Explaining Why Hillary Clinton Has Not Won the Hearts and Minds of Millennials

Media and Millennials –
II Explaining Why Hillary Clinton Has Not Won Their Hearts and Minds

by

Howard Adelman

Based on my son’s suggestion, I have what I believe might explain the strong reluctance of millennials not to support Hillary Clinton that goes much deeper than the surface reasons offered by them which I contend are often distorted. For my youngest son is even angrier at the media than at a nihilist and psychopathic liar like Donald Trump. He blames the mainstream media for creating Donald Trump. But which media? He watches television shows and follows the news on BBC, NBC and CNN, watches the debates and satirical news shows, but only online, and reads newspapers, again only online. Is there a difference between reading a newspaper online versus in print?

When he reads news online, he hates distractions. He wants his news to be factual, brief and to the point. He generally does not read my blogs, even when they are directly intended for his eyes (as in the Bernie Sanders series) because they are far too long and he regards my distributing them them as equivalent to his releasing his films incompletely edited. He would argue that they are unfinished and not just long. But are these the only reasons?

Four years ago, Liew Chee Kit and Gan Wei Teng wrote a paper, “Print Newspaper versus Online News Media: A Quantitative Study on Young Generation Preference.”
(https://www.academia.edu/6125892/Print_Newspaper_versus_Online_News_Media_A_Quantitative_Study_on_Young_Generation_Preference) In their study, millennials not only preferred online news to print media by a wide margin, but did so, not so much for convenience and saving money, but because online media is not only immediate but also interactive, even though most millennials do not respond with tweets. What matters is the ability to do so. What matters is that the millennials feel that they can at least respond to the “intellectual prison” and “handed-down frameworks” of the print media. It is this permissible use that goes far beyond printing a few letters to the editor in newsprint that most attracts those millennials who read newspapers online.

But look at the differences between print and online newspapers, at least as I experience them. Interactivity is irrelevant for me even when I read news online – which I do extensively. But I read differently. I read a print newspaper holistically. I read newspapers online intentionally, seeking out stories about which I am thinking. Reading online deepens my investigation of a subject. Reading a newspaper in print broadens my perspective. On the other hand, in spite of my very poor memory, I recall more, much more, from reading a newspaper and can usually place a story spatially on a page. I cannot do this with online newspapers, but what I can do is extract pieces that interest me and deposit them in reference files. This is probably another reason why I do not file these snippets in my memory; I file them in my computer. In newspapers, I skip over ads – with some exceptions – but they do not annoy me. I hate online ads.

Most important, I like the very thing that I believe many if not most millennials hate – being guided by what is on the front page, by the position on the page, in determining the salience of a story. Some even claim that they respect stories more if they are printed. I do not believe I do, but I may. But I certainly appreciate the aesthetics more. Of the three Toronto Newspapers, on the basis of aesthetic reasons, I think the National Post, the newspaper most on the right and the one most discordant with my own views, has the best typeface, spacing, margins and sizes of stories. For me, it is the most attractive newspaper to read. I do not read online news based on attraction, though, perhaps, I may do so subliminally, but I do not think so.

Further, unlike many readers of online material, length does not bother me and so I impose on my readers 2500 words on average even though studies indicate 1,000 word maximums – and even less – should be adhered to except for scholarly articles. Finally, the old-fashioned convenience of portability, especially for doing sudoku and crossword puzzles, ends up trumping online news. But I read far more online news that I get from newsprint, for online reading allows side excursions, checks and in-depth exploration.

So what is the difference between myself and my son, between my past-the-due-date generation and my youngest son, a millennial? It is not the media in itself, I believe, but the way we use it and the way we experience it. The alternative media sources and their characteristics do not determine preferences, but the questions I bring, the frameworks – intellectual and aesthetic – do make a difference. And millennials, I believe, now experience the world much differently than previous generations.

What issues bother him and many of his cohorts? I believe environmental issues are first and foremost on the agenda. Whereas my generation in the sixties faced down a nuclear arms race and feared Armageddon, we still believed we could get control of the nuclear threat. Millennials, on the other hand, prioritize environmental issues, but see their own behaviour and practices as frequently hypocritical, and the government policies attacking the problem as too little and far too late. The Armageddon they face is perceived to be even worse than a nuclear war.

There is another issue that made Bernie so appealing. Though many of their upper middle class friends who graduated from university do not bear the huge educational debts of their other friends who were not lucky enough to grow up in families that could support their education, those who are better off see the burden that their other friends carry who were not blessed with parents who could pay the costs of their education. They also see how that burden impedes their life prospects. Further, many of their compatriots in their mid-twenties still live at home and many of them believe they will never accumulate the capital on their own to buy and own a home – especially since the group he hangs out with are downtowners.

Because of the economic burdens they carry and the economic prospects they see before them, they can ill afford the disproportionate share of that money on media, electronic media in particular, compared to what we spent on all media when we were that age. And this at a time when house prices have increased twice the amount of the purchasing power of money! So they generally find ways to get the information and visual views they want in the least expensive ways, even if that way is at the expense of the producer. They take Uber drivers at the expense of the careers of taxi drivers who have their own families to support. So their social concerns are not with the undereducated working class. Though they might come from upper middle class families, their goals – and this is true of all the ones I know in my personal experience – do not include wealth accumulation as having a significant priority. Happiness and work satisfaction do. Millennials do not want to and are very reluctant to work in jobs they do not like. On the other hand, they see no inherent fault with wealth accumulation.

What unites almost all of them in my eyes is that they are products of the new electronic media age. They are not entirely enamored with that media. Although they are most familiar with and embedded in the electronic media with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., they also recognize that those networks are infused with crazy and outlandish beliefs and even prejudices. Further, they have all personally witnessed the transformation of these media from vehicles for enhancing communications among friends to tools for pushing products and services.

The new social media have, I believe, had a potpouri of results, assembled in no particular order and without elaboration:
• An emphasis on speed and immediacy of retrieval, a propensity not to be equated with narcissism and an indulgent emphasis on self
• An emphasis on originality and almost a visceral gut hatred of the repetition of traditional TV news, though, in contradiction, most watch shows with repetitive themes and storylines
• An emphasis on their choice and a hatred of anything fed to them
• They are very comfortable with the use of technology, but some of them, the critical ones, are also very uncomfortable with the results – when they see a mob chasing a Pokémon on private property, and that many in that mob may come from their age group, they are appalled
• The reason some are appalled is that they see within themselves and among their cohort an increasing inability to separate fact from fiction, a problem they all face; in fact, given the current age, all of us are prone to see reality as fiction and to take fiction for reality – Tina Fey’s comic sketch that portrayed Sarah Palin as able to see Russia from her house, was never uttered by Palin, but try convincing most millennials or even most older viewers of Saturday Night Live
• Donald Trump is at the extreme, an individual who cannot discern the difference between reality and the products of a fevered imagination; they hate Trump, I believe, because he represents the parts of themselves that they hate
• The nature of the media that allows instant communication undercuts the need for forward planning and social commitments, but that is replaced by valuing spontaneity and improvisation, on the one hand, and a permanency and consistency of belief on the other hand as the place to find solid footing in a very slippery world
• In spite of their resistance to fixed plans in the future, they almost all see themselves as living in the future rather than the present; that is why they are mostly not narcissists even though they take millions of selfies
• They are disgusted by their elders and with themselves for looking at politics as entertainment, but primarily hold the media responsible for enhancing the phenomenon when moderators do not moderate or hold politicians to time limits; these moderators do not turn off the microphones of their guests when they evade answering questions (the guests are pivoting), and when the guests tell outright lies; instead, rather than interrupt the drama of the occasion, they (and we) are forced to wait until afterwards for these egregious failings to be pointed out in fact checks “after the fact”
• The media rate winners on style and follow trends instead of providing much more leadership on discussions of substance
• In the name of balance, outright dissemblers are permitted on stage as performers
• They recognize that they live in a world in which imaginary friendships brought on through the accessibility of information with others seem to be as real as intimate relationships and that makes them long all the more for authenticity and the fixity of values and points of view
• They recognize that people live in bubbles, strengthened and reinforced by their exposure only to media that reinforce their own values whether liberal, conservative or anti-establishment
• They are not political institutionalists and totally underrate and even ignore the importance of institutions in preserving values and trust; instead, they tend to believe that those values are imbued in individual persons and are not protected but undermined by institutions.

Media have indeed transformed the world and has transformed the millenial generation and the future of politics. So how could Patrick Caldwell two years ago in Mother Jones write that “Millennials Love Hillary Now”? (www.motherjones.com/authors/patrick-caldwell ) Well then she had 58% of the 18-24-year-old population; now she has less than 32%. Then Senator Elizabeth Warren, now a heroine for millennials, ran almost 10% behind Hillary in the support she drew from them. The explanation – Bernie Sanders came on the scene in a big way and did what Barack Obama did in 2008, showed her up as both wooden and programmed, on the one hand, and a shape-shifter in comparison on the other hand. But Bernie did it as an ideologue rather than as a soft shoe salesman. Bernie spent months and an enormous amount of money that in part strongly served the agenda of the Republican Party in instilling that portrait of Hillary.

Millennials believe that an authentic guy like Bernie stands outside the accusations they level at advertisers. They seem to be uncritical of the degree to which their views have been infused by repeated exposure. So all the efforts Hillary put in to appeal to millennials were undermined by Bernie. It certainly helped that Bernie projects himself as a more authentic individual and authenticity is where millennials hang their petards. Bernie was double-digits ahead of Hillary among millennial voters. And the suspicions of Hillary continue because pragmatic politics, because shifting position in the face of changing circumstances, this great virtue among traditional politicians, is viewed as a disability on both the right and the left. And although Hillary Clinton managed to win their support for a period, she never won their hearts. She never won their minds. And without the allegiance of the heart, the heads of millennials tend to grossly exaggerate Hillary as simply a politician who changes just to meet the requirements of gaining votes.

The explanation again can be found in the nature of the media and in the shift to gender egalitarianism that Hillary Clinton surely represents, an explanation to which I alluded in my third paragraph of part I. Women are now the majority in medical classes (they were restricted to 10% when I was in medical school), in law classes and, over time, may even become the majority in engineering schools. Women come in all shapes and sizes. But a man like Trump still lives in the locker rooms of the fifties with an attachment to the superficialities of the greater sex. Ivanka Trump can be brighter and exhibit greater ability than her brothers, but she still conforms to Trump’s singular vision of a beautiful woman. So do most of his female surrogates. And many women, experienced with and having created shields to gender marketing, know that branding distorts women into a single mold to sell products. The revolt against this idolatry has been instigated by women and adopted by the millennial generation, except by white males who still cling to Trump’s artificial vision of the female universe.

Has Ivanka Trump altered her appearance by surgery? That is no longer absolutely necessary since photoshop can achieve the appearance of the same result; many if not most partners meet as a result of media images through dating services now. In my experience, women can spot inauthenticity in appearance a mile away. And authenticity is physical as well as emotional and intellectual for millennials. Hence, the reference to Hillary as wooden and an automaton. It is her body language that is primarily seen as inauthentic even when they claim it is her shift in positions. Millennials want to view the same body that avoids shape shifting mentally or physically. And constricted body movement are viewed as inauthentic even when they are the result of seven decades of institutional pressure and shaping.

The irony then is that millennials have this intensive desire for a firmament beneath their feet based on an anti-idol approach to humanity, but without a divine presence. This does not mean one is necessary. But like all religious seekers, including those who are absolutely secular, they are attracted to absolutes. They crave stability in the fleeting world of the media that veers between the attention span of a two-year-old and the equally compelling nature of repetition loved by young children. Hillary Clinton simply disappoints them and men, at least intelligent ones, now follow women in this revolt. That is why a seventy-five-year-old democratic socialist with fluid arms and a flexible visage could win their hearts and Hillary could not. Millennials are desperate for a very different kind of fluidity than the one Hillary offers, and a stability and security that the media fails to provide for a generation so dependent on that media.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Possibilism: Albert Hirschman and Daniel Adelman

Possibilism

by

Howard Adelman

 

“Political Economics and Possibilism” (pp. 1-34) by Albert Hirschman in A Bias for Hope: Essays on Development in Latin America (1971) Yale University Press.

In the Focus section of The Globe and Mail on Saturday, John Ibbitson invited five leaders outside Parliament to offer the Conservative Government a bold new vision to be included in its throne speech this week. Readers were asked to weigh in as well. John Manley, a former Liberal cabinet minister and now President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, suggested raising our vision of population growth from 44 million in 2036 to 50 million by offering citizenship to every foreign student who completes a graduate degree in Canada on the grounds that immigrants create jobs by growing the market for products and goods while at the same time, this proposed youth immigration would do a great deal to re-balance the trend line of an aging population.

David Emerson, a former Liberal and Conservative cabinet minister, senior public servant and business executive,  advocated investing in space in the order of $20 billion over the next two decades as the new railway of the twenty-first century arguing that advanced satellite technology would make it easier to identify potential resources, monitor environmental data, enhance the use of the Arctic trade route and the ability of Canadians to communicate with one another as well as deliver health and education resources to remote communities.

Jaycynthe Coté, CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan, echoing John Manley, advocated doubling the annual intake of foreign students from a quarter to a half million and building on our position as a safe, diverse and welcoming country while offering excellent job prospects. Such an initiative would give us both the immediate benefit of the expenditure of foreign student fees in Canada but also the long term benefits of potential educated citizens or good will ambassadors if those students opt to return home.

Pat Carney, a former Conservative cabinet minister and British Columbian senator proposed an enhanced program on ocean protection with an investment of an additional billion dollars in building on our excellence in ocean observatory technology while developing our ability to ship our natural resources abroad. Preston Manning, former head of the Reform Party and head of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, proposed a charter of consumer obligations to accompany the rumoured forthcoming consumer bill of rights rooted in greater transparency, choice and recourse. Greater transparency would add to the possibility of wiser consumer choices when consumers know the economic costs of what they consume.

All five proposals offered political links between the economy and political decisions that have become central to our political dynamic. Second, all five proposals, though headlined “immodest”, easily fell within the range of the politically possible. In contrast, one of the three “immodest” proposals published from readers’ submissions was by my son, Daniel Adelman (misspelled as “Aderman” in the article), was truly immodest. His proposal fell into the realm of “necessitism” rather than “possibilism”, even though he too echoed the other proposals in linking economics and politics. As an ardent opponent to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, unlike his co-provincial Pat Carney, Daniel who lives on Vancouver Island, advocated a radical shift in thinking by recognizing natural capital as a public good, putting an economic value on natural systems and the services they provide (now considered as a freebie), and emphasizing and prioritizing public benefits over private profits. This is an example of necessitism rather than possibilism, not simply because it lies so far outside the Conservative Party’s field of vision, but because the implicit argument behind this immodest proposal is that such change is imperative for without such radical changes, the planet and our way of life will not survive.

Albert Hirschman wrote on the link between politics and economics as integral to the process of social change. Like the above so-called immodest proposals, whether by illustrious or modest Canadians, he was not so much interested in the unique and permanent economic characteristic or characteristics that makes political organization possible as in many political theories such as those by John Locke and Adam Smith, but in the continuing interplay between the two realms. Daniel’s immodest proposal differed from the others not only in its necessitism but in insisting on the methodological: application of modes of reasoning and analytical tools originally developed in economics to the political process, but going even further, by re-categorizing that which is considered a public good, applying economic value to the given world and not just the world into which we have invested our labour and converted it into property or possessions, and by inverting our value priorities to place the greater emphasis on public goods over private property.

One result of such a transvaluation of values would be, presumably, a very different allocation of scarce resources among competing ends, radically different algorithms of input-output relationships and a very radical revolution in political decision-making by presuming a doomsday certainty unless these types of radical decisions are undertaken. Instead of being concerned with making decisions under uncertainly, politics would be energized by making decisions in the face of an apocalyptic doomsday certainty that will soon be upon us if action is further delayed.

The close linkage between politics and economics is the central motif of politics these days whether in the budget crisis and the refusal to raise the debt ceiling in Washington or in the proposal for a consumer bill of rights promising more competition (past promises) or more and better consumer options (presumably the forthcoming throne speech) clearly intended as an effort to lure voters to the Conservative banner. Such initiatives are now undertaken in the standard assumption that just as entrepreneurs are profit maximizers, politicians are voter maximizers.

There are other, more reliable truisms than these misleading analogies. Wealth translates into political influence as indicated in the eulogies of Paul Desmarais of Power Corporation, not in the mundane sense of trying to use positions of wealth to sway a politician, but in earning the respect of politicians who invite the input of a wealthy entrepreneur. Similarly with voters! Increased unemployment, high rates of inflation and other economic phenomena all erode faith in the party in power. These influences are vast but trivial as an observation and need no economics training to grasp. Hirschman stands out by reversing the interplay between the disciplines as he showed that a comparison could be made between those who flee a country when they give up faith in the governing power and when consumers give up on a product like a Blackberry and abandon it for another product.

The effort to import economic ideas into politics that primarily concerned Hirschman, and for which he made his name, took place at what he called “the finer features of the economic landscape”. In the international sphere when economic indifference and transformation curves are applied to international relations in documenting the relationship of trade between small and large countries, Hirschman documented the effect of trade on influence and power relations between large and small trading partners. The resultant trade and transformation curve, dependent on whether there is an import or an export bias by either country, politically implies a level of political dependence. 

Whether the import of economic ideas into the political sphere is useful on the domestic or the international level to any degree, it appears to break down in the arena of public goods on which Daniel focuses. Economists concerned with public goods concern themselves with the free rider problem, that is, individuals or corporations that benefit from resources, goods or services without paying anything or with only paying a fraction of their real value. When the concept of a free rider was applied to the political protests of the sixties, as Hirschman pointed out, the analogy did not work because political participation was not a cost but considered a right in the political sphere. Turning a right into a cost in analyzing politics distorted the basic meaning of a democracy.

One of these observations applied to Canada when Prime Minister Mulroney initiated a free trade regime between Canada and the United States in the late eighties. Hirschman had written that “the political chances of the formation of a (economic) union are the exact obverse of its economic effects; the larger the trade-creating effects, that is, the greater the need to reallocate resources in the wake of tariff abolition, the greater will be the resistance to the union among the producer interests of the potential participating countries.” (p. 8) Seemingly in the face of such a principle, Brian Mulroney in the 1988 election campaign put forth a free trade platform promising to eliminate tariffs between the two countries by 1998. He won, but his support was reduced to only 43% of the popular vote and his majority was reduced; the Liberals and NDP both opposed the free trade agreement and between them won 56% of the vote. Had the Liberals been better prepared to counteract the counterattack of the Tories forged by Alan Gregg in the election, most pundits predicted that the Liberals would have swept back into power. Instead, Brian Mulroney became the first Tory to win two back-to-back elections in the twentieth century, seemingly confounding Hirschman’s observation.

However, many components influence election results and Hirschman’s observation proved true when a great deal of the Canadian recession, its largest and longest since the Great Depression, lasting technically from 1989 to 1992, but in most Canadian experiences to 1994, and other factors led to the subsequent decimation of the Conservatives. In 1993, Jean Chretien and his Liberals swept into power and the Tories were reduced to just two seats.  The highly unpopular Goods and Services Tax (GST) to replace the manufacturer’s sales tax to enable Canadian manufacturers to compete on a more level playing field in a free trade environment, the fact that the GST was introduced by Mulroney threatening to pack the Senate using Section 26 of the Canadian Constitution (the Deadlock Clause), the successive embarrassing failures of Meech Lake  and the Charlottetown Accord (perhaps because of the unpopularity of the GST), all contributed to that rout. I believe that the misguided effort to maintain a zero inflation target in the face of a severe recession that resulted in sky-high interest rates, massive bankruptcies in the Canadian building development industry and annual budget deficits that soared towards equalling the Canadian GDP, were also key features in the destruction of the grand Tory coalition and the ignominious defeat. The irony, of course, was that free trade proved in the long run to be a success even though the political repercussions, according to Hirschman’s observations that theoretical economic concepts such as gain from trade had hidden negative political implications, proved to be valid to a degree in the short run.

One of Hirschman’s most significant insights into these hidden negative political effects emerged in his study of the coffee trade. Because of the nature of the coffee business in which the lag between high prices and the ability to respond with higher production requires five years to plant trees and bring them to maturity, this results in coffee growers forming a powerful political interest group to ensure that prices do not fall when either bumper crops result or when the trees reach maturity and the international market experiences a surplus of coffee beans. Not only does low price elasticity in the short run of coffee bean supplies have this indirect public policy result in the push by the coffee growing cartel to form, it has the even more important push on the state to assume responsibilities and interfere in market forces. Market doctrinaires might be critical of such a result, but one of the indirect effects is that the government powerful role in the economy allows the government to shift resources from the coffee sector, when its development is mature and that sector is producing high profits, to new emerging sectors in significant contrast to the efforts of countries such as Argentina under Juan Peron to shift support from wheat and cattle – two short-cycle agricultural endeavours – to other sectors.

The effects of economics on politics also flow the other way. Hirschman observed that countries with very diverse ethnic groups have a much smaller tolerance for economic disparities than countries with more uniform ethnic constituencies. Without arguing for the merger of the two disciplines in the older model of departments of political economy, Hirschman nevertheless challenged the dominant prevailing model of regarding both realms as endogenous zones in which the primary effects in each sector could be examined as internally produced as in the model of a self-regulating economic market place or self-regulating equilibrium growth models in economic development theory that treat any political interferences as distortions of economic forces. Realms that allow political considerations to intervene simply make pacts with the devil.

This brings me back to my son Daniel and his arguments from necessitism. These are moral superego trips. However valid the argument may be, the imperative is not to wave the moral flag of the coming apocalypse and propose alternative grand economic gestures, but to work out the detailed mutual economic and political repercussions of such changes so that the effects of raising costs by pricing natural resources at higher values have on economic competition and employment, and how they may be counteracted, have to be worked out. Daniel argues that economic forces as presently practiced are destroying our ecological equilibrium. However, it is not sufficient to demand replacing an economic spoiler doctrine with an alternative political spoiler doctrine for the economic backlash will doom such a proposal to utopian thinking, Rather, the detailed work of the interaction of the two realms have to be worked out to develop a strategy and a system of tactics to handle such changes. The historical process of change must be projected by a realistic assessment of both economic and political factors and their interaction that cannot be encompassed in the hundred words of sloganeering that The Globe and Mail invited the utopian public to introduce and propose for a political platform. I applaud Daniel’s passion for his cause and devotion literally to cleaning up environmental messes on the ground, but his political proposals require detailed research on politics and economics as well as the environment. .

Hirschman’s lessons are not only applicable to the larger spheres of the economy and politics but to the intricacies of family life and the relations of a father to a very much loved son and the problem of how to get a lesson across without undermining his son’s passion and zest for a just cause. Necessitism may be correct as an abstraction. Possibilism, however, is the real moral imperative. And I am not just speaking of politics as the art of the possible, but the need to rest the possible not only on environmental science but on both the sciences of politics and economics and their mutual interaction. Recall that the same man who took $225,000 or $300,000 in cash from the German arms trader, Karlheinz Schreiber, in the so-called Airbus affair, was the same politician, Brian Mulroney who negotiated the very successful acid rain treaty with President Ronald Reagan. The lesson is not only that the “devil is in the details” but that even the devil can contribute to the good if we undertake not only environmental science but understand the sciences of economics and politics and their interaction at an even deeper level.