Paula S. Fass: How will young Americans vote?

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By Paula S. Fass

As the primary process comes to an end, and the unexpected youth magnet Bernie Sanders now finds himself with practically zero chance to win the Democratic nomination, it will be interesting to see where America’s youth turn their attention. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are youngsters – both are in their late 60s. Since neither explicitly articulates (at least not so far) the economic needs of millennials or Generation Xers, it might be worth thinking about what kinds of cultural issues could affect younger Americans and bring them to the polls. Three factors seem especially important – race, sex and sexuality, and media savvy. These are pulse points for young Americans and the candidates posture (more even than their positions) and the vibes they emit may provide young Americans with a reason to vote.

A reality TV star with the “in your face” attitude that young people have come to expect and to admire on television (even from liberal figures like Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart), Trump’s ability to control the 24-hour news cycle and his short attention span on issues is both a product of a life lived in the media and one that attracts it. Trump uses the same biting and nasty attacks as reality stars whose insults are at once demeaning and funny. Hillary Clinton’s much more deliberate, thoughtful and well prepared approach to issues may be persuasive to people her age (like me) but can seem uncool and inhibited to young people. I don’t think Hillary should or could change this and no number of changes in hair styles and makeup can compensate for this lack of media friendly self-presentation (indeed it may have the opposite effect), but it may hurt her in turning out young Americans.

Donald Trump prides himself on exploiting the latent racial antagonism in America that some intellectuals and pundits believed had been largely quelled by the Obama election. Deep-lying historical patterns are not so easily overcome and some reaction might have been expected. Hillary manifestly reaches out to ethnic and racial minorities and this may mean that young Latinos as aspirants to full American cultural importance, especially, and African Americans will come out in large numbers where it matters most in states like Florida and Michigan. At the same time, Hillary does not have Bill Clinton’s natural appeal to African Americans (despite his recent missteps on his sentencing legislation) and for various reasons Hillary may be reluctant to bring Bill into the campaign in a maximal way (see below). Young African Americans, men especially, may find Hillary’s style uninviting and unless she begins to offer some real remedies for the problems experienced by black youth in the economy she may find that their appearance at the polls is not a sure thing.

On sex and sexuality (rather than gender), the picture is very fuzzy. Clearly Hillary’s strong pro-choice posture should appeal to young women whose ability to act as full sexual beings (something most of them take for granted today but was not true in the past) is made possible by the contraceptive and abortion revolution of the last half century. At the same time, young women today are haunted by rape and sexual harassment. Since Hillary trails Bill Clinton’s misdeeds (and her own complicit acceptance of his behavior) behind her, the sexual issue is by no means a certain win for Hillary. Trump has just begun his overt references to these matters. There is more to come. Even if Bill never raped anyone as Trump contends, Trump will make the most of how the first Clinton’s presidency was soiled by a man who could not control his sexual appetites and preyed on a young intern. This was a very public scandal, and unlike Trump’s escapades, it took place while Bill Clinton held the highest office in the land and in the White House. Trump, of course, has been married three times and in each case to someone who is or who resembles a model. That can be viewed even by young people as one of the prerogatives of great wealth. The president of the United States, however, is not like the king of France in the ancient régime, someone to whom all women in court were available.

Trump talks about women as bimbos or as disgusting and this is hardly the language of a potential president. This frat boy attitude may wear very thin as the campaign progresses and be viewed less as an expression of Trump’s anti-political correctness temperament than as a real threat to the safety of women. Rape is a real problem and the increasing attention given to it in the media and the growing publicity about sexual harassment in college sports (as well as among professional athletes) suggests that Trump may find that young women will go to the polls in droves to express their fears and signal their anger at being made to feel unsafe and under attack.

What their brothers will do is less clear. While sexism seems to have declined as young women and men become colleagues and share group experiences in adolescence, the growing sexual threats to women (even by friends and colleagues) indicate that something besides a new equality is being signaled. Perhaps it is the result of the latent hostility that has resulted from the real competition women offer as they assume the same jobs and roles as men. This competition and its economic consequences may well make Trump a far more attractive candidate to young men than we expect.

All elections are unpredictable; this one more than most. With Hillary still fighting off Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump gaining in the polls against her, observers should keep a keen eye on the inclinations of young Americans. Their votes may make all the difference.

FassPaula S. Fass is professor of Graduate School and the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of of Kidnapped and Children of a New World and editor of The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Fass currently resides in Berkeley, California. Her latest book is The End of American Childhood: A History of of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child.

Paula S. Fass: Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Get the Youth Vote

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by Paula S. Fass

Paula FassWith her long history of engagement in matters relating to children and families, Hillary Clinton’s failure to inspire young people is notable and, at least initially, puzzling. Compared to Bernie Sanders, who is a youth magnet, she has failed to speak to the Millennial Generation or even the Generation Xers. A little probing, however, may suggest why this is the case.

Hillary Clinton – successful career woman, wife of a young governor and a young president and mother of a dynamic daughter —doesn’t feel their pain. She seems incapable of understanding and sympathizing with the problems of several generations of post 1980s young adults for whom success in careers and in family formation has become extremely challenging. For these people, the global competition for talent and a sexual revolution that Hillary’s generation initiated have complicated career choices and confounded expectations about childbearing and childrearing.

Careers first. Hillary’s generation of women (those who graduated from college in the 1960s and 1970s) which is also my own generation, were challenged to break down barriers in law, medicine, the academy, the police, government, business, etc. We feel very strongly that our careers have been hard fought for and that we won. Young women today do not face the same challenges of breaking through barriers and ceilings, nor do they experience the same sense of victory. Instead, both young women and young men face intense competitive pressures in careers that have been changed profoundly by technology and the fact that their competitors do not always sit alongside them at colleges and professional schools. Doctors fear losing the benefit of their skills to new computer programs and apps, professors to MOOCs, young lawyers and accountants to Indian workshops where poorly paid apprentices can do their work at a much lower price. Women’s growing equality in the acquisition of professional degrees had already intensified competition for highly sought-after positions (in schools and at the work place) in the United States even before the consequences of new technologies kicked in. In a newly globalized economy, the sense of competition has become brutal as has the vision of looming threat to expensively acquired competence.

It is not clear that Hillary, with all her smarts and her experience as a professional woman, understands this. Neither does Bernie Sanders, except that he, at least, offers two possible responses: stop the hemorrhaging of jobs that has resulted from free trade agreements and control Wall Street and the banks which underwrite global competition. While neither of these are likely to solve all the problems they face, young Americans respond to Sander’s firm confidence that something is very wrong with late stage global capitalism and that we need to get a grip on the process which has moved from industrial production initially to highly compensated, well-schooled cognitive-based professional areas today. If high-powered computers can successfully compete with the world’s best chess and “go” players, merely graduating from college is not going to solve the problems faced by most young Americans who can’t get an effective perch in the new economy– and all those young people supporting Sanders know it.

Home life and children. The enormous increase in out-of-wedlock birth over the past two generations in the United States (almost 40% of all children in the U. S. today are born outside of marriage) is not simply a product of the sexual revolution that Hillary Clinton’s generation initiated. Although greater sexual freedom removed the terrible shame once attached to unwed pregnancy, other things also helped to create this phenomenon. For those with less than a college education and minimally marketable skills, an important factor is the loss of regular decent wages. For blue collar families in the past, family life was supported by wages earned by male breadwinners, often supplemented by their wives’ earnings. Those wages have disappeared, at least in part because of the off-shoring of factory work that was given a huge boost during the Bill Clinton presidency. Men who do not have regular jobs often do not marry and their girlfriends do not consider them good marriage prospects. The erosion of once stable family lives has left millions of working women, whose clerical jobs have not as fully evaporated (yet), with children to take care of by themselves, either because they never married or because they are divorced. Their lives are defined by struggling to make-do as they try to find safe and inexpensive childcare, and negotiate more than one job at random hours, while precariously trying to fit together being a good mother and making a living.

Professional women, who have husbands or ex’s, also have it tough but their access to money (and credit) eases some of the worst aspects of this situation. They hire nannies and send their children to excellent daycare and preschools. They can more readily pay for services to make sure that their children receive the preparation they need to succeed in school. College women today and those who have recently graduated from college have observed this process with trepidation. Trained to succeed, accustomed to being evaluated, they are anxious to do it all well, both in their careers and in their childrearing. They have seen the difficulties and costs of this balancing in the working women around them, and in the lives of their mothers and their teachers. They are fully aware that delaying having children can be costly in declining fertility after age 35. They know that new reproductive technologies can be both helpful and disappointing. Young women are puzzled by how to combine fulfilling careers with satisfying home lives; they would like to do both well. But the sense of a noble undertaking, that Hillary’s generation experienced and kept women struggling to succeed, is now faded. The hard work and the frustration remain. Today’s hovering, anxiety-driven mothers are one result of the striving for a completely successful life. Another is the fact that there is a growing tendency for professional women to drop out of their careers in order to devote themselves to raising successful children.

Does successful Hillary, whose daughter was raised in the White House and moved smoothly into Stanford and then on to McKinsey, understand this generation of women’s anxiety about their own careers, their desires to succeed as mothers, and their worries about their children’s futures? I think that she simply does not get it. She does not feel their pain and has no solution for their dilemmas, either in her own experience or in her policies, except for parental leave. And even here she does not see how our society can afford to have this leave paid for. Hillary is very practical and pushes her realism, but in this area she is neither practical nor realistic.

Bernie Sanders may not have solutions either, but he gets the squeeze that young Americans are feeling. His answers may be too pat and repetitive, but at least he makes young people believe that he wants to respond to their very real problems.

FassPaula S. Fass is professor of the Graduate School and the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of Kidnapped and Children of a New World, she recently edited The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Fass lives in Berkeley, California. Her latest book is The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child.

Paula S. Fass: Young Americans need required national service

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Hillary Clinton has advertised her concerns for children and has a long track record of supporting policies on their behalf, and almost all Democratic candidates as well as President Obama have urged that college be made more affordable. But no candidate has addressed a critical question: What do young Americans between 18 and 21 need? Indeed, the absence of the problems of youth from the campaign is notable. But youth’s increasing frustration with business as usual has emerged in this long campaign season in a variety of ways, not least in their unhappiness with establishment candidates. Candidates who are even semi-conscious of the problems faced by America’s youth have all put their emphasis on more schooling (President Obama), free tuition at public colleges (Bernie Sanders) or more generous Pell Grants (Hillary Clinton). I want to propose that this presidential election cycle is missing the point and seriously out of touch with the problems of youth.

Schooling is not the solution and while the current proposals may create slightly more opportunity, it is still the same game – a schooling game that is in many ways the basis of the problem. Most young people today see schooling as rigged; something to be manipulated by them or against them; something that often leads nowhere. Schooling goes on forever and makes them dependent on their parents for a long time. It does not necessarily lead to jobs they value.

Young people – let’s call them young adults—are eager for meaning, for something to help define them as mature. They are eager for work. Yes, work. Only in the last one hundred years have we assumed that work is bad for young people. And certainly for seven or eight year olds or even fourteen year olds, to work in factories or sweat shops is very bad. But work that brings a sense of personal reward, camaraderie, and a means to cut through what many young people see as the boredom of school-based abstraction, is just what most American young people need.

Of course, it has to be the right kind of work that will result in more equality, not less, the kind that gives its participants a sense of genuine achievement. So I am proposing that our presidential candidates consider two years of required national service for all young Americans between 18 and 21 years of age. Some of these youth will elect to go into the armed forces, some could help to preserve and enrich the natural environment (as they did during the New Deal); others could serve as tutors in schools and community centers. Some might even feel that their time and energy might best be served by building houses for the poor or good water pipes in communities whose infrastructure is crumbling (think Flint). Others could help old people learn how to use the web. We know that we as a society need these services. I would argue that young Americans would be given a sense of maturity and competence by providing them. Instead of sending high school students out to do community service to pad their resumes, or juvenile prisoners out to clean the highways, let’s give young people a sense of common purpose.

This service should, of course, be paid. Young people like to earn money and this would provide them with a means to gain a certain measure of independence from their parents. They could then use the money to pay for tuition, invest in a business, save for a down payment on a house or apartment – all things that will give them independence. But the monetary benefit is only one of its many results. Young people would meet others from very different class, racial and ethnic backgrounds. National service would help to level the field (away from advantages provided by parents) and make the young much more aware of what they share with those who are not privileged. This was one of the objectives behind the development of common schools. Today’s young inherit too much from their parents – both advantages and disadvantages. National service would serve as a leveler of parental advantages and a liberator from dependence on parents.

There is another type of equality that national service would provide too often overlooked: It would allow non-academically inclined students to shine in ways that today’s emphasis on schooled skills has completely obscured. Many young people have real talents though they are not good at sitting still. No amount of Ritalin can deal with the differences of temperament and inclination that are common to youth. Active work in which building a house is seen as quite as valuable as tutoring math or writing would allow for talents of all kinds to be acknowledged as a social good, and rewarded at a point in life when this can be an extraordinary boost to personal growth.

I know that many people will contend that there are all kinds of obstacles to this plan, but I think it is so important to address the many serious problems of today’s young people – some of them the result of the way we have organized schooling—that these can be overcome with enough imagination and skill. National service will benefit young people, our society, and our future.

FassPaula S. Fass is professor of the Graduate School and the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of Kidnapped and Children of a New World, she recently edited The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Her most recent book is The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child. Fass lives in Berkeley, California.