The right’s trump card increasingly looks like a dud. And I’m not talking about the grumpily orange Florida man hawking NFTs from his seaside maison.
Conservatives are convinced, despite present difficulties winning the TikTokker vote, the future is in the bag. In the baby-gap wars, the right has the high ground, if only because we stand upon a stack of scat-filled diapers. It’s not a total overmatch between sides: those with a conservative mind and, erm, requisite downstairs equipment have a one-tot advantage over the competition. A century ago, the mean number of children between our two political poles was about equal—”extremely liberal” families with 2.2 kids versus “extremely conservative” broods with 2.38. (Quantitatively counting flesh-and-blood children with fractions is a strangely modern practice: what’s .2 of a child? A hand? Some phalanges? An extra tibia?) The conservatives’ extra appendage on hand wasn’t amounting to a demographic routing.
Then came the goodie-bag—not to be confused with schroom satchel—of liberal progress: the sexual revolution, women’s lib, hippies, endless Rolling Stones farewell tours, the Great Society, declining church attendance. Conservatives maintained their procreation clip, liberals let theirs slip for a variety of socioeconomic reasons. (An increased desire for sleep being a big one, I’m sure.) The left comes off as sex crazy, with their innumerous categories for identities and fetishes, but has, in a cultural inversion, seemingly adopted abstinence. Whether numbstruck due to #MeToo hyperdiligence, or suffering from acute aphanisis, or even just pretending to be part of some outré sexual minority for bonus college app points, the left is losing the battle of the cradle.
That means conservatives are foredestined to win the future, right? By sheer living and breathing numbers, the right should outflank the left. It’s like The Great Replacement theory, except with homegrown ringers instead of imports.
But outbreeding the infecund may not be enough. The fruitful conservative future isn’t a certainty. American birth rates continue to inch downward. Love-troop numbers are dwindling—the spermatozoa ain’t swimming like they used to. The much-predicted COVID baby boom was actually a bust. (Don’t blame me. This author successfully sowed man-seed during the lockdowns, doing my part to up our country’s natal game.) Frequent supply shocks to fourth-trimester goods like wipes, formula, and Huggies aren’t an encouraging sign to would-be ‘rents.
These non-family formation factors work against the nation at large. But even if the right can maintain its fertilization clip, it may not matter. A demographic squeeze is underway which undermines the right’s electoral appeal among non-potential people, e.g. those already alive. The two most despised generations—boomers and millennials—are doing their best to be even more insufferable. And their choices aren’t going to translate into Republican votes in the long-run.
On millennials: the country’s largest age-cohort is diverging from the pseudepigraphic Churchillian maxim: “If you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain.” Even while entering middle age, the Y2K gen isn’t shedding the decerebratiousness of their youth. From a recent Financial Times report: “If millennials’ liberal inclinations are merely a result of this age effect, then at age 35 they too should be around five points less conservative than the national average, and can be relied upon to gradually become more conservative.”
Speaking as a newly minted 35-year-old, I can personally attest to my gradual dispositional drift from liberally open-minded to crotchety close-minded. To use my generation’s solipsistic parlance, growing conservative with age is my truth. But, in another narcissistic millennial tendency, my attitudinal track breaks from the norm. I’m special, just like Mommy always told me.
Millennials are “more like 15 points less conservative” than the national average, both here and across the pond in the United Kingdom. “Why?” is the reflexive question, but it Isn’t really fair. Millennials haven’t been given any reason to adopt conservatism. Their coming-of-age checklist might even dwarf Viennese teenagers who lived through the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between financial crises, unending war, mass security-state-big-tech integration, social-media-driven anxiety, and an “all is flux” ideology taught from kindergarten to college, what exactly would millennials want to conserve? To them—ugh, fine, us—America is a big racist killing machine where venal Wall Streeters crash the economy just to cash in.
More relevant for poli-attitudinal change, millennials have been largely priced out of the housing market, failing to acquire homes at the rate of their forebears. This trend has multifarious implications, all of which benefit the left. As Michael Brendan Dougherty has written, the surest path to becoming more conservative is to “[g]et on the property ladder, build wealth, and become attached to the status quo.” Millennials playing musical chairs with drab one-bedrooms in large cities isn’t engendering a love of place and stability—the key qualities of conservatism.
The millennial lack for mortgages is about to worsen, even as a cottage industry of zoning-reform advocacy has blossomed. Thanks to the pandemic, the boomer retirement-rate is climbing higher than their cholesterol. The New York Times reports: “A wave of baby boomers has recently aged past 65. Unlike older Americans who, in the decade after the Great Recession, delayed their retirements to earn a little bit of extra money and patch up tenuous finances, many today are leaving the job market and staying out.”
Normal people might admire such an early closing up of personal shop. More vacation time! More idle hours to finally clean the garage! No more after-hours emails! No more five-alarm requests! NO MORE MICROSOFT TEAMS! Such voluntary lackadaisicalness sounds heavenly—except to the data nerds who track the economy. “We’re now talking about people who have reorganized their lives around not working,” weeps Wendy Edelberg, a macroeconomist at the Brookings Institution.
GDP calculators aren’t the only ones concerned over a permanent gap in the labor force. Boomers giving up an income stream means they’ll be more reliant on their most valued asset: their homes. Forget grandpa offloading his rancher and U-Hauling it down to The Villages for his golden years. He may treasure his added years of off time, keeping his house off the market and further restraining supply. Tough luck, home-seeking millennials!
Not only that, but the early superannuated (some without the annuated check) will be even more dependent on our already pricey entitlement program. Think Aunt Maude, who permanently hung up her Walmart smock at the start of COVID and now piddles around her cottage vegetable garden, will ever vote for anyone pledging to reform Social Security? What about Medicare reimbursement rates? Less time at the office for retirees means more time calling Congress and badgering legislative aides. The retiree voting bloc is about to become even more flinty about keeping their fogey fiat transfers.
As always, the middle will be screwed by the margins. The young and childless and the old and childlike will try to fleece one another, only to settle their sights on the easiest mark: the tax-paying, burden-carrying median. Both young and old want socialism for antithetical reasons: millennials want the same shot at owning four walls as their parents; seniors want to keep the entitlement gravy train running.
Neither demand is a boon for the party of bootstrapping. “I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all,” lamented Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Will there be room for the right in a bell-curvish battle over who saps the workaday schmucks in between more?