The sudden springtime blossoming of bipartisan cooperation by the Gang of Eight in crafting the comprehensive immigration-reform bill now before the Senate Judiciary Committee is a harbinger of political things to come. America is moving toward a millennial generation-driven consensus on a civic ethos for the 21st century that will redefine the proper role and function of government. The almost daily outbreak of intraparty warfare between Republican Senators Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) over immigration is just the latest example of the struggles America goes through every eight decades to reach agreement on a new civic ethos. Ultimately, a rising young civic-oriented generation, similar to today’s millennials, drives the consensus and shapes the outcome based on its own beliefs and values.
While the next civic ethos consensus will eventually impact many aspects of public policy, we are already witnessing the emergence of a new common
ground in one previously contentious area — social issues. For at least 50 years, such questions have sharply divided the country and served as an effective campaign wedge, especially for conservative politicians. But all of this is changing.
The millennial generation’s strong beliefs in inclusion and equality are remaking America from the bottom up into one of the most tolerant and egalitarian nations in the world. This transformation is occurring across a range of specific concerns:
1. Immigration. Millennials are America’s most ethnically diverse generation. Four in 10 millennials are nonwhite and one in five has an immigrant parent. This makes the need to bring undocumented immigrants into the mainstream of American life not just a political imperative for those seeking to attract millennial and minority votes, but critical in connecting with millennials emotionally. Large majorities of millennials believe that immigrants strengthen American society (64%) and help the U.S. with their hard work and talent (59%). Seventy-eight percent of the generation say that people who came to the United States “illegally” should be allowed to say. Across all of these specific issues, millennial support for immigration is significantly higher than that of all older generations.
2. Gay rights. Between 2001 and 2013, Americans moved from being opposed to gay marriage by a margin of 57% to 35% to support for it by 49% to 44%. While all generations have become more tolerant on this issue, it is the arrival of the millennial generation that has driven this remarkable change, one that the Pew Research Center calls the “largest change in opinion on any policy issue” during the past decade. Pew attributes most of the increase to millennials, 70% of whom now favor gay marriage. Already about a dozen states have legalized gay marriage, with more states and even the federal government likely to follow suit within the coming decade.
3. Marijuana. Two-thirds of millennials (64%) now support legalizing marijuana, forming the basis for a national majority on this issue for the first time ever. Just as in the 1930s when the rising clout of the GI or Greatest Generation spurred the repeal of Prohibition, the emergence of another civic-oriented generation, millennials, will lead to a lessening of penalties and community disapproval for the purchase and use of a previously banned substance in the years ahead. What many Baby Boomers dreamed of doing about marijuana back in the 20th century, millennials will accomplish in the 21st.
In several decades as millennials reflect on their achievements as teens and young adults, they will realize that by creating a new civic ethos, they helped the United States finally resolve and put to rest controversies over social issues that had divided the country since the 1960s. The result will be an America more open, tolerant, and inclusive than ever before. Because millennials love their parents, they will likely forgive them for the time and energy spent endlessly arguing about matters such as immigration, gay rights, and marijuana, even as millennials wonder what all of the shouting was about in the first place.
at National Journal
Americans have been of two minds about immigration almost since the founding of the Republic. On the one hand, we swell with pride at the welcoming words of Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty sonnet: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” and coverage of the swearing in of new citizens from around the globe has become a staple of July Fourth television newscasts.
By contrast, each new large wave of newcomers has led to the emergence of nativist groups and to laws designed to minimize immigration. The arrival of millions of German and Irish immigrants before the Civil War led to the creation of the anti-immigrant Order of the Star Spangled Banner and the electoral successes of the American (or Know Nothing) Party in 1854 and 1856. The waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries produced a revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the passage of a 1924 law, which imposed low nationality quotas on immigrants from that part of Europe as well as Asia and Africa.
But history also indicates that, although mixed attitudes about it may endure, concern with immigration and fear of immigrants rises and falls as new generations with different attitudes emerge.
A February national survey of nearly 1,500 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64, conducted by communication research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, suggests that the United States is about to enter a period in which the debate about immigration should become less contentious, primarily because of the increasing presence within the electorate of the tolerant and diverse Millennial generation, a cohort now in its teens and 20s. Millennials will represent one out of every three eligible voters by the end of this decade.
According to Magid, about three in 10 Americans are completely opposed to all immigration—legal and illegal—while an identical number perceive a need for even undocumented immigration, believing that “the United States needs illegal immigrants to do work others won’t.”
The attitudes of other Americans fall between these extremes. The majority agree that “immigration has made America a great country” and that “immigration is an American legacy worth keeping.” About 43 percent would favor making their community “immigrant friendly.” At the same time, 71 percent say that while they favor legal immigration, “illegal immigration is out of control.” Just over 40 percent agrees that “immigration is making America worse,” while only 30 percent disagrees.
Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be more positive about immigrants. For most Millennials, immigration is not an abstract or academic matter. It is as up close and personal as their parents, their friends, their classmates, and their next-door neighbors. Nearly one out of five of them have at least one immigrant parent, and almost 30 percent of millennials are Hispanic or Asian—groups containing large numbers of recent immigrants.
As a result, Millennials agree more strongly than older generations that “immigration is an American legacy worth keeping,” 57 percent to 52 percent. The majority, 51 percent, also agrees that their community should be “immigrant friendly,” compared with 39 percent of older generations.
They are also less likely to believe than their elders that “illegal immigration is out of control,” 67 percent to 75 percent. Millennials are also likely to accept the proposition that the country “needs illegal immigrants to do the work others won’t,” 37 percent to 22 percent of older generations.
Generational theory says it is the historic role of “civic” generations, such as today’s Millennials and last century’s GI generation, to be the cohort in which the acculturation and toleration of newcomers to America reaches its apex.
A major theme of GI generation writers ranging from novelist Herman Wouk, (Marjorie Morningstar), to playwright Neil Simon (Biloxi Blues , Brighton Beach Memoirs) and sociologist Will Herberg (Protestant, Catholic, Jew) was the depiction of the way in which GIs of various ethnicities emerged from their immigrant homes and neighborhoods to achieve acceptance within the larger society.
In 1965, it was a GI generation-dominated Congress and GI president, Lyndon Johnson, that passed immigration-reform legislation overturning the nationality quotas established in 1924. Now, as a new ethnically diverse civic generation emerges in large numbers, American politics will renew its cyclical rhythm and return to policies that once again tolerate and include immigrants from every part of the globe.