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Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic have been full of what some are calling a salient fact: A high percentage of those young Brits who cast their Brexit ballots did so in favor of remaining in the European Union. Indeed, seventy-three percent of those aged 18-24 voted to remain. Rounding up, The Guardian has taken to calling this cohort “the 75 percent.” They are, according to the lefty paper, angry about the direction they see their country taking.
This is hardly surprising. Has there ever been a generation that thought their elders had it right? Those undone by the Brexit outcome are coalescing around a theme: The clear preference of the young proves the stupidity and short-sightedness of the decision to divorce Brussels. It is the young, they claim, who will have to live the longest with the consequences of the Brexit vote.
The New York Times published an op-ed decrying the “angry old men” who are trying to drive the West “off a cliff.” Twitter and Facebook are aflame with the notion of a generational screwing.
“Brexit proves that the generation of people today aged 40-70 have awful thoughtless politics and undermine the young worldwide,” tweeted one freelance journalist.
A petition demanding a re-vote has garnered three million signatures. A Yahoo! writer declared that the divergent desires of young and old made it feel that the Brexit vote hadn’t produced a “fair and equitable outcome.” A Labour Party MP has called on Parliament to ignore the results.
“Young people are feeling let down by a democratic system that produced a result that they didn’t like,” wrote Lara Prendergast in The Spectator. As she noted, however, concern among the young for their European future didn’t translate to voter turnout.
While those in their teens and early 20s were busy declaiming the depth of their emotions, the older generation showed up to pull the proverbial lever. Sixty percent of those over age 60 voted to leave, as did 57 percent of those aged 55 – 64 and 56 percent of those aged 45-54.
The young have always been somewhat at the political mercy of the old, and with good reason. The old have tasted the bitter fruit of experience. They actually know what they are doing, because they have done a few things.
Youth has many things going for it, but it doesn’t have experience and that can make it dangerous. The Framers of the American Constitution knew this. That’s why they instituted minimum ages for the presidency (35), the Senate (30), and the House of Representatives (25).
In Federalist No. 62, James Madison explained the obvious: holding high office required “greater extent of information and stability of character” than can be had by anyone who has not yet “reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages.”
All democracies require that voters reach a minimum age before being allowed to vote, a limit reflecting the timeless view that children are somewhat unreliable judges of their own best interest.
How often do we hear politicians (including some pouting now about the Brexit result) boast of being the only “adult in the room” when debates devolve into partisan bickering?
Wisdom and seasoning doesn’t always trump energy and inexperience. Plenty of old kings have sent their young subjects off to die in foolish wars. But representative democracies and constitutional republics have mechanisms for dealing with injustice.
We have laws. We have independent courts. We have the ballot box. You don’t like the direction of the country? Vote the bums out.
Of course, if you really want to demonstrate that you’re old enough to have your political opinions taken seriously, maybe don’t pitch a baby fit when your side loses.
And, please, spare us the whining.