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How TV Predicted Politics in the 2010s – POLITICO

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If you think today’s Washington is dysfunctional, venal, cutthroat, uncaring and winner-take-all, take heart: It’s not nearly as bad as the Washington you’ve seen this decade on fictional TV.

Remember Toby, CJ and Josh on “The West Wing,” walking and talking and righteously fighting for ethanol subsidies or nuclear talks with North Korea in the Bartlet administration? In today’s fictional Washington, they’d get chewed up and spat out. If they stumbled into the world of HBO’s “Veep,” they’d have to manage their boss’ perpetual gaffes, devote themselves to undermining enemies and brush up on their creative swearing.

If they worked in the White House in “Scandal,” they’d keep running into the president’s mistress, who had rigged an election to get him into office. (Oh, and the president murdered a Supreme Court justice. These things happen.) As much as people bemoan the churning Trump-era scandals, the allegations about porn stars and payoffs and cascading shady deals, it’s all kindergarten stuff compared with what aired every week, for seven seasons, on ABC.

And if “The West Wing” trio worked in Congressman Frank Underwood’s Washington, they might just get shoved in front of a moving Metro train. When Netflix premiered “House of Cards” in 2013, it seemed natural to juxtapose it with the brighter era of political TV that preceded it. If only we knew at the time that the show was preparing us for a decade of dark political TV to come—and reflecting an overall perception of Washington that would soon have an impact on the real Washington.

Of course, “Scandal” and “House of Cards” were just TV—few people on the government payroll, after all, could afford those wardrobes. But these shows’ portrayal of the creeping rot of Washington didn’t show up in a vacuum. Television can both set and reflect the mood of the nation, creating expectations about human behavior. After Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, many mused, in seriousness, about whether Dennis Haysbert’s acting turn as President David Palmer on “24” helped get voters used to the image of a black president. Something similar might be at work now. Today’s real-life sweeping nihilism about politicians’ motives, the widespread hatred of the “swamp,” the notion that the process is flawed and the rules of engagement themselves might not be worth following, was, if not created by television, then at least predicted by it.

To realize how dark TV’s take on Washington has been these past eight or 10 years, it’s worth thinking about how relatively sunny the view was just a decade earlier. The aughts were full of political shows whose central politicians were virtuous and well-meaning, engaged in public service for the right reasons. This wasn’t a just a liberal Hollywood thing; in ABC’s short-lived “Commander in Chief” (2005-06), Geena Davis, a vice president who ascended to the Oval Office when her boss died, was a political independent. Fox’s “24” (2001-10) didn’t take a progressive view of issues like torture—but when Kiefer Sutherland and his fellow counterterrorism agents played fast and loose with the Geneva Accords, they did so for the sake of virtuous presidents and the safety of the American people.

And nothing screamed “higher calling” more than “The West Wing,” which aired on NBC from 1999 to 2006, tracking the righteous souls who worked for President Jed Bartlet. The soundtrack was stirring and majestic; the opening sequence was gauzy and triumphant; in most episodes, someone gave a speech about doing the right thing. When the actors showed up on the Democratic campaign trail—as they did en masse for Hillary Clinton in 2016—you sometimes got the sense that they actually believed they had been part of the government.

“The West Wing,” created by Aaron Sorkin, was a liberal wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it also mostly imbued Team Bartlet’s conservative antagonists with a certain kind of honor: They wanted power, but in service to their causes, and with ultimate respect for the system. (That point was underscored in a 2002 documentary-style “Special Episode” that featured gauzy interviews about the work of White House staffers, and included such Republicans as Marlin Fitzwater, Peggy Noonan and Karl Rove.) Even though the show premiered seven months after President Bill Clinton’s highly partisan impeachment trial, it was forever optimistic about the system—confident that a few good friends and well-placed Sorkin-penned speeches could fix whatever ailed democracy. If there was political analysis embedded in “The West Wing,” it was the notion that the system fell short when the players didn’t fight hard enough for what they believed in; when they were too willing to play the safe bet instead of taking a risk for the greater good.

Then came the end of Obama’s first term—a moment when, if you were a liberal with Sorkinesque optimism about “Yes We Can” slogans and transformative change, you might be coming to terms with the notion that politicians are imperfect, gridlock is pervasive and Mitch McConnell isn’t just going to step aside to make way for your higher cause, whether it’s universal health care or closing Guantanamo.

And a new era of political TV shows took that disillusionment one step further. Shows like “Veep” and “House of Cards” offered a new, darker theory: The system can never work if everybody in politics is terrible and venal and self-serving—and the very nature of Washington makes people terrible and venal and self-serving.

“Veep,” a kind of inverse of “The West Wing” that premiered in 2012, was a farce about ambitious politician Selina Meyer and her marginally competent, politically hungry staff. Here, majestic “West Wing”-style music is played in little jabs, like punchlines, between scenes where Meyer does her best to squeeze political capital from every situation. And her disdain for the actual public is glaringly obvious. (“I’ve met some people, some real people, and I’ve got to tell you, a lot of them are f—ing idiots,” she says in the first season.) Where the staffers in “The West Wing” were fast and loyal friends, Meyer’s staffers mock and undermine one another other without mercy. The closest thing Meyer has to a friend is the devoted body guy who brings her snacks on demand and whispers useful facts in her ear in public settings. In the series finale, she sets him up to take the fall for a political scandal—and watches FBI agents haul him away, out of the corner of her eye, as she delivers a nomination acceptance speech at the party convention.

“Veep” was created by a Scotsman, Armando Iannucci, a veteran of scathing British black comedies about the moral compromises of government. He held no special reverence for American institutions, and he was keenly aware of the comedic possibilities when teeming ambition crashed into powerlessness. Around the time of the series premiere, Iannucci told the Los Angeles Times that he was partly inspired by Lyndon B. Johnson, who spent his vice presidency “sort of sitting in his office waiting for a phone call.” (The running joke in the first season is that Selina keeps asking if the president called, and the answer is always “no.”) Like the best satire, the show has an undercurrent of sadness; Meyer is acutely aware of how much toil and personal sacrifice it has taken to obtain whatever capital she has, and how much the struggle has changed her as a person. The finale offers a brief, melancholy image of her sitting alone in the Oval Office, having sacrificed every relationship to reach her goal.

“House of Cards,” too, had roots across the pond; it was loosely based on a British political-thriller series from the 1990s. But where “Veep” spun nihilism into farce, “House of Cards” turned it into high melodrama. The credit sequence shows the monuments of Washington in ominous time-lapse photography, with dark clouds sweeping overhead and shadows climbing up the buildings. The central characters, politician Frank Underwood and his wife, Claire, are so deeply committed to Washington power that they’d do anything to get it—not just the garden-variety TV fare of murders, affairs and bribery, but some truly sinister bureaucratic moves. In the second season, in order to blackmail a pregnant former employee, Claire forges health insurance paperwork to deny her a drug that would aid blood flow to her placenta. “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that’s what’s required, but neither of us wants that,” she says, matter-of-factly.

The ruthlessness of politics was a running theme throughout the decade. Even soap-opera fantasies picked up on the idea of Washington as a force for ambition, evil and, really, not much else. “The Oval Office, in our show, was a place that corrupted anybody who came near it,” “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes told reporters before the series finale. “And the closer you came, the more corrupt it made you and the more damaged it made you.” This year, Netflix’s “The Politician,” a Ryan Murphy political allegory set at a California high school, mocked the poll-driven, values-free drive of a budding politician and his handlers.

The most powerful way that TV predicted politics in the 2010s, though, was in its prescription for a fix: the suggestion that what Washington really needs is an outsider to swoop in and shake things up (or drain the swamp, if you prefer). Mainstream networks in particular offered another archetype alongside these power-hungry nihilists: the accidental politician who reluctantly takes high office, then comes face-to-face with that broken system. These shows might have been more optimistic about human nature than “Scandal” or “Veep,” but in their own way, they were just as cynical about Washington.

In 2016, ABC launched “Designated Survivor,” a political thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland, best known as fearless agent Jack Bauer in “24.” Here, Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, a mild-mannered career academic who serves as secretary of Housing and Urban Development—but is so bad at navigating Washington politics that one morning, he learns that president plans to fire him. He has one final duty: to be the Cabinet member taken to a secure location during the State of the Union address, just in case. As it so happens, that night, somebody blows up the Capitol.

Kirkman takes the Oath of Office with no trust, no mandate and no idea how to do the job, though viewers surely trust that his inner Kiefer Sutherland will come through. It does, in a mild-mannered way, as he fires subordinate generals, stumbles through international crises and finds it within himself, eventually, to deliver a stirring speech. (In the third season, he delivers his own State of the Union address, but goes off-script and caterwauls at Congress: “The system is broken and you people broke it!”) Through it all, Kirkman is fighting against a greater conspiracy: a network of corruption that wrongly believes he’d be an easy mark. As other characters handle the action-adventure work, Kirkman stands his ground; it’s his rare integrity, his un-Washingtonian Kiefer-ness, that holds the nation together.

CBS’ “Madam Secretary,” which premiered two years earlier, has a similar premise: Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA analyst-turned-college professor, is tapped to become secretary of State after the current one dies in a plane crash. The president, a former CIA director, tells McCord he trusts her to think more expansively than most Washington lifers, and within reason, she complies, battling a White House chief of staff who would prefer she follow protocol more often. “This is me not being a politician,” she declares in one early episode, explaining an unconventional decision.

“Madam Secretary” is more like “The West Wing” in the sense that multiple characters have virtue. The president is a basically a good guy; the McCords’ marriage is a mutually supportive dream; the State Department staff is behind her. (So are some real-world political operatives: In one 2018 episode, former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell appear together, as themselves, to offer bland advice about pushing for national unity after a crisis.) Still, the show’s backdrop is a Washington that’s compromised and divided, full of conspiracies and unworthy opponents, from secretive bureaucrats to government moles and ambitious two-dimensional senators. At the end of the first season, one such senator discovers that McCord shared classified information with her husband Henry. Issued a subpoena to appear before the Senate committee, Henry declares his intention to obstruct justice. “This whole thing lacks integrity,” he tells Elizabeth. “I feel no ethical obligation to play by their rules.”

Ultimately, Elizabeth barges into the hearing, takes Henry’s place at the witness table and delivers an impassioned speech, saying she only broke the law because she cared about the country and didn’t know who else she could trust. (“Man, I have never heard a more eloquent defense for violating the Espionage Act,” another character says, in admiration.) She storms out of the hearing without being dismissed. Soon afterward, the president informs her that the Justice Department has decided to let it pass.

Of all of the political shenanigans on television this decade, that 2015 scene might have been the most telling, and the most predictive of the real-life politics that were to come, not long after the episode aired. “The West Wing” never argued that the rules of political engagement can and should be broken. But today, real-life Washington is full of disagreements, not just about facts and outcomes, but about the basic codes of conduct, the processes that everyone needs to follow, the obligation anyone has to play by anyone’s rules.

Again, it’s just TV. But academic treatises have been written about how TV crime shows can create a warped impression of the criminal justice system, giving jurors outsized expectations, for example, of the power of forensic evidence. A decade ago, on political TV, we had an openhearted baseline expectation about how the system works, why it fails and what kinds of behavior gets rewarded.

But in these 2010s shows, the characters learn that breaking the codes of conduct and propriety will wind up taking you far. Selina Meyer of “Veep” and both Underwoods of “House of Cards” all get to be president in the end. Elizabeth McCord, of “Madam Secretary,” eventually becomes president, too. But, you know, a good one. So long as you’re on her side.

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Politics this week | The world this week – The Economist

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The WHO said that most new cases of covid-19, a novel type of coronavirus, are now being reported outside China. The number of cases surged in South Korea; Italy recorded hundreds of infections, more than in any country outside Asia; and there were worries that Iran was underreporting the spread of the epidemic within its borders. Iran’s deputy health minister tested positive for the disease. See article.

China postponed the annual sessions of its rubber-stamp parliament because of concerns about the outbreak of covid-19. The meetings had been due to start in Beijing in March and involve thousands of delegates. Despite a fall in the daily numbers of new cases in China, Xi Jinping, the president, said the epidemic was “still grim and complex”.

A Chinese court sentenced Gui Minhai, the co-owner of a bookshop in Hong Kong that sold gossipy works about China’s leaders, to ten years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”. Mr Gui is a Swedish citizen who is also claimed by China as its national. His detention has fuelled widespread alarm in Hong Kong about the erosion of political freedoms.

Mahathir Mohamad resigned as prime minister of Malaysia, after his own party, Bersatu, decided to leave the ruling coalition. He remains in office as a caretaker. Anwar Ibrahim, his long-time rival and leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the biggest party in the coalition, has put himself forward as a replacement. It is unclear whether either man has the support of most MPs. See article.

The Afghan army, the insurgents of the Taliban and NATO forces all pledged to observe a week-long “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan’s civil war. If it holds until February 28th, America and the Taliban will sign a peace deal in Qatar on February 29th. See article.

Thailand’s constitutional court disbanded Future Forward, the country’s third-biggest political party, and banned its leaders from politics. It is the eighth party the court has dissolved since 2006. See article.

Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, summoned a crowd of hundreds of thousands to cheer for Donald Trump. But the American president’s visit was marred by communal riots in Delhi, which claimed 33 lives. See article.

Taur Matan Ruak, the prime minister of East Timor, resigned after parliament voted down his budget. The president must now decide whether to name another prime minister or call elections.

Foreign policymaking

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, announced a wide-ranging review of the country’s place in the world post-Brexit that seeks “innovative ways” to push overseas interests. Outside experts will be used to challenge “traditional Whitehall assumptions”, a nod to Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s powerful special adviser, who has clashed with civil servants. Mr Cummings has criticised waste in the Ministry of Defence.

Sajid Javid, who resigned as Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer after a skirmish with Mr Cummings, attacked a move to align the Treasury more closely with thinking in the prime minister’s office. Mr Javid said that this was not in the national interest.

The race to be the next leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats, and probable chancellor after Angela Merkel quits next year, now has only three runners. Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, got a big boost when Jens Spahn, the up-and-coming federal health minister, said he would not contest the race, but would support him instead.

Residents of the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios fought with riot police in an attempt to stop an expansion of detention camps to house more migrants arriving mostly from the Middle East via Turkey.

Degrees of brutality

Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for three decades, died. The former despot was toppled during the Arab spring of 2011, amid protests over poverty and his repressive rule. He faced trial for corruption and murder, but mostly avoided punishment. Many Egyptians expressed nostalgia for Mr Mubarak, who ruled with a lighter touch than the current dictator, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. See article.

Hardliners won parliamentary elections in Iran, scooping three-quarters of the seats. The regime claimed a mandate for its confrontational stance towards America. But thousands of moderates and reformers were barred from running and, as a result, turnout was the lowest in a parliamentary election since the Islamic revolution in 1979. See article.

Faure Gnassingbé, the president of Togo, won another term in an election marred by irregularities. Mr Gnassingbé has been in office since 2005, when he took over from his father, who had first seized power in 1967.

The police in a state

A strike by police in Ceará, in north-eastern Brazil, led to a sharp rise in the number of murders in the state. At least 170 people have died since police stopped work on February 19th in a row over pay. A senator, Cid Gomes, was shot as he drove a digger towards striking police. The government has sent in the army.

Protests by police in Haiti against poor working conditions led to battles between them and the army. At least one soldier died. The country’s Carnival celebration was cancelled.

Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal barred Evo Morales, a former president, from running for a seat in the Senate in elections due in May. Mr Morales left office in November after Bolivians protested against his re-election.

Her day in court

Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of two of the charges brought against him in New York: of rape (by having sex with a woman against her will) and of forcing oral sex on a woman. He was acquitted of three charges, including the most serious. Scores of other women have accused him of sexual misconduct. See article.

The latest Democratic debate produced the usual fireworks. It was the last to be held before the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, when Democrats in 14 states will vote on who they want to be their presidential candidate. Bernie Sanders remains the firm favourite following his decisive win in Nevada. See article.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Russia is meddling in the primaries to get Mr Sanders elected, and is also stepping up plans to interfere in the general election to re-elect Donald Trump. So it is a win-win situation for the Kremlin if either Mr Sanders or Mr Trump is victorious in November. See article.

This article appeared in the The world this week section of the print edition under the headline “Politics this week”

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The Atlantic Politics Daily: Bernie’s Big Vulnerability – The Atlantic

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It’s Thursday, February 27. In today’s newsletter: What Bernie Sanders’s 2020 rivals learned from Hillary Clinton. Plus: Venezuela is the eerie endgame of modern politics, Anne Applebaum writes.

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« TODAY IN POLITICS »

(John Locher / AP)

Bernie’s rivals have found an opening to attack him from the left.

To his detractors, Bernie Sanders can at best sound like a broken record. His core 2020 message is largely consistent with the progressive message he’s been hammering at for decades. But on issues around gun violence, Sanders hasn’t always been stalwartly progressive. He opposed certain gun restrictions in the ‘90s, and though his views have “evolved” (to use the preferred parlance of wishy washy DC politicos), his record on guns may be among his biggest vulnerabilities.

Candidates like Michael Bloomberg eager to go after Bernie on guns are borrowing from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 playbook, my colleague Russell Berman points out:

The campaign saw the gun issue as potent against Sanders, a former official told me, because it resonated most with three constituencies crucial to Democrats: voters of color, suburban women, and young people. Yet because Clinton never truly feared losing the nomination, she stopped short of maximizing the impact of her attack and didn’t run negative television ads on his gun record. “We raised the gun issue in order to put some chum in the water,” the second former campaign official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly. The strategy “was much more about giving something for the elites and the press to talk about than it was about informing actual primary voters.”

All the while, gun violence in America has grimly, devastatingly plodded along. Just yesterday, five people were shot and killed at the Molson Coors brewery in Milwaukee. America in 2019 saw more mass shootings than any other year on record. Two of the three deadliest occurred in the span of a single day.

Gun violence has become personal for many people in a way that it wasn’t before—a shift the party can try to capitalize on, my colleague Elaine Godfrey writes.

Guns have “to be on par with health care and with quality-of-life issues,” Dan Sena, a Democratic strategist who was the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during last year’s midterms, told me in an interview. And the growing intrusion of mass gun violence into daily life could be what upgrades the issue to a top concern for voters—a shift that Democrats could try to capitalize on in the same way they seized on voters’ worries about the fate of Obamacare and their own creeping health-care costs last year. The 2020 election, Sena said, “could be the first time you actually see” gun violence take center stage as the party’s go-to election message.

But can Democrats successfully center any part of the 2020 race around guns?

Saahil Desai

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« IDEAS AND ARGUMENTS »

(Leah Millis / Reuters)

1. “Critics may laugh and shake their heads, but the simple fact is that these people see themselves as stalwart defenders of the Constitution.”

While Attorney General Bill Barr’s critics accuse him of bending law enforcement to Trump’s political whims, but what if Barr’s efforts are working toward depoliticizing the Justice Department? That’s the argument of this former associate director for regulatory reform at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

2. “The GOP now exists to further the personal desires and wealth of one man … It is no longer a party of ideas, but a party of idolaters.”

Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is a symptom of problem America’s institutions face, three founders of the anti-Trump activist group called the Lincoln Project argue: “Defeating him is only the beginning of a national reformation,” they say.

3. “The purity test starts at the top.”

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien’s recent culling of the National Security Council may be cloaked in the language of making a sprawling bureaucracy more efficient. But really the move functions as a purge of disloyal staffers to Trump, this former Pentagon speechwriter argues.

*

« EVENING READ »

(Emin Ozmen / Magnum Photos)

What Happened in Venezuela

“Venezuela is not an idea,” Anne Applebaum writes. “It is a real place, full of real people.” And the current state of the country represents the eerie endgame of modern politics:

Trump is not the only world leader to cite Venezuela for self-serving ends. Regardless of what actually happens there, Venezuela—especially when it was run by Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez—has long been a symbolic cause for the Marxist left as well … Jeremy Corbyn, the far-left leader of the British Labour Party, was photographed with Chávez and has described his regime in Venezuela as an “inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics.”

Chávez’s rhetoric also helped inspire the Spanish Marxist Pablo Iglesias to create Podemos, Spain’s far-left party. Iglesias has long been suspected of taking Venezuelan money, though he denies it. Even now, the idea of Venezuela inspires defensiveness and anger wherever dedicated Marxists still gather, whether they are Code Pink activists vowing to “protect” the Venezuelan embassy in Washington from the Venezuelan opposition or French Marxists who refuse to call Maduro a dictator.

Read the rest.


*

Today’s newsletter was written Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and Christian Paz, a politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to politicsdaily@theatlantic.com.

Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Saahil Desai is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers politics and policy.
Christian Paz is an editorial fellow at The Atlantic.

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A Q&A With Charlotte Alter About the Politics and Politicians of the Millennial Generation – New York Magazine

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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The next president of the United States will probably be someone who’s over the age of 70. Donald Trump is 73; Joe Biden is 77. Bernie Sanders, who is currently leading the Democratic Party’s primary field, is 78. But young people are transforming American politics, driving substantive ideological trends in both major parties via the politicians they support. Sanders, for example, owes much of his leading status to the young. In fact, young Democratic voters prefer him to Pete Buttigieg, a more moderate millennial, by a wide margin.

They’re also entering political office themselves. In doing so, they begin an inevitable process: Soon enough, their generation will be the one controlling Congress and the White House. What will that America look like? Will it take up the political revolution promised by Sanders, will it tilt to the right, or will it default to the patterns established by the political class that millennials will eventually replace? Without the aid of a crystal ball, nobody can answer these questions with any certainty. But the future is beginning to take shape, and in her new book, The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For, journalist Charlotte Alter provides us an invaluable early glimpse into the events and movements that will influence politics for decades to come.

Alter, a national correspondent for Time magazine, recounts the trajectories of several prominent members of America’s newest class of politicians. Alter’s subjects are diverse — they range from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist; to Dan Crenshaw, the Texas Republican whose inflammatory attacks on migrants and fellow member of Congress Ilhan Omar made him infamous. But Alter identifies some connective tissue among these up-and-coming leaders — namely a view of politics that can be less rigidly hierarchical and places a greater emphasis on plurality compared to their boomer predecessors. Alter spoke to New York about her findings and what they may tell us about the future of both major parties. The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For is out now from Viking.

This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed for length.

You talked to young politicians from across the political spectrum: leftists, more traditional Democratic liberals, some Republicans, too. Are there any common characteristics that distinguish this younger class of politicians from their older colleagues?

A couple of things. Millennials obviously are much better with technology and are much more fluent in the language of social media than their boomer peers are. They definitely care way more about climate change in particular. And that’s true across the political spectrum. Republicans, too. The young Republicans I talked to told me that climate change is happening and the government has to do something about it.

They do have totally different ideas about what that should be. They’re not onboard with the Green New Deal. They don’t embrace socialism the way young leftist millennials do. They have a real disagreement about what that climate action should be. But one major point of agreement across the aisle, people of both parties is like this, is that climate change is a real threat.

Another thing that I noticed is that morality politics have changed a lot. So again, across the spectrum, young Republicans have given up on the battle against marriage equality while older Republicans who maybe have a more 1990s, Christian right sort of framework are still beating that drum. Marijuana legalization was another place where young Republicans just were not fighting a battle that older Republicans are fighting. A lot of young Republicans that I talk to think that marijuana legalization will be good for business and good for health. I think there’s a little bit more of a live-and-let-live-type attitude amongst some of these younger Republicans. One big exception to that is abortion, where both sides are still really entrenched. And I didn’t see a lot of generational movement there.

We’re seeing an intergenerational fight within the Democratic Party that isn’t just about age, but about substantive differences in ideology and tactics. Do you think that a similar dynamic exists in the Republican Party right now?

One thing that’s happening in the Republican Party right now is that they’re losing young people. There was a Pew statistic that should be very scary for anybody who cares about the future of the Republican Party, which is that only half of young Republicans stayed loyal to the GOP over the course of 2015 to 2017. During Trump’s rise, basically. So half of those people defected from the GOP, and then came back, which means they have maybe a soft allegiance. They’re still with the GOP, but were upset enough that they left and came back in. And then half of those people permanently defected. Overall, a quarter of young Republicans have permanently defected from the GOP.

Some of the polls that look at the attitudes of young Republicans are in some ways kind of skewed, I think, because they’re looking at the attitudes of people who still call themselves Republicans. They’re not looking at the attitudes of people who, if you’d asked them in 2013 if they were Republican, they would have said yes. A lot of those people now identify as independents. So young Republicans in particular have been especially turned off by Trump. Not only turned off by him, but he’s made their lives more complex. They find themselves constantly having to defend him, constantly having to tiptoe around him or justify him. I talked to some young Republican members of Congress who, even though they support the president, they don’t ever mention him in their speeches. You can infer that they don’t want there to be a quote out there of them saying how great Donald Trump is so it can be used in an attack ad against them ten years from now.

You mentioned that on morality issues, like same-sex marriage, there are some generational differences within the Republican Party. But race and immigration are issues that have been at the fore of the Trump presidency. Have you noticed similar generational differences there, or is it a bit more complicated?

So I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that. I do think that young Republicans generally do support immigration more than their older Republicans do. There are obviously some big exceptions, like Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, who has emerged as being particularly tough on immigration. But people like Carlos Curbelo, a former congressman from Florida, and Elise Stefanik of New York were among the people who pushed back against some of the things that Trump did on immigration initially.

I think what is important to think about when thinking about young Republicans in this context is that I think a lot of them — and I want to make sure I phrase this the correct way — have an understanding of racial justice that is closer to their Democratic peers than to their boomer Republican peers, who think of racial justice like, “Oh, segregation’s over, everything’s fine.” We see that in young Republicans’ support for criminal justice reform and things like that. But there is a culture war in how those values are expressed. And I think that a lot of young Republicans in particular are turned off by PC culture and sort of the sanctimony of some of their left-wing peers. So they’re kind of pushed away from that side of the movement, and they feel attacked.

How is social media changing the way this new generation of politicians are running for office right now?
It’s changed it entirely. Instagram is to AOC what radio was to FDR and television was to JFK. It is a completely new and essential way of communicating with the public. It’s not as if any of these people, like, started using social media the second they started running for office. It’s not a blazer that they put on that they hadn’t been wearing before, you know. So a lot of these people are used to communicating in a mass way. They’re used to being in front of a camera. They’re used to asking people to do things on the internet: “Please click this. Please check this out. Here’s what I think about this thing.” In some ways, social media has made it so that almost every millennial is a public figure in some way or another. Everybody has a side to them that is public-facing, and running for office just means that you lean into that public side way more than you would have if you were a private citizen. I think in previous generations, people had to just develop that public side out of nowhere because you didn’t have a built-in mechanism to have that public facing side of you. So many of the major social movements, particularly on the left, like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, also started on social media and kind of mimic social media in their structures. They are networked. They’re not hierarchical. There is no one person who is in charge and telling everybody what to do. There is sort of an organic way that information and ideas and attitudes kind of flow within these movements. These movements were created by thousands of voices speaking at once. And that’s what I really tried to get at in this book. That’s why it’s called The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For. In some ways, the thesis of this book is that millennial politics is rooted in a sense of plurality, that there isn’t going to be any one person like Pete Buttigieg or AOC where if they become president, it will be the era of the millennial politician. That’s not the point. The point is that this is a generation that is much more networked, has their politics much more rooted in mass movements. This is a book about politics in the plural, trying to move away from the great man idea that there is one person and the decisions they make are the most important decisions in the world.

Do you think social media is making it easier for people to run for office?

Yes, it’s definitely making it easier. I think it’s making politics seem accessible to more people. Somebody like AOC uses her social media to essentially communicate the message that I’m a normal person just like you, and I ran for office and won. That’s the point of democracy, that an ordinary person can, with the help of a lot of other people, run for office and win and represent their community in the United States government. That’s the way our system is supposed to work. A lot of the anger at the democratic system among millennials reflects the extent to which it hasn’t worked that way. It is so expensive to run for office, so it does feel inaccessible. And the people who are in power don’t feel like they’re really of the community. Social media can help that democratic impulse of allowing people to feel like they’re actually connected to the people who represent them.

The youth vote is going to be critical to a Democratic victory in 2020. Based on your reporting, what do you think the party has to do in order to turn out young voters in November? 

As you and I both know, Bernie Sanders is the candidate of choice for young people. Though I saw a really interesting poll recently that showed that among young Democrats, Bernie was at 53 percent and Warren was at 17. So 70 percent of young Democrats were with one of the two progressive candidates.

I think a lot of this goes back to Barack Obama, because the election of Barack Obama was an incredible, mobilizing moment for so many young people who cast their first presidential vote for the first black president. He won in this unbelievable historic moment that many people remember as one of their first moments of political awareness, one of the first times they participated in the political process. He was somebody who was cool and gave these soaring speeches. He created in many young people a sense that your vote was something you only gave to somebody who you truly believed in.

And I think that that is something that’s going to be a real challenge for Democrats, because young people will vote if they really believe in somebody, if they think it’s incredibly important and if they feel like it is a major transformative moment. What you’re seeing in youth-voting patterns is that when there is an uninspiring candidate or somebody where it doesn’t feel that urgent, they don’t show up. And I think that that’s one of the main reasons that Hillary Clinton struggled with young people. The Democratic Party should worry that if they nominate somebody who doesn’t really speak to these young voters, they risk a lot of them not showing up because young voters don’t think of voting as a duty. They think of it as something that they need to be inspired to do.

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