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Are state and Congressional Republicans playing into Democrats’ hands once again, helping Democrats realize their vision of a permanent electoral majority coalition of people herded into identity groups? Is there any good reason to abandon and alienate the youngest, newest segment of voters? Would we do better to treat all competent adults as adults, whose support we would like in 2020?
Current politics and culture feature contradictory claims about young people. On the one hand, we are considering treating young adults as wards of the state (free college for all). These young people are being encouraged to live in a state of emotional fragility, fearful of a discouraging word. On the other hand, the same politicians are suggesting the voting age should be lowered to 16 and modern children’s crusades should be taken seriously (gun-grabbers and anthropogenic catastrophic climate change).
A Census Bureau study of 2018 midterm turn-out shows a significant change by the youngest voters:
Voter turnout went up among all voting age and major racial and ethnic groups. Fifty-three percent of the citizen voting-age population voted in 2018, the highest midterm turnout in four decades, while the 2014 election had the lowest.
…Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group — a 79 percent jump.
Now, after the Mueller report burst the bubble of MSNBC and the late-night TV Democratic Party propagandists, and with those out of college finally realizing real job opportunities, we see a new poll reflecting a shift in support by that same age group towards President Trump. John Zogby analyzed his latest presidential approval poll:
President Trump scored well with younger Millennial voters aged 18-29 (51% approve/46% disapprove) and Generation Z voters aged 18-24 (49% approve/51% disapprove). The President also received a good approval rating with voters aged 25-54; he received a majority job approval rating from older Millennial voters aged 25-34 (53% approve/43% disapprove) and middle aged voters aged 35-54 (59% approve/38% disapprove). Among the oldest voters surveyed-aged 65+, Trump’s disapproval rating was the strongest (59% disapprove/41% approve). As per usual, the president did well with men (58% approve/40% disapprove) and he improved his support with women (44% approve/54% disapprove). [emphasis added]
President Trump consciously seeks to grow the voter coalition for Republicans:
President Trump has consistently claimed that jobs for all Americans, are a real answer to racial tensions, and he has relentlessly touted record employment for women, and for racial and ethnic minorities. He also pitches immigration enforcement and reform in terms that make clear that he is looking out for American citizens who have been written off for decades. President Trump has proudly promoted criminal justice reform, a significant issue in African American communities. Take these together, and you have a president putting meat on the bones of his 2016 “take a chance on Republicans” pitch to black Americans.
In the run-up to the 1972 presidential election, after several years of large scale college student unrest, the United States saw the fastest passage of a constitutional amendment in our history. Congress had acted to impose nation-wide 18-year-old voter eligibility for federal elections. It narrowly survived a Supreme Court challenge, so Congress rushed through the proposed 26th Amendment in March 1971. It was ratified before the 4th of July, 1971.
Responding to arguments that those old enough to be drafted for military service, should be able to exercise the right to vote, Congress lowered the voting age as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1970. The Supreme Court upheld the legislation in a 5 to 4 vote in applying the lowered voting age to federal elections only. A constitutional amendment was required to uniformly reduce the age to 18. [emphasis added]
The 26th Amendment reads:
The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
However, the issue was not new to the 1970s. Indeed, when the draft age was set at 18 by legislation signed into law by FDR, and when that was not readjusted upward after World War II, basic issues of fairness and rights to match the burdens of conscription arose. If you could be ordered to submit to military discipline and risk death, how could the same society claim you were not a full adult with all the privileges of legal majority? This drove the history of the 26th Amendment:
The question of a standardized voting age had been briefly addressed even before activism would begin against the Vietnam War. President Dwight D. Eisenhower would be the first President to publicly voice his opinion, stating his support for lowering the voting age to eighteen.
…On June 22, 1970, President Nixon signed into law the lowering of the voting age to eighteen for all Federal, state, and local elections. However, this new legislation would be challenged by Oregon v. Mitchell, which declared the law unconstitutional on the basis that the Federal Government did not have the authority to set a minimum age requirement for voting in state and local elections. The argument of student activists and those supporting the voting age minimum of eighteen would often cite that if a person is old enough to fight in a war, then that person is old enough to vote. This was a result of the draft age being lowered to eighteen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the onset of World War II.
Many states responded to the 26th Amendment by lowering their drinking ages to match. After repeal of Prohibition, they had set the legal drinking age at the voting age: 21. With our collective legal decision to acknowledge 18-year-olds as adults, these states recognized that anyone old enough to be subject to military conscription, or to volunteer for military service, and old enough to trust with the voting franchise, was obviously entitled to the same respect as to other choices.
This understanding was overridden by a pressure campaign run thorough a Democratic House and Republican Senate, leading to legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan. Instead of honestly addressing the issue, they employed the legal trick of taking taxes from the states, and then refusing to give ten percent of what the states were owed back, unless they raised the legal drinking age to 21.
Now, we are treated to a similar dynamic unfolding for nicotine products, not even just tobacco but also vape systems. You know something shady is happening when the senior senator from Kentucky, running for reelection this cycle, is floating a federal age of 21 to match alcohol, rather than pushing to hold the line or roll back age-based infringements on the rights of legally enfranchised adults. The leading Kentucky paper gives the game away: “McConnell proposes raising age for buying tobacco as youth vaping grows.”
Vaping is a threat to cigarette sales, as are pipes and cigars. If young people are attracted to vaping, they will be harder to recruit into cigarettes. Vaping is not stinky, does not leave nasty stains and odors after the fact. No wonder it is more attractive and such a threat to McConnell’s paymasters. This is the same “leader” who responded to long-term tobacco company profit concerns by floating the idea of legalizing hemp cultivation. Hemp went from hippy left to Republican establishment at the speed of Big Farm future forecasts.
Winning the Future:
We ought to be consistent. There are good reasons to push back the age of legal adulthood. If people are taking longer to launch, if they need family support longer, there are economic reasons. If there is good medical science showing brains are still developing until age 21, that would be another reason to set the age of adult decisions at 21. But mark carefully what was just proposed. This is not a cafeteria-plan adulthood.
You are not entitled to demand or to accept others volunteering for military service, and to sanction their competence to vote and participate in juries, while adopting a paternal position as to what they chose to buy or put in their bodies. Yes, we might have universally applicable laws restricting consumption of some substances, but if it is legal for adults, it is just that: legal for adults.
Those younger adults, by the way, have already engaged in a set of behaviors that mitigate the supposed risks played up to justify restricting their liberty. We are talking about the generation that is most likely to use ride-share apps, and to live in urban settings, thus addressing the drunk driving threat. We see them using vape systems instead of sucking on cancer sticks. These are sensible risk reduction behaviors.
President Trump might be the best-suited politician to convey a sensible message of liberty and real respect. He has never used alcohol or tobacco. He tells young people that it is best to avoid both. So, it would be appropriate for him to take the lead in telling all adults that they are respected as such, that his administration will seek to treat them as fully competent in all aspects of their lives, while he also encourages them to make the same choices about alcohol and tobacco as he has.
Treat all enfranchised adults the same and you might just find they will vote for your party and your candidates. Ignore some, write them off, and you hurt your cause. Actively discriminate in law against some and you provide motivation for them to become politically active against you and yours. Let’s not do that. Step back from the clickbait and conservative talk riffs and you might find the “kids” are alright.