Atlantic Readers Assess the Impact of the Political Generation Gap

“The Democratic Party must learn from the mistakes of 1968 and be more open to diversified discourse if it wants to effectively use generational shifts to its advantage.”

The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois (Associated Press)

The Coming Generation War

Last week, Niall Ferguson and Eyck Freymann showed that the Democratic Party is rapidly becoming the party of the young—and that Republicans are leaning ever more heavily on retirees. Both parties, they argued, are already feeling the effects of this generation-based realignment.

“America’s political future,” Ferguson and Freymann wrote, “will be determined by the outcome of the generation war.”

I’m a member of Generation Z who has become disillusioned with establishment politics and the two-party system.

Democrats’ political infighting and the youth bloc’s lack of faith in the voting process bring to mind the political civil war that occurred in 1968; much can—and should—be learned from that event. The increasing normalization of radical policy among Millennials and Generation Z parallels the emergence of the New Left in the mid-to-late 1960s. That movement culminated in the Democratic National Convention riots and the eventual restructuring of the party. If the Democrats do wish to capitalize on the youth vote and the leftward surge today, they must reassess the existence of superdelegates and how the nomination process functions. This is one of the reasons some of my peers and I feel alienated from the party despite our leftist views. We know candidates who truly reflect our ideology will never gain traction.

While this article pits party affiliations against one another, I find it much more common for me and my peers to care about individual issues. Many of us have become jaded with the system because it forces party loyalty. On the one hand, I support radical economic, environmental, and immigration policy. On the other, I feel alienated from the left due to my more libertarian and anti–politically correct inclinations.

As I see it, the Democratic Party must learn from the mistakes of 1968 and be more open to diversified discourse if it wants to effectively use generational shifts to its advantage.

Bea Millan-Windorski
Milwaukee, Wis.

In assessing the impact of this generational gap, the authors overlook one important factor: Last year, The Washington Post reported that by 2040, about 50 percent of the population will live in eight states. An additional fifth of the population will occupy another eight states, and the remaining 30 percent will be dispersed in the other 34 states. Let’s assume that those first eight states, and maybe a handful more, are blue—and that the rest are red. That would mean that Democrats would be underrepresented in the Senate and virtually sure to never have a majority in the coming decades; Republicans would control appointments to the Supreme Court and other Senate-confirmable jobs. Also at stake would be the likelihood of a Democratic president.

How will the unrepresented 50 percent react to minority rule?

Jerilyn Famighetti
New York, N.Y.

From my perspective, the coming generation war can go one of two ways: Either young folks take over our governmental institutions by sheer force of demographic shifts or older power brokers in the Republican Party use America’s lack of democracy to further consolidate minority rule. Already, Republicans’ answer to political threats has been to restrict democracy. We see it with gerrymandering and a range of voter-suppression tactics. Antidemocratic change is also built into the Constitution with the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, and the Senate. Leaving out this possibility is a major oversight in an otherwise well-reasoned article.

Corey Pech
Columbus, Ohio

One reader responded on Facebook:

Nicholas Severn wrote: I was just discussing this with my wife the other day; we’re getting at the point in our lives where demographically we’d be becoming solid republicans if this were the 1950s or 1960s, however we don’t have any desire to change our voting patterns (even if it does mean we pay a bit more in taxes). Most of my peers seem to be the same way and of those who are Republicans they typically have been Republicans their entire adult lives for cultural reasons. I wonder if they’ve effectively lost a generation or two.