Politics 2019: Are millennials ready to govern?

Blue in the face: The 116th Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history -- but are the millennials in office and those who put them there ready to lead? (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
By JEFF GUILLOT //

Congratulations are due to my millennial-aged comrades. In 2018, you outshined every previous dismal midterm voter turnout and showed up in record numbers.

It was clear that people wanted change, and young voters – who ideologically lean to the left – helped elect a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives that is the most diverse in history, and a record-shattering Democratic majority in the New York State Senate that may very well put the Republican party out of business in the Empire State for a generation.

In both cases, a record number of Americans under the age of 36 were elected. The message across the board was clear: The current occupant of the White House is leading America in a dangerous direction and we need to fight back, on both the federal and state levels.

Outrage over the poisonous and divisive rhetoric of the Trump administration, plus frustration over destructive policy changes – including those to our tax structure and healthcare – have helped deliver this change that Millennial voters so badly yearned for. It didn’t matter if you were running to represent your constituents in Washington, Albany or anywhere else, Democrats were focused on one thing: fighting back.

Fighting back is great, of course. It generates retweets and Instagram likes. But now the question remains: are newly empowered millennials ready to govern?

Jeff Guillot: Millennial moment.

Across the country, newly minted elected officials are entering a maelstrom of uncertainty. And if you juxtapose what’s happening at the federal level against what’s looming in Albany, the two situations appear diametrically different, with uncertainty being the only prevailing commonality.

On the federal Level, Congress opens 2019 mired in unprecedented gridlock. The President of the United States is holding the government hostage over an incredibly divisive and extraordinary foolish southern border wall proposal. What’s worse is that whenever this conflict is resolved and Congress attempts to go back to doing the people’s work, Washington will remain paralyzed by partisan gridlock, so thick that a polar-class icebreaker couldn’t cut through.

As such, millennial-aged members of Congress, and others who spoke to millennials issues to win their elections, need to begin looking at the long game. If an ineffective White House is going to be an impediment to even the most basic of policy changes, it’s time to start talking about the big picture and set the stage for less-turbulent times.

While most of the noise in Washington is centered around finding enough money in the couch cushions to keep the government running for the next few weeks or months, please remember the following:

  • According to federal government predictions, Social Security is scheduled to become insolvent in 2034. This means the money taken out of every single one of your paychecks won’t fund your golden years like it does for Grandma and Grandpa. We need champions in Washington who are going to find a way to fix this problem before it’s too late.
  • Student loan debt has ballooned to a $1.5 trillion crisis affecting 44 million Americans and is crippling millennial and Generation Z buying power.
  • And in case you missed it, we are rapidly destroying our planet. Global climate change is probably the largest existential national security threat we currently face.

Washington’s most powerful people have gotten into office by relying on the votes of older Americans, who disproportionately care about these issues much less than their younger counterparts. If Washington is going to remain stuck, millennials can and should build strength and power around these core issues.

Young people who are upset that the federal government is going to be inactive on the issues they care about most – gun control, legalized marijuana, voting rights, single-payer healthcare – can turn their eyes to Albany, where a massive Democratic majority has just been seated in the State Legislature.

If young people are interested in seeing if the socialist panacea they’ve dreamed about can actually be implemented and be successful, now’s their chance. It’s altogether possible that the four issues I just mentioned will be tackled in Albany over the next 100 days. And while Washington remains crippled, millennials can see if their vision for America can actually work in practice – New York can serve as a major industrial public policy petri dish.

If the millennial public policy wish list can work in a state as large and diverse as this one, why not elevate these things to the national level, once millennial voters have empowered the national leaders that share their values and worldview?

Jeff Guillot is a political science professor at Suffolk County Community College and a founding partner at Huntington- and New York City-based political consulting firm Millennial Strategies, which assisted dozens of victories in the 2018 election for progressive candidates, causes and organizations around the country.