Why are millennials so idealistic? When will we get our heads out of the clouds? Apparently these are problems with which we millennials struggle…at least several older friends have accused me and my peers of having them. Though I avoid talking (and thinking) about the upcoming election as much as possible, it seems an inevitable topic when surrounded by Gen-X-ers and Baby Boomers. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve many older friends who can’t seem to shake a pervading sense of dread and despair as they prepare for the election. Why are so many millennials apathetic about something that our elders often obsess over? Why are we quick to point out the flaws of both Trump and Clinton, content with our decision to forego the right to vote, or to vote instead for a third party candidate?
The common accusation is that we focus too much on utopian ideals. Who wouldn’t prefer a morally coherent presidential candidate? But in the “real world,” we take what we get. The lesser of two evils principle seems to do the trick for many, while it fails to satisfy the youth’s desire for an ideal role model. While it may not be realistic to expect to find a morally perfect human being running for a position of leadership, perhaps it is precisely this fact that leaves us millennials so disillusioned with the current election, and so unwilling to choose the lesser of two evils. The “two evils” claim to offer a proposal that will lead America to perfection. I think I speak for most millennials when I say that I am quick to reject proposals that we deem “BS.” I find it hard to believe that Trump is going to make America great, or that Clinton will lead us to true progress. What does that even mean? As if kicking out undocumented immigrants will solve the problems that exist within our economy. As if having a female as president will solve the problems that women face in this country (what exactly those problems are, most women will not agree). Our skepticism acts as a defense mechanism that protects us from false truths. It allows us to see through false claims of salvation that have led to countless disasters in our history (Jim Crow, the Holocaust, etc).
Our skepticism opens up a space for true ideals to emerge. It allows for a more authentic idealism that pursues its ends in something transcendent (“in the clouds”) rather than in something man made. True greatness will not be found in America, but beyond. True liberation will not come from inventing new “rights,” but in using our freedom to adhere to that which is True, Good, and Beautiful. The accusation of idealism is anything but an insult. I would prefer to pursue my expectation for “more” rather than reduce it or pretend it doesn’t exist. I rather have my head in the clouds than be tied “down to [this] earth.”
And yet, I must acknowledge the merit within the convictions against us. Many claim that we are disconnected from our history and tradition…and from that which is realistic. We often pursue the desire for “more” in rather ambiguous ways that emerge from pure “ideas” rather than reality. The fear of a dry pragmatism (that which is revealed in a so-called “reality check”) is unattractive to us, thus the tendency to veer toward the other extreme of pure idealism. But an idealism that is not grounded in reality, life as it exists, as it is given to me right now, is at best useless and at worst dangerous. To be in relation with reality implies a consciousness of the concrete factors that we face now and that have lead us to the current point (history and tradition). Without being rooted in the past, we will find ourselves lost “in the clouds.” Pragmatism favors a relationship with reality that stops at the “impossibility” of the desire of the human heart, which manifests as a hope for the future that seeks “more.” But an authentic hope for the future that will eventually lead to transcendence cannot begin without having reality as a base from which we can pursue the fulfillment of our desire.
I see my “in the clouds” idealism complex manifest everytime I get a big idea. Somehow I’m going to manage to “make a difference,” discover something meaningful, save the world. But when it comes down to doing the actual work, I flee. When it comes to making a commitment to the dry and tedious factors that constitute the foundation of this big idea, I flake. And still, I am convinced that my desire for more, for something great and exceptional, should never have to be reduced. I don’t want to have to be content with what’s in front of me now.
But back to reality, meaning the current state of our country… No, I believe neither Trump nor Hillary will grant me salvation. I lament the fact that so many Americans look at democracy as if it were the means by which our yearning for salvation is achieved. And yet if I look at history, at the tradition of democracy, I will see that politicians were never meant to offer a totalizing proposal of freedom and salvation. A true democratic leader’s ideal is to further the Common Good, which is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily” (Gaudium et Spes 26). No president will ever be able to offer me fulfillment. And yet I have two candidates who claim to possess the capacity to offer fulfillment (that is, for a totalizing response to the problems Americans face-a response that suffers from a severely pragmatic reduction of those problems). While many of my peers will laugh at them for making such a claim, or will witness to their disatisfaction by going third-party, the reality is that one of them will still be president. And if that will be the case, regardless of whether or not they fully understand their role, we may as well resort to choosing the lesser of two evils. If we allow for the candidate who is “more evil” to win, then we may allow for our country to be run by someone who will damage the Common Good and limit our capacity to pursue transcendence. A brief glance at the history of countries that suppressed religious freedom will show you that no earthly authority could ever take away the possibility of pursuing the City of God. But needless to say, it would not be ideal to live in a country where that freedom to pursue true salvation will be repressed.
So who will do the least amount of damage to my freedom to pursue the answers to the questions that keep me up at night and that infiltrate my heart when I wake up in the morning? I don’t know. All I know is that neither Trump, Clinton, Jill Stein, Mike Maturen, nor Gary Johnson will be able to answer those ultimate questions. Neither I nor my loft “ideas” will be able to fully answer them. All I can do is remain in relationship with reality is it is presented to me each day, and respond to it with an awareness of all of the factors that constitute it (including BOTH the history of the past and the desire for transcendence in the future).