This is the Manifesto for the Millennial Liberal
Almost exactly 4 years ago, as an expat grad student in England, I wrote a piece on Medium voicing my unequivocal support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. Three months after I published it, I woke up to the news that the people of the United Kingdom had voted to exit the European Union. Shortly after, I moved back home to the States and very nervously monitored the final months of Hillary campaigning against Trump.
On Tuesday, 8 November 2016, the entire world watched the votes from our presidential election trickle in. Since then, as the unimaginable became reality, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented display of the abuse of power, while the legislative and judicial branches of our government become increasingly subsumed under the brute force of the executive branch.
I thought a lot about the parallels between Brexit and Trump’s success and whether there were larger global forces at play that we needed to account for, having spent an entire year reading economic and social history. But in the immediate aftermath of the election, there was a lot of vilifying and finger pointing from the left that was understandable, but unjustified. Even today, there’s a razor-sharp focus on identity politics as the driving force behind Trump’s electoral win. I absolutely am not discounting the role that identity politics does play in bringing people together and / or stoking fear, especially when it’s something that the media has come to weaponize.
But we’re ignoring the bigger story.
We know from Karl Marx’s concept of the superstructure and base (somewhere out there an internet troll is getting his wings as he furiously denounces me for being a communist) that our current production and consumption system drives individual behavior, controls political winds, and informs how disparate parts of society come together. Production and consumption are the economic building blocks of a capitalist society, which forms the base. Everything not directly related to the economy, like art, culture, or politics, is the superstructure. The base shapes the superstructure, while the superstructure maintains and provides legitimacy to the base.
This was a roundabout way of saying that social values aren’t developed in a vacuum–they’re byproducts of institutions and the way society is organized, and specifically the way our society has come to be organized around our economy.
Since Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America, the discourse around politics has not given sufficient attention to how our institutions might be fucked up. We’re well aligned on how important it is to get Trump out of office, but not everyone has coalesced behind why he got there in the first place and what we need to do to prevent demagogues from taking control in the future. I believe that we have yet to have a productive conversation about what it means to have an economic system that goes beyond profit maximization as the bottom line. Until we do so, there will remain a pressing need for systemic change.
This is a manifesto for the millennial liberal. It outlines my framework for understanding:
- The economic theories behind why we’re in this situation
- The role policy and the government must play in equalizing society
- The power we the people need to wield to ensure that our voices are heard
At its core, this is a synthesis of ideas around history, philosophy, and political economy that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. I’m publishing it now not only because Bernie is running for president again, but also because I believe that more people need to understand why so many young people are calling for change. It was primarily born based on questions that my friends asked me about the political sphere, and questions that I wanted answered myself. What I found in the process of crowd-sourcing ideas is that most people recognize that they’re left-leaning, but haven’t grounded themselves in the specifics. This piece does the heavy lifting for you. I break down definitions, synthesize ideas, and provide my perspective on a normative set of policies for a better society. Nonetheless, there’s something in here for everyone, especially if you fit into any one of the following categories:
- If you believe you are liberal but not why and it’s too late to ask
- If you want to have a perspective but have no time to do your own digging
- If you are confused and don’t know where to begin
- If you’re a millennial, or if you know one
- Other: ___________________ (cheating a bit with this one)
If you’re short on time, I’ve pulled up all of my headers here for a quick summary of the entire manifesto:
- The United States is facing an ideological identity crisis
- What politicians tried to do to close the widening divide in our nation hasn’t worked
- The future demands a new way of conceptualizing our production and consumption systems
- We the people need to act
Chapter I – What are we even talking about right now?
- Democrats seem to have set an upper limit for liberalism
- Democrats, however, have not set an upper limit for neoliberalism
- There is no such thing as a free market, despite what they say
- They also don’t want you to know that governments can be active, smart, and productive
- Liberty is more important than democracy when democratic institutions can be exploited
- The liberal tenets of our constitution need to be enshrined and maintained through legislation
Chapter II – What should we be talking about, then?
- We need to restore the state’s legitimacy and ability to make a positive impact on the lives of everyday people
- Human progress is being hampered by the destructive tendencies of neoliberalism
- The hierarchy of inequality is constructed, rather than an objective economic truth
- Only a society that ensures justice for all is fair
- To ensure justice for all, we also need to give power back to the people
Chapter III – What now?
- Decision-makers are merely fallible humans in elected positions
- As the people, we not only need to take back power but also empower those that have been historically marginalized
- Progressive policies are defining how government and society should look in the 21st century
You can click through each of these to read specific sections, or you can go through it chronologically. I slapped the entirety of the manuscript into Medium and got back a reading estimate of ~60 minutes (it’s 15,000 words lmao my master’s dissertation was barely longer), so pace yourself as you see fit.
I cannot express enough that this is my worldview. But it’s one thing to to believe in something as an individual and another to attempt to apply it ad nauseum to a country of 330 million people. The conflicting ideas within the political sphere often boil down to individual disagreements. My broader objective in life is understanding how to improve outcomes for all, both now and in the future. It should be clear at the end, then, that our generation must catalyze change. Millennial liberals are not just open-minded. Millennial liberals are radical. We’re radical because the future demands it. Because we see injustice and we’re not so blind to recognize what causes it. Because we can and will do better than the previous generations at securing life, liberty, and happiness for those to come. And we will do so by doing what we can with our voice, our dollars, and our votes. We’re not all able to storm the streets with Extinction Rebellion or go vegan or completely divest from banks that continue to fund new projects to extract fossil fuels.
We should, but we’re human. So we do what we can with what we have.
(Artwork by Abbey Lossing)