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Robert Reich: To Me, The Most Encouraging Thing Of All – OpEd

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Veterans Day is a time to honor those who have fought to protect American democracy, especially those who gave their lives so that our democracy can endure. 

We have just emerged from midterm elections that have tested that democracy as it has not been tested since the Civil War. In large part, our democracy passed that test. We are indebted to all candidates who peacefully and responsibly conceded defeat, and to all election workers who worked so diligently (and in several states are still working) to ensure the legitimacy of the elections. 

The aspect of the midterm elections that gives me most hope for the future is the growing ranks of the young — as well as people of color and women — among American voters and in American politics. 

By 2028, Millennials & Gen Z’rs will dominate U.S. elections. 

This is why the GOP is pulling out all the stops to entrench Republican power. They know they don’t stand a chance against a multi-racial, progressive generation of young people that will make the GOP’s backwards ideas irrelevant.

They are the Republican Party’s worst nightmare.

The latest data prove the point. In this weeks’ midterm elections, 27 percentof young people (ages 18 to 29) turned out — the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades.

These young people helped decide critical races. 

In a group of nine electorally competitive states for which exit poll data is available (Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), the aggregate youth voter turnout was 31%.

In Michigan, the early youth vote was up 207 percent from 2018. In Pennsylvania, up 318 percent. In Wisconsin, up 360 percent.

Young people were a critical force in holding back a “red wave.” They supported Democratic House candidates by 62 percent to 35 percent.

According to AP VoteCast, an in-depth survey of more than 94,000 voters nationwide, 61 percent of voters younger than 45 backed Democrat John Fetterman in his  Pennsylvania Senate race. 

What accounts for these astounding numbers?

Start with Trump, who continues to be deeply and justifiably despised by most young people. He wasn’t on any ballot, but he made his presence as conspicuous as he always does. Trump insisted on campaigning loudly and belligerently. Most Republican candidates joined in his big lie that he won the 2020 election.

Next is the stark political reality that young people — the first generation in America to be subject in school to active shooter drills – want action on gun violence. 

They also want progress on the climate crisis, presumably because they’ll be living longer with its consequences than anyone else. 

And they’re passionate about preserving reproductive rights.

Don’t get me wrong. The growing numbers and political power of young people, as well as people of color and women, is not an argument for complacency.

To the contrary, it means Republicans will now be even more determined to suppress their votes. Fighting voter suppression in all its forms — making it easier rather than harder to vote – should continue to be among our highest priorities.

We can also expect more cruel divisiveness from the Trumpian Republicans, especially if, as seems most likely, they take back control of the House. How to fight this? Not with more belligerence, which only kindles more of the same. No, we fight it with openness and civility.  

Third, we must continue to do everything possible to relieve the economic burdens borne by young people, women, and people of color – especially the escalating costs of housing, childcare, and higher education, and the scarcity of good jobs paying a living wage.

The encouraging reality is the inevitability of these long-term demographic trends: a nation that’s younger, more female, and with more people of color — and, largely as a result, more progressive.

“History was made tonight,” tweeted Maxwell Alejandro Frost, the first Gen Z’r to be elected to Congress Tuesday night, at the ripe age of 25. “We made history for Floridians, for Gen Z, and for everyone who believes we deserve a better future.”

Indeed. 

Anyone worried about the direction this nation is heading still has much to be worried about. But we should find some solace in the young people who are committed to redirecting it toward social justice and democracy. 

Wishing you a good Veterans Day

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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