By Sharon Jones
The common theme that began at the end of World War II, was a warning against the perils of communism and the evil that the Stalinist regime presented. The world became divided as a the “Iron Curtain” was erected across Eastern Europe. Treaties were violated on both sides and animosity prevailed. As the United States entered the Korean War in the 50’s, our adversaries could only be framed as “evil”.
Evil draws reactions and the reactions across our country were reinforced daily as the rhetoric escalated. It was in the 50’s that “one nation under God” was introduced to the pledge of allegiance and “In God We Trust” was added to the currency, as counter moves to the atheist regime that was the Soviet Union. Any term remotely close to socialism, became a dirty word and the widely discredited book, “The Naked Communist” became a best seller while proclaiming that homosexuality and modern art were tools of communist infiltration. McCarthy had his famous hearings, ruining the lives and careers of all those accused. The John Birchers rose in the 60’s to proclamations of constant communist conspiracy. It is safe to say that overreaction was integral to the Cold War on both sides.
Massive corporations were espoused as a societal good and means to advancement in retort to the extreme that was total state ownership. The ideologies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were for the extreme liberalization of economics and privatization of any government entities, as was shown in South American economies wherein the CIA propped up right wing dictators and explored the purest Milton Friedman economic models.
It didn’t stop. Mutually Assured Destruction was the concept that kept us alive and kids were taught to cower under their school desks when the nuclear bomb sirens started to blow.
In the eighties, we formulated Star Wars, as a fake nuclear deterrent and Ronald Reagan pronounced in Berlin, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It was back and forth. Paranoia on both sides and then it just ended in 1989 as people rushed across the borders from the Eastern Bloc to the West. The West had officially outspent the East in military expenditures, in a strategy concocted in 1978. It was over and with it was the rhetoric.
Millennials have become the first generation without the polarization and fear of the Cold War, and with that they are different. It shows in this election cycle more than ever. The nasty words of prior times have taken on new meanings that are no longer detrimental.
That a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” could attract the amount of Millennial support as he has and furthermore motivate them to be politically active, perfectly illustrates the change. A word that was once considered evil in prior generations, has become a compassionate term with today’s young.
Religion was extremely important during a time period when the United States led the fight against the atheists that comprised the Eastern Bloc. It was constantly reaffirmed that the United States was a Christian nation in response to the lack of religion that our evil adversaries displayed. With the disintegration of the Soviet threat, the current up and coming generation did not feel such religious pressure. As a result, the largest segment of Millennials, 35%, proclaims no religious affiliation. It is a phenomenon that has never happened in the United States, as all previous generations have had evangelic protestants as the largest segment of their population.
The once evil term of socialism has reached the status of “cool” with Millennials, as the Sanders’ campaign has found the majority of its support among the younger generations. What was once a dirty word, has become a term to indicate the reversal of massive social inequality that this generation has seen in their lifetimes with the 2008 financial meltdown. As evidence, 1.5 million voters under 30 have so far cast a ballot for Bernie Sanders, which is more than double those that have cast a ballot for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
It seems that growing up without the great enemy has allowed the rethink of American values that might be overdue from the last 35 years of stagnation in upward mobility and wage gains. The Millennial generation has become synonymous with eschewing possessions in favor of experiences and avoiding purchases and investments in favor of simple saving. Despite the indications of selfishness and laziness that every older generation looks for as destruction of their values by the next generation, they generally aren’t there this time. The lack of indoctrination and effects of boom and bust economics have created a generation with a whole different approach.
Fox News has an average viewer age of 59. Rush Limbaugh is being shuttled in major markets as his listener base declines (dies off?). It seems the baton is being passed in ways previously not thought by the Cold War crowd.
What is happening is a social transformation in up and coming generations not raised with an extreme enemy. The old guard of common evils and steadfast archetypes of wrong are being replaced with moderation. A new generation is seeking balance and they are the creation of the excesses of the prior generations. They see that trickle down is a failed ideology and the American ideal of anyone being able to be wealthy as simply untrue.
As the United States now has the lowest amount of wealth possessed by its middle class among its peer countries (please see the charts in the Moyers and Company article), it might just be the up and coming generation that brings us back to the social mobility the U.S. once set the standard for.
It is without any hesitancy that we feel Millennials might be our greatest generational asset since the generation that sacrificed for the United States in WWII. Maybe the lack of an extreme enemy combined with the overindulgence of prior generations, have created the activism and response that is long overdue.
Sharon Jones is a zenruption contributor and frequent contributor to our politics and life sections. We feel she has an amazing grasp on societal dynamics and trust her implicitly. She earns even more trust when she offers to pay for the round of drinks for the team.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license