IT’S NOT DIFFICULT TO OBSERVE THAT POLITICS, as an occupation, has entered a dark era – been in it for some time, in fact. We continue to ask ourselves how it is that good people running for office can get so disconnected from those they are supposed to represent. The chief reason is that the political system itself, predicated on a debilitating kind of partisanship, where politicians live in a bubble-like culture. Unless that system itself can be transformed, politicians themselves are doomed to ineffectiveness.
A lengthy tenure in politics definitely brings experience and know-how, the ability to communicate and glad-hand, to read a room and give the impression that people matter. But if the latter point was true the system itself would change. Experience in politics doesn’t necessarily translate to openness and innovation. It’s like we’re trapped in a time warp of decades-old animosities, relentless arguments, and a dispirited citizenry. We all know it and yet tolerate the treadmill as though nothing can be done to change it. Younger generations don’t care to engage, we’re told, and few of them look to politics personally.
And then something happens like in London, Ontario, a few weeks ago – a largely new council and mayor are swept into office and their average age is 41. So much for the idea that younger generations aren’t engaged. And, for now at least, we can put to bed the sense that they don’t care enough about politics to enter it themselves. Something is happening, and I suspect it won’t just pertain to one city.
If governing has become such a challenge and the political system appears so intractable, perhaps it’s time to look to a new generation that isn’t so inured in the present dysfunctional paradigm to have its own opportunity to attempt transformation. There will be significant complications, but it’s not as though the old system hasn’t been fraught with not only difficulties, but perpetual breakdowns.
The Millennials have something to stay at this moment in time, starting with the fact that they deem these political culture wars to be detrimental to public life. And they are finding allies among the older cohorts. Political parties can attempt to tease them into the political battles all they like, but they are finding little resonance, other than those who already have pre-determined political mindsets.
For years it has been assumed that Millennials, as well as Gen X, hated government. That just isn’t so. What they can’t stand is a political agenda that seeks to drub others in order to win power. Millennials are intelligent enough to know that such an approach burns bridges that will eventually be required if communities are to come together. They just think that the present political approach of divide and conquer is dumb – and it is. Millennials see government as an essential partner in reaching for the world they desire. That motive was clearly on display in the recent London election, with most of the 800 present for the swearing in process of the new council were under 45 years of age.
They are also tired of hearing that government can’t fix our economic problems, that somehow it remains powerless in a globalized world. It’s a rationale that’s been used for 30 years, often as an excuse for inaction. Millennials don’t buy it, neither do Gen X-ers. Government has legislative powers for a reason, they argue, and the problem is that it presently refuses to use it, in part because internal squabbles have rendered it ineffective. British politician Iain Duncan Smith gets it just about right:
All too often, government’s response to social breakdown has been a classic case of ‘patching’ – a case of handing money out, containing problems and limiting the damage but, in doing so, supporting – even reinforcing – dysfunctional behaviour.
A new generation of citizens is emerging that won’t abide by opaque political answers. If there is a housing problem, a dysfunctional public transportation system, an ineffective response to climate change, or a politics more interested in war than progress, they say simply that such things should be fixed without delay. They mean it and they are increasingly proving that commitment by attempting to make politics relevant again. Given what’s been going on in the last few years, they can’t do any worse than what we’ve been experiencing.