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In the not-so-distant future, millennials — those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, myself included — will be the most important group of voters in the United States, and many conservatives are reasonably terrified.
Millennials have historically overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates, including for president. Mitt Romney and Donald Trump received just 37 percent and 35 percent support from millennials in their presidential elections, respectively, and millennials made up a significant portion of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (Vt.) bid for the Democratic Party nomination.
Millennials have also shown a willingness to embrace — or, at the very least, consider accepting — leftist policies previous generations vehemently opposed, including single-payer health care. They have a tendency to be obsessed with political correctness, to the point that many, 40 percent according to one 2015 Pew Research poll, support limiting free speech in cases where people say “offensive statements.”
These are, of course, bad signs for those of us who support freedom, but don’t be fooled: The situation isn’t nearly as dire as you might think. Although millennials on the surface might appear to be the generation that could transform America into a full-blown European-style socialist nation, there are many reasons to think that won’t happen — so long as pro-liberty Americans learn to change their strategy when communicating with them.
Below are three of the most important things conservatives need to understand in order to convince millennials to abandon leftism in favor of individual freedom.
No. 1: Compassion must come first.
Millennials have grown up in an America in which all the country’s most influential institutions have been completely controlled by big-government liberals, including schools, the news media, and Hollywood. That’s the bad news. The good news is the liberalism that has been promoted by these institutions has been incredibly shallow. Millennials don’t understand history, philosophy, or even classical literature, and their political opinions are shaped predominantly by a few very simplistic ideas. Understanding these ideas, upon which virtually all their other behaviors are founded upon, is important in figuring out how to best communicate with this important demographic.
Millennials have been taught to value compassion, helping others, and political correctness (which is viewed as an extension of caring about others) over virtually everything else. Other flaws can be overlooked, but if any of these three characteristics are not present, it’s virtually impossible to reach millennials.
One of the biggest problems conservatives have today is that they often focus on why policies will work or won’t work, but they rarely try to make the connection between a policy’s success/failure and compassion. In other words, a conservative might talk about how taxes will improve the economy, but he or she doesn’t typically focus on how much people are struggling and how a pro-liberty policy will (specifically) improve an impoverished or working-class person’s life.
To reach millennials, conservatives need to spend a substantial amount of time telling stories about people who are suffering and how conservative policies can help, rather than speak in generalities, where the audience is left to assume why a policy is being proposed. Compassion must always be the starting point, so that when a debate ensues with those who support massive government programs, most of the conversation is focused on which policy will help the most, not which one works the best.
Additionally, these ideas are understood to apply globally; policies that are promoted as favoring Americans over others in the world are generally not going to be well-received.
No. 2: Millennials are fiercely independent.
One of conservatives’ biggest misconceptions about millennials is that they are collectivists that value uniformity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Millennials are actually very skeptical of power (if it directly applies to them), organizations, and associations. This is why membership rolls in traditionally very popular groups, including churches, are collapsing, and it’s why millennials, even far-left ones, oppose regulating the internet.
If millennials are so skeptical of centralization, why are they eager to back politicians that support centralizing power in the government? The answer goes back to point No. 1: Millennials value compassion above all else. They don’t support big-government programs because they believe granting more power to government is the most efficient system or because they care about redistributing wealth — in my experience, they haven’t even thought about those issues — rather, millennials vote for big-government politicians because of their promise to help others.
In addition to explaining to millennials why free-market policies are compassionate, conservatives need to associate big-government policies with uniformity and unoriginality. Millennials need to know these ideas have been tried and have failed in the past, and that those who follow the tenets of liberalism are not unique; they are “zombies,” “drones,” and generally just another cog in a very large wheel that is working to expand elites’ power, not help the poor.
No. 3: Diversity is incredibly important — but not in the way you think.
Millennials have been taught that numerous groups throughout America are being abused, manipulated, and victimized, and because millennials are compassionate and independent, they are staunch supporters of “diversity.”
Conservatives know better than perhaps any other group how “diversity” has been bastardized by the left and transformed into a tool that’s used to silence critics, but making that case to millennials is virtually impossible, because millennials have been trained to value compassion over all else. They would rather see individual liberty taken away than see someone get hurt. And people who are perceived as hurting others can never effectively be used as “victims,” even if they truly are.
Rather than scoff at diversity as nothing more than a manipulative liberal tactic, conservatives need to take a page out of the left’s playbook and claim “diversity” for themselves. The easiest way to accomplish this isn’t by trying to victimize people who the left has already labeled as “privileged,” but rather to focus on how individual liberty and states’ rights are issues of “diversity.”
So, when talking to a millennial about Obamacare, conservatives shouldn’t just focus on why Obamacare is hurting people (especially poor people). They should also fixate on how Obamacare forces, manipulates and controls (all language that should be used with millennials whenever possible) groups of Americans (states, religious groups, etc.) to live in ways they are totally opposed to. Millennials need to know centralized government programs are the least diverse programs, because they attempt to impose a uniform system on a very large and diverse nation.
States’ rights is the most powerful tool conservatives can use to convince millennials to adopt freedom, because it’s fundamentally all about diversity. The left wants to force everyone to live one way, but conservatives want to empower everyone, especially the states, to live anyway they choose. How can people who say they value diversity be opposed to that?
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Justin Haskins is the director of the Socialism Research Center at the Heartland Institute and the co-author of the New York Times best-seller "Dark Future: Uncovering the Great Reset’s Terrifying Next Phase."