Messaging to a Millennial Culture
The following is a modified version of a speech given at Constitutional Coalition’s Educational Policy Conference in St. Louis, Missouri on January 25, 2019.
First of all, here’s a true confession. I don’t actually identify as a “millennial.” Yes, I was born in the 80’s, but I don’t subscribe to the ideology which the media, popular culture and the Left assume I should accept. They think I’m supposed to be a socialist, social justice warrior who wants big government, is addicted to my phone and can’t think for myself. But in my observation, the millennial “ethic” is a morally and intellectually bankrupt set of ideas that actually disempowers people, exploits the vulnerable and is both anti-faith and anti-American. It is the ideology of the radical left, repackaged in K-12 education, academia, film, music, the media and pop culture. It is not an organic movement, nor is it a natural reaction to events. As a contrast, for example, the shared experience of WWII shaped the greatest generation (like my grandfather, a WWII Navy officer) with common values of patriotism and duty.
However, millennial ideology is not about a shared experience—like the depression or a war, but instead it is a marketing campaign waged on a specific group of individuals to transform their thoughts, perspectives and ultimately political leanings. Why do I believe this? I read Dave Kupelian’s book, The Marketing of Evil, in which he details how the Left has used sophisticated marketing campaigns to destroy morals, values and the traditional family in this country. I would urge everyone to read it and then start to listen for the repeated marketing messages in our culture. So back to millennials— while those who emerge from the American educational system assume that their thoughts are their own, they are only products of a cultural and educational diet which has taught them through subtle cultural pressure the values of “tolerance” and “self-censorship.”
One of the big problems is that the millennial ideology has transformed not only my generation but other generations, because everyone wants to be “young” and “with it.” And as Baby Boomers start to age, they are accepting millennial ideology in order to feel young and relevant. This is why I titled my talk, “Messaging in a Millennial Culture.” Because it’s not just about messaging to the 20’s and 30’s—it’s about messaging to all people who subscribe to the millennial ideology which has so pervaded our culture.
Like any ideology, millennial ideology has core tenants such as like socialism, abortion on demand, moral relativism, environmental crusading, open borders, “tolerance” and social justice, but underlying all of these things is a misapplied concept of “kindness.”
Like we need to be kind to outsiders. We need to share the wealth. We need to save the earth. We need to be compassionate to women, and so on.
And we are made to think that there are two teams. The Leftist team that cares about people and the conservative team that only cares about money.
In messaging to a millennial culture, it’s important to show how the policies of the Leftist team hurts people rather than helping them. The conservative view actually elevates the human person and empowers them to make responsible decisions that make for a good society. Let me give you four examples of this: abortion, the trans-gender issue, border enforcement, and socialism
Let’s take the abortion issue: the Left claims to care about women. Yet they don’t mention the physical and psychological harm abortion causes. Whether it is increased substance abuse, increased suicide risk or complications in subsequent pregnancies, “abortion hurts women” is not a political statement. It’s a scientific fact. And giving half a billion dollars of taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, an organization built on exploiting women and profiting from their crisis is unacceptable. It is not kind. The conservative approach recognizes abortion’s risks to women, talks about them, and seeks to help women in their crisis with compassionate care.
Or the Trans-Gender issue: The Left claims to be compassionate and inclusive towards trans-gender people. Yet, the entire concept of trans-gender transitioning (with hormones and surgery) has no medical or psychological validation and stands against common sense medical ethics. It is not kind to force drastic measures on a child, who has to live with the results for the rest of his or her life. Like James, a young 6 year old boy who is being court ordered to transition against the wishes of his father. I would encourage everyone to go to SaveJames.com to learn more. The tragic consequences of the Left’s social experimentation are real. And they aren’t kind. The conservative approach seeks to love the people who are struggling with sexual identity, yet create safe medical boundaries to help them.
Or take Border Enforcement: The Left wants to “build bridges, not walls.” Which is a great greeting card, but it is not real life. They fail to acknowledge the opioids pouring through the southern border, the criminals, rapists, human traffickers, and MS-13 gang members. Rather than focusing on the legal immigration process, they think that open borders is the “kind” approach. But it’s not kind to put millions of Americans at risk or to support human trafficking and the exploitation of human beings. The conservative approach supports our legal immigration system and the duty of our country to protect her citizens from harm.
Or the millennial favorite, socialism. The Left claims that socialism is the highest good, and an equitable form of “sharing.” They fail to mention the fact that it has failed everywhere it has been tried and has only led to misery, exploitation and a more stratified society. They also fail to mention the human cost, like the two babies, Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. Socialist judges in the UK forced the hospitals to remove the feeding tubes and life support from these babies because they deemed their congenital defects to be a liability, even against the wishes of the parents. The Left fails to mention this aspect of socialism which is both heartbreaking and morally wrong. The conservative approach of a free-market economy promotes the protection of the human person, conscience rights, religious liberty, and is the most fair form of an economy because it rewards hard work while fostering creativity and ingenuity.
In all of these issues, and so many more, the conservative way is the way of empowerment and the way of a healthy society. It is not surface “kindness,” but rather sustainable kindness. Yes. Sustainable kindness.
So now let’s talk about how to talk to people. The millennial ideology has transformed words into weapons and tone into aggression. Now, we are unable to have a debate based on facts, and those of us who are trying to tell the truth wind up in an argument about “you offended me” or “your words make me feel unsafe,” not about any facts.
So what do we do?
We have two options in this situation. We either say, “Get over yourself and stop whining” (which, of course, doesn’t help) or we accept that some people have been conditioned to be extra sensitive, and to meet them where they are. This is often difficult for conservatives. We are principled, rational people who trust facts over feelings. Right?
And sometimes conservatives think that tailoring messages to a specific audience means that we compromise our values. This is not true. We don’t have to compromise any of our values. We just have to say it in a different way. Just like we say “use your words” to a toddler and “could you please explain yourself” to an adult, it is normal to tailor messages to different groups. But it takes more creativity, and a creative approach is honestly what our movement needs. And we don’t need to be afraid of it. We need to be willing to adapt our message. In doing this we do not compromise our principles, but rather show why our principles are kind, ethical and humanitarian.
We also have to use both story-telling and the data to communicate our message. In general, we tend to show a graph and the Left shows a picture of a puppy. But what if we combined the two? Showing a picture of a puppy and a graph. Or showing a graph to some and a puppy to others?
We also have to paint a vision for the future. Frank Luntz, the renowned pollster and author of Words that Work and other messaging books, talks about the power of the word “imagine.” Here it is in action:
A pro-life vision (like the one from Americans United for Life, where I used to work) could be “imagine a world in which all are welcomed in life and protected by law.” Or “imagine a world in which women are supported, not exploited during crisis.”
Or imagine common sense border enforcement which honors our sovereignty and protects our citizens.”
Or how about this one? Imagine university campuses which foster free and honest dialogue, rather than coercive groupthink.”
The power of the word, “imagine,” is how it encourages people to take ownership in an issue. Like when I say, “Imagine revitalized urban communities as places of entrepreneurship and growth,” you are now imagining your own vision of urban communities. And as we imagine things together, we begin to see opportunities we hadn’t seen before. We see creative solutions to old problems. We begin to have a vision for a better future.
In messaging to a millennial culture, we first must acknowledge millennialism as a Leftist ideology resting on a misapplied concept of “kindness.” We must then debunk the issues which appear to be kind, but in fact are not. Then we must replace those issues with conservative solutions of sustainable kindness. In tailoring our messages, in storytelling, and in painting a vision for the future, we will begin to creatively solve problems and leverage the imagination for the flourishing of our country and the legacy of those who follow us.
Photo credit: Kannaa/BigStock