While discussing his and his brother Jack’s new novel When Millennials Rule: The Reshaping of America, David Cahn told U.S. News and World Report, “I think the story of this election will be the story of voter turnout among millennials. I think if they turn out and vote for Clinton, she wins. If they don’t, she loses.”
Considering that only 19 percent of millennials turned up to vote in 2012, this presidential election still seems to be up in the air. But it’s about more than just politics; it’s about a generation labeled as “narcissistic and self-centered” but ironically fails to believe in itself and its power.
In her book Generation Me, psychology professor Jean Twenge explains that this generation is “tolerant, confident, open-minded and ambitious but also disengaged, narcissistic, distrustful and anxious.” But forget the tolerance and open-mindedness, because when people think of Generation Me, selfie sticks, Instagram and Twitter usually come to mind. After all this, you’d think that millennials think rather highly of themselves. But if this were true, then more than 19 percent of millennials would have headed to the ballot box in 2012. If this were true, then over 80 percent of 18- to 29-year olds would have cast ballots back in the 2014 midterm election. If this were true, then more of them would believe that their votes and opinions make a difference.
Only so many of these statistics can be attributed to apathy or just plain politics as usual. It’s more about a fundamental issue of a supposedly self-centered generation that can’t seem to believe in the self. In their (somewhat) short lifespans, millennials have seen war, corruption, income inequality, climate change and racial injustice. And instead of rushing to the ballot boxes to pencil in leaders who they believe can make a difference, millennials feel powerless to stop the tide that seems outside of their control. In the midst of so much suffering, it becomes difficult to think that one vote can stop crime, create jobs or prevent terrorism.
Yet Brexit proves that every vote counts. Even though about 64 percent of registered 18- to 24- year-old voters headed to the polls, 90 percent of over-65s cast their ballot. The result, to the dismay of a young generation that overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union, was a narrow victory for the “Leave” campaign.
This contradiction has become a growing phenomenon that could have devastating consequences in the future outside of just politics. Take for example the environment — despite some labeling millennials as the “environmentally friendly” generation, this unfortunately doesn’t always translate into action. According to the Washington Post, Twenge and her colleagues found “when surveyed decades ago, about a third of young baby boomers said it was important to become personally involved in programs to clean up the environment. In comparison, only about a quarter of young Generation X members — and 21 percent of millennials — said the same.” Even worse, “15 percent of millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 8 percent of young Generation X members and 5 percent of young baby boomers.” And to top it off: “In the case of heating fuel, 78 percent of young baby boomers and 71 percent of young Generation X members said they cut back, compared with 56 percent of millennials.” For millennials, when they see 7.4 billion other humans consuming resources, it becomes easy to lose sight of the impact of their individual choices.
But everyone knows that change begins with the individual. From Dorothy Day to Nelson Mandela, history provides humanity with a laundry list of individuals who embodied change and progress. Yet millennials don’t all need to awaken consciences or end apartheid to do their part. But they must recognize that as individuals, as they already know, they do matter. And they all have their part to play in bettering their world.
If millennials believe that the world revolves around them, then they should be able to change how the world revolves. With a polarizing election that could set our country on two completely separate paths, climate change rearing its ugly head more and more frequently and an abundance of other problems clamoring for our attention, the world needs millennials more than ever. And luckily, they don’t even need a change of heart to use their self-centeredness to be the change they wish to see. Watch out world; here comes the real Generation Me.