Our generation has been described as one of the most left-leaning generations in recent history according to the Pew Research Center. However, we aren’t the first generation to be described this way. Generations from the ‘60s and ‘70s were similarly described as very left-leaning, even left-wing or socialist. This trend, however, didn’t last forever. By the ‘80s, these young people, now adults, were some of the most conservative voters and led Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution. So the question arises as to why these young liberal voters became so conservative. There are many theories, but the most agreeable and well-evidenced is likely that there was a change due to material conditions. The young activists of the 1960s and 1970s became the well-paid homeowners of the 1980s. When it came to voting, they voted conservative because conservatism protected their material interests. As prosperous Americans, tax cuts, and free market capitalism provided them opportunities and protected their established wealth. These activists-turned-conservatives were almost always white and straight, and as a result had a desire to keep the social system which places them first. From this historical case, and the parallels between then and now, I pose the question: will this happen to our generation? The UAW strike opposition and the movement of general public opinion post 2020 leads me to believe that our generation will have the same conservative reaction as the 1980s, possibly more reactionary and even farther right.
The UAW strike, and the subsequent reaction of students on campus demonstrates that our student population, even those self-described as left-leaning, will always choose their own material interest over the progress of activism. There is no formal poll or data taken of the undergraduate student population to gauge support, but as of now there seems to be a large support base. However, there seems to be a growing minority of dissenters who oppose the strike. These dissenters can be seen all over the UC San Diego Reddit. Some of these posts have hundreds of upvotes and are full of the type of concerns that seem to mirror those of the 1980 activist converts. For example, a post by a Reddit user expressed their anger at the strike and the “harassment.” What is most critical to note here is the section about money, as the student claims that the source of their grievance is due to the fact that they have a material stake in their education and cannot afford this strike. In fact, the most common thread of all strike-related complaints is money. Another user compared UCSD to a business and as such rejected the strike. Another user called the strikers “entitled” and once again brought up the concept of money, tuition, and their financial loss. All of these dissenters find issue with the strike because it interferes with their finances. The strike threatens their material conditions, and as a result any semblance of solidarity or left-wing activism is disregarded with blame being placed on dissenters rather than those undervaluing them as well as undergraduate students. This is not a small or isolated incident, but a warning sign of a shift to come. Those in our generation who have the option to become part of the system as it is, due to their privilege, will do so. Once they have solidified their position, they will do anything to protect it.
However, this trend does not end with the strike, and is further evidenced online with our generation’s growing approval of Elon Musk. Recently, businessman Elon Musk purchased Twitter and established himself as a large presence on the platform. According to YouGov, 44% of young Democrats approve of Musk and his management of the platform. This might seem to be fairly unassuming, but Musk’s reign on Twitter has revealed a heavy right-wing streak. There are numerous examples of this, such as in a recently deleted tweet where Musk called the fatal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown “fiction.” Additionally, Musk has liked tweets that claim the deaths on Jan. 6, 2021 were inflated and the Black Lives Matter movement had “100s of deaths.” Musk has also been engaging with white supremacists online, such as when he liked a quote tweet agreeing with Twitter user RAMZPAUL. RAMZPAUL, also known as Paul Ray Ramsey, is a notorious white supremacist and white nationalist who has an entire page dedicated to him on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website on fighting hate speech. Additionally, Musk has unsuspended Kanye West, who recently said a series of antisemitic comments. West has also announced a 2024 presidential campaign that prominently features white supremacist Nick Fuentes and called for what seems to be a Christian Theocracy.Fuentes is well-known for his Holocaust denial, for being an organizer of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, and for being a self-proclaimed white nationalist. Musk, through his actions, is not only actively supporting right-wing conspiracies, but is also giving platforms to white nationalists and Holocaust deniers. Through it all, Musk’s support has only grown. The YouGov poll previously mentioned, which was released on Nov. 17, showed his support among young Democrats, and he maintains 119 millions followers and growing.
This demonstrates for our generation a concerning trend. Although for now we can rejoice in the 2022 youth voter turnout, and its ability to bring significant change, we need to prevent the rising tide of right-wing politics in our generation if we want it to keep its status as a generation that brings a positive change. This call to action is even more urgent than it has ever been, as the popularity of figures such as Musk, West, and Donald Trump demonstrate a growing trend of something more dangerous and radical than Reagan era conservatism. The rising trend of right-wing figures finds itself to be firmly on the side of white nationalism. This is not hyperbole either. As demonstrated, these figures find themselves in conversation with each other; figures such as Fuentes have gone from the edges of the internet to meeting with the most recent president of the United States. A future where we do not recognize the growing dissenters in our generation is one where the economic conditions of the working class are destroyed, democracy is replaced with authoritarianism, and diversity is replaced with white nationalism.
Image by Sophie Nourbakhsh of the UCSD Guardian