit: choose a more subtle, less ageist nickname.)

Comparatively, support among millennials is much stronger for the Democratic Party. Fifty-three percent of young Americans say Democrats care about the issues important to them. According to a USA Today poll, about half of young people surveyed identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning.

Bernie gave many of them hope for something radically different, but Clinton, the establishment candidate, got the nomination.

“It’s hard to overemphasize how completely and utterly Sen. Bernie Sanders dominated the youth vote to this point in the 2016 presidential campaign,” the Washington Post reported in June. “In the 2016 campaign, Sanders won more votes among those under age 30 than the two presumptive major-party presidential nominees combined. And it wasn’t close.”

A 2014 Pew study found that people born after 1980, “are more racially diverse and socially liberal than any other age group,” the New York Times reports. And while millennials tend to agree the Democratic Party is generally more in line with their liberal values, “40 percent of those in this age group say they are politically independent.”

That’s a lot of potential swing voters. Their problem this year is the poor choices they have for major party candidates.

Among those early supporters of a Sanders presidency and progressive platform, a July poll by the Hill found almost half were considering supporting a third-party candidate in lieu of Clinton.

That could easily make the difference – between votes for Clinton and Trump.

The Economic Times: Majority of US young adults reject Donald Trump: Poll

Despite US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s strategy of patching together a bipartisan coalition by appealing to the millions of young supporters of former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, a new poll found that his populist play had so far failed among millennials.

The latest USA Today/Rock the Vote poll released on Sunday found that while 56 per cent of voters under 35 say they would vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, one in five in this age .

The number of the Millennial generation, now 18-34, was estimated to be 75.4 million.

About half of all those polled (54% of Trump supporters and 51% of Clinton supporters) say they will vote to keep one candidate out rather then for the other candidate. The least worst voting option.

Yesterday I spoke with a twenty year old from Idaho, currently studying at Otago.

She said she feels embarrassed about the state of politics and the candidates on offer. She has been politically active – she didn’t say but I suspect she was one of the Sanders supporters. She will probably vote to keep Trump out, so she is similar to many who were polled.

They may have missed out getting their preferred candidate nominated this time but the young voters may be a deciding demographic if someone can tap into their determination to do things markedly different. That looks like having to wait until 2020, but by then it may take someone closer to their age group than Sanders, who I suspect won’t try again then. He turns 75 next month.