Conservative Millennials Are Waging the Wrong Wars. Here’s Why 

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On September 11, 1960, with nearly one hundred like-minded intellectual activists and agitators in the living room of his Sharon, Connecticut home, William F. Buckley Jr. created Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), his third seminal contribution to conservatism, after having written God and Man at Yale (1951) and having founded National Review (1955). It is an event long lost on a generation of high-minded young conservatives now raised on short memories. And low battery power.

Much of the “The Sharon Statement,” the YAF foundational document, concentrated on economics. It declared:  “That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom.” Buckley understood that individual liberty is inexorably linked to economic liberty. And when government interferes with the market economy (as it is doing now), “it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation.” The statement is also notable for what was absent. Nothing was said about social or cultural issues of the day.

Today, conservative millennials should abandon their noble but futile struggle with all things social and cultural. Instead, like their young forefathers, they should refocus on economics. The economy, students!

Young conservatives may be temporarily forgiven for being momentarily distracted.

They are emerging from campuses bruised and bloodied by progressive bullies picking school-yard fights over microaggressions, safe spaces, cultural appropriations, and third-wave feminism. They are engaging in battles — passionate, but misplaced, devotion to God, guns, and government — over the cacophony of social media which places a premium on the distribution of emotion rather than reason. And they are embracing a kind of Insta-conservatism, where complexities are conveniently compressed into fragments which are transmitted in rapid-fire sound-bites and video clips as substitutes for thoughtful ruminations. Lots of expression and impression. Little erudition.

Of course, their mentors aren’t providing perspective or direction, either.

Many conservative elders are paralyzed by a certain Reagan nostalgia, unrecognizable to young people, while others are consumed with hyperbolic nonsense. Like Vice President Mike Pence telling this year’s CPAC attendees (about half of whom were young enthusiasts) that “2017 was the most consequential year in the history of the conservative movement.” Or Fox News host Laura Ingraham participating in petty public discourse, with her foolish comments regarding David Hogg, the outspoken survivor of the massacre in Parkland, Florida. (Ingraham also told CPAC 2018, “liberals are kind of like herpes.”) These are the adults in the room?

Even Ben Shapiro, the millennial commentator, is oddly preoccupied.

Shapiro is a superhero to conservative millennials. Last November, a New York Times expose described him as a “conservative thinker, entertainer, trash talker and destroyer of weak arguments …” The “cool kid’s philosopher.” He boasts 1.29 million Twitter followers; seventy percent of his audience is under 40. (The median age of a Fox News viewer is 66.) And he is now nationally syndicated on radio.

Shapiro frequently disdains what he calls the “paleoconservative” wing of the Republican party. At CPAC he said, “social justice is not justice,” and Hillary Clinton is “already in a jail of her own making in upstate New York.” It’s habitually sophomoric that Shapiro and his millennial followers, who should be forward-looking, harp about Clintons-of-Politics-Past. That’s the future?

Waging these wars is like playing endless tic-tac-toe. It kills time. And nobody wins.

Distractions aside, serious conservative millennials should remember that Buckley called conservatism the “the politics of reality.” And reality is changing. Conservative millennials — and their brand of conservatism — are on the brink of impotence, and worse, irrelevance. For demographics is destiny.

A fascinating report, “The Millennial Generation: A Demographic Bridge to America’s Diverse Future,” authored by William H. Frey, senior fellow at Brookings Institution, determined that the millennial generation is now the largest in America, at 75 million strong. They are 44 percent minority (the most diverse adult generation in American history) and make up nearly a quarter of the total population, two-fifths of the working-age population, and, notably, 30 percent of the voting-age population.

Pew Research Center released a recent study that digs deeper into the political implications of these demographic shifts. It found that millennials are strongly anti-Trump. A majority, 59 percent, affiliate with the Democratic Party. They are less religious than older generations; they are less likely to be married; they favor more government intervention; they are greatly concerned by economic inequality; and they are skeptical of American exceptionalism.

Furthermore, The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey 2017 found that millennials believe the top three problems they face are:  climate change, large-scale conflicts, and inequality (income, discrimination).

These are all ominous signs for conservatives of the future.

David Andersen, a political science professor at Iowa State University, last January offered more intriguing insights to Inside Sources on how millennials will shape American politics. The Democratic Party, he said, “seems to have demographics in favor for them, and if the millennials choose to swing heavily towards the Democrats, they really could create one-party rule in this country for the first time in 50 years.”

Andersen illuminates a critical point lost in today’s political conversation. He believes that millennials are the first generation that will be saddled with debt “most of their lives.” He also fears that student-loan debt burdens will severely curtail home buying and, ultimately, retirement saving. “And this is where there will be a point where it starts crashing the American economy.”

Indebtedness and economics are issues that conservative millennials should attach themselves to immediately, as they will eventually become the principal issues facing their generation, if not all Americans. High levels of student loan debt and public debt are already affecting public policy and economic growth (curbing private investment, limiting spending options). Unless debt expansion is arrested soon, economic choices, hence economic liberties, will become limited, too. Then individual liberties.

Today, 44.2 million Americans are obligors on $1.48 trillion in student debt (nearly $620 billion more than total outstanding credit card debt). The average monthly student loan payment is $351 for borrowers between ages 20 and 30. And student loan delinquency rates (90 days or more) stands at 11.2 percent.

The Republican future portends fiscal ruin. Total federal debt is now over $21 trillion and growing. Per-capita debt is $64,717. These figures do not include local, state, and “agency” debt, let alone massive unfunded pension liabilities at the corporate and government level. Candidate Trump in 2016 said he would eliminate the national debt “over a period of eight years.” Now, President Trump (via tax cuts and increased spending) will raise deficits by roughly $375 billion annually. And, by extension, the national debt.

Perhaps much to the puzzlement of Insta-conservatives (especially those acting as Fox News contributors), Trump is no free-market fiscal conservative. In addition to his agenda of pro-deficit, pro-debt, and pro-high-spending, he is now pro-tariff (on 1,300 Chinese products), which will likely start a trade war. And with little comprehension or appreciation for the intricacies of America’s $19.4 trillion economy, Trump selectively calls out companies for which he holds personal grievances (see Amazon).

Economic opportunity will come at a much steeper cost.

This all smacks of the government interference that YAF warned about nearly sixty-eight years ago. Yet the roaring silence — did Twitter go dark? — heard from conservative millennials (and most conservatives) on matters relating to debts and economics is astounding and dispiriting. It is time that they change course from being reactive about social and cultural matters to being proactive about these new realities.  

William F. Buckley Jr. died ten years ago, and his YAF legacy is strangely elusive to young conservatives. Meanwhile, President Trump has changed for some what it means to be a conservative. But conservative millennials need a change in priorities. And a history lesson.


James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer. He is a columnist for New Boston Post and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journal, The Cape Codder,,, and