“In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, you know what this is? It’s a snowball. And it’s just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out. Very unseasonal. So here, Mr. President, catch this.”
And there it was. In the middle of his speech, the honorable Senator James M. Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, tossed his perfectly formed snowball at the presiding officer in the chamber of the United States Senate. The several C-Span viewers watching across the country sat in shock, witnessing what may have been the first recorded Senate snowball toss.
When not engaging in schoolyard buffoonery, Inhofe also serves as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, making him one of Congress’ most powerful climate change deniers. He even published a book on the subject—and based on his storied scientific career as the president of the Quaker Life Insurance Company, few should doubt its credibility.
Several weeks later, the fate of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act hung in the balance, its success threatened by abortion politics in the Senate. Historically passed with bipartisan support, once-popular bills fighting human trafficking and providing medical aid in under-served regions of the world are increasingly subjected to anti-abortion amendments from Republican lawmakers. These amendments score political points with conservative voters because they allow legislators to control abortion not only in the States, but also in countries receiving American aid.
The trafficking bill pulled the Senate into gridlock over a provision that prevents the use of medical funds for abortion services unless in the case of rape, incest or immediate danger to the mother. The stalemate placed justice for victims of human trafficking in a bureaucratic gray zone. In this case, it also delayed the confirmation vote of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, enraging President Obama and Democrat lawmakers. These actions, as well of those of Inhofe and others, contribute to the larger picture of an American political system that continues to defy the values of its younger constituents.
The rising millennial generation will redefine American politics.
We separate social issues from our politics, and are overwhelmingly critical of the current political parties. According to Pew Research Center and Harstad Strategic Research polling data, approximately half of “Generation Y” or “millennials” consider themselves political independents, which is one of the highest party disaffiliation rates of any generation, ever. We have no party, and this increasingly equates to no voice, effectively silencing our generation in Congress.
As they make more money, millennials turn towards fiscal conservatism. But on issues like gay marriage, pot legalization and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, America’s 18 to 29 year-olds are likely the most liberal generation American politics has ever seen.
Regarding action on climate change and renewable energy, 80 percent of millennials indicated they support requiring utility companies to produce one-third of their power from renewable sources by 2030.
Now, more than at any time before, it is important for Generation Y to galvanize a voter base focused on modern issues. For too long, Americans, and millennials in particular, have been forced to choose between what is morally acceptable and what is economically viable. The GOP’s antiquated position on women’s rights, gay rights, access to both citizenship and healthcare, and the causes of climate change do not resonate with young voters. However, their message of fiscal conservatism often appeals to twenty-somethings.
Either the Republican Party must abandon its fringe, ultra-conservative, radical, right-wing voter base and embrace the wave of change that will be the millennial political generation, or accept its ultimate demise. Discriminating against gay people and denying climate change will not define the conservatism of the future.
For millennials, this change starts now. Write your congressperson. Tweet your senator. Vote. Support future legislators who share the vision of an American party system that no longer divides itself on antiquated platforms of perceived social morality. Elections should be determined on questions of fiscal policy, interventionism versus isolationism, and the United States’ role in global development. The U.S. Congress should not be and never should have been a venue for legislating prejudice against women, gay people, and people of color.
Above all, Generation Y is overwhelmingly optimistic—every poll suggests it. We are international, unrestrained, empowered and driven. We are an impactful force determined to challenge America’s social injustices and enact substantive and institutional change. We are revolutionists, and it’s time for modern American politics to reflect our values.