Ben Shapiro has a piece at the Weekly Standard which seems to be getting a lot of plaudits today on Twitter. His basic argument is that there is a cultural divide between older and younger conservatives. It’s always been true that the young tend to be more liberal than those who are a bit older (and wiser). The assumption has been that people will gradually become more conservative over time. But Shapiro argues that may not be the case anymore:
For generations, conservatives have had to fret over the possibility of losing their children to the attractions of the left, and for generations we’ve been comforting ourselves with the bastardized saying, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 40, you have no brain.” We tell ourselves that as Americans age, get married, have children, and pay taxes, they’ll inevitably move to the right.
Here’s what the polls show: Young Americans are moving left and staying there. According to a Pew Research study from June 2017, approximately 41 percent of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) considered themselves either mostly or consistently liberal in their views in 2004; in 2011, that number had remained somewhat steady at 38 percent; by 2017, that number had ballooned to 57 percent, with just 15 percent of millennials calling themselves consistently or mostly conservative. A March 2018 Pew study on the generation gap in American politics found that among Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), 29 percent considered themselves liberal in 1994; today, that number has shot up to 43 percent. In 1994, liberal baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were actually outnumbered by conservatives 29 percent to 22 percent; today, liberals outnumber conservatives 39 percent to 32 percent.
Shapiro then takes a stab at identifying the reasons for this change. He says there’s a difference between how older and younger conservatives look at the world which comes clearly into focus when considering how they view President Trump:
To older conservatives, Trump has been a savior. He’s the president who cut regulations and passed tax cuts and ended the individual mandate; the man who moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; the lively character who takes the fight to the media and refuses to back down when slandered. Most of all, he’s the figure who prevented the ascent of Hillary Clinton. Sure, he tweets silly things from time to time, but his Twitter presence helped him win the presidency…
Young conservatives, however, are more likely to see Trump as an obstacle to progress. Yes, they acknowledge that he’s pushed some great policies. Sure, they’re happy to praise him when he’s right, and they’re amused when he attacks members of the media over their obvious bias. But they see him mainly as a club the left can wield against the right in perpetuity—a political monster living under the bed that Democrats can dredge up every time conservatives seem to be making headway. They cite his egregious response to the Charlottesville alt-right march and subsequent terror attack and his willingness to wink and nod at the alt-right during the campaign; they point to his nasty comments regarding women, as well as his penchant for bedding porn stars; they cringe at his reported comments about immigrants and balk at his nearly endless list of prevarications.
Older conservatives judge Trump on his politics; younger conservatives judge Trump on his values.
There will no doubt be plenty of disagreement on this point, but I think Shapiro is on to something with that division. Way back in 1992 when the news media first began writing about the “culture wars” it was the right, often the religious right, which seemed most concerned about the morals and value of leaders and candidates. That was certainly one of the reasons many on the right, myself included, were not fond of Bill Clinton, aka Slick Willie.
At the time, the left mocked the right as a bunch of backward, intolerant prudes trying to control everyone else with their Puritan-esqe ideals. And that was even before Monica and the blue dress, which only moved both sides further into their respective camps on the importance of moral leadership. For the right it was: This guy’s a sex creep. For the left: Everyone lies about sex.
Twenty-some years later, it’s the left that mostly seems to be claiming the moralist mantle. The resistance to President Trump is partly based on issues but if you drill down, it’s mostly based on the left’s view that he’s a bad person, i.e. a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc. Specific issues like the wall are just stand-ins for what the left sees as his racist views of immigrants.
I’ve written a couple of times about the idea that the left’s new paradigm, intersectionality, has a lot of elements of a traditional religion. The emphasis on public moralizing against political opponents is just one element of that, but an important one. More generally, it seems as if moral certitude which was once a defining characteristic of the right has become a defining characteristic of the left.
Younger people who have grown up through all of this have been subjected to a lot of left-wing moralizing. And while some young people consider themselves conservatives because they reject the left’s behavior or conclusions on various topics, they haven’t really rejected the entire framework on which those conclusions are based. Maybe that will come in time or maybe it won’t but for right now I think Shapiro is correct that that battle for the future is being waged on these grounds.
There’s a lot more to say about all of this but for now, read Shapiro’s piece about how the right can go about winning some of these people back.