September 21, 2011
What's in Store?
By Alison Beth Waldman
To look at Michael
D. Hais and Morley Winograd—two jolly,
middle-aged men in snazzy suits—you wouldn't
immediately assume they are two of the most
prominent, recognized and brilliant writers
about the Millennial generation. But in my
view, they certainly are.
My colleague Tara and I spent an afternoon
last week with them, hanging at the offices
of NDN, a
left-leaning advocacy think tank, for the
launch of their new book, Millennial
Momentum: How A New Generation is Remaking
Mike and Morley's 2008 book Millennial
Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future
of American Politics was named as one
of The New York Times' ten favorite
books of the year. (So yeah, they're legit.)
Referencing baseball legends and rap songs,
the authors sounded genuinely connected to
our Millennial culture. Their stories and
bits of data led to a fascinating discussion
about the power of the Millennial
generation—a generation that will soon warm
the seats of Congressional and CEO suites.
And although it was a left-leaning venue,
Millennials are not necessarily left leaning
as a whole. They're a diverse group.
So, what's the deal with
Millennials? Mike and Morley frequently
use these words to describe the generation:
sheltered, confident, "treated as special,"
team-oriented, high-achieving, pressured and
Conventional? As a Millennial, I was
interested to hear my generation defined
this way. After all, I can't really imagine
life any other way.
Millennials' political affiliations in the
United States differ from past generations.
Mike and Morley explained that as a whole,
Americans are divided along a spectrum
between strongly liberal and strongly
conservative. However, at closer look,
Americans simultaneously embody preferences
of two ideal approaches: conservative in
ideology, but liberal in programs. In
other words, we want to operate under the
idea that we are free to make our own
decisions, say whatever we want, and not
live lives puppets of the government.
At the same time, American has formed in the
frame of helping each other out, and
ensuring that racial and religious
minorities, those in poverty, and children
aren't left to fend for themselves when put
in unfortunate circumstances due to elements
outside their power. Channeling a happy
medium between these two ideologies is where
political parties, both moderate and
radical, form their plaforms.
So how can Millennials help achieve that
balance in a deeply divided world? I'll give
you a hint: they rely on their team-oriented
habits, and aren't likely to change that
when they are in positions of power. I
guess we'll all have to read the book to
find out more.
Another thought-provoking segment of their
argument: every so often—every 80 years or
so—America reasseses our collective values
and redefines our social contract. These
"civic ethos" debates shape our policies and
approaches for the next several decades.
Right now, it's fair to say, we're in one of
those moments—and the Millennials, the
largest generation to date, have a shot at
helping define our ethos.
This is not the first time America has ben
deeply divided. Mike and Morley point
to periods in our history from the
Revolutionary War and the Civil War to the
Great Depression. These times typically
begin with a rising sense of fear,
uncertainty and doubt among citizens. Sound
familiar? If you buy the 80-year-cycle
theory, we're due for our next civic ethos
crisis in 2011.
These debates are not quick ones. Mike
and Morley say they usually take about ten
years to run their course. If history
is a guide, Progressives, Independents,
tea-party Conservatives, and everyone in
between will be playing tug-of-war over
modern politics for the rest of the decade.
Are these debates a good or a bad thing for
America? Is it good that we take a
step back and evaluate the traditions we
have lived by, and the foundations on which
our country was built? Or do these debates
only lead to unnecessary generational and
partisan divides that push compromise to a
seemingly impossible place?
As a Millennial, I'm not sure. What I do
know, though, is that this time around, my
generation is at the center of it all.
Mike and Morley offer an energizing
call-to-arms for my generation to help
ensure our country doesn't crumble into the
gulf that is growing between segments of our
society. I left the book launch feeling
invigorated, which in these tense partisan
times is no small feat. Big props to Mike
But don't settle for my Cliff's notes here.
Read the book for yourself and let me know
what you think. It's at your local library,
or you can order it
online (and check out the book's