ESTHER CEPEDA: It’s time to give millennials a break
CHICAGO -- It’s a terrible idea to make too much of the campaign victory of any politician, but an exception is in order now that New York has elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress: It’s time to drop the snarky jabs about millennials.
There’s no question that the fact Ocasio-Cortez is 29 is worth celebrating. Young people are woefully underrepresented in governing roles, and their exuberance, fresh ideas and open minds could help them connect with a more diverse demographic.
Yet in a society that is obsessed with being youthful and on the cutting edge, we sure look down our noses at even the most accomplished young person if he or she has the temerity to like avocados, toast or -- insert patronizing tone here -- avocado toast.
Just set the food preferences aside and note that the disparagement that Ocasio-Cortez’s detractors heap upon her centers mostly on her democratic socialist political beliefs but also leans heavily on her age.
Adjectives like “spoiled,” “entitled,” and “vacuous” are appended to “millennial” and deployed to heighten the fiction that, if you’re to believe the criticism on newspaper-website comment sections, Ocasio-Cortez is so post-internet ignorant that she believes money falls from the sky and that everyone should get everything for free.
Let’s be clear: The woman graduated from Boston University with degrees in international relations and economics. I’m pretty sure she knows more about where money comes from than 98 percent of the adult U.S. population.
A less charitable reading would be that Ocasio-Cortez’s membership in a generation that is frequently mocked was a gift to those who want to root against a woman trying to gain political power but don’t want to appear openly misogynist.
Surely there’s some of that. But, most likely, some older people openly despise millennials because they are free-spirited and possessed of the idealism and naivete that every young person deserves to indulge in before the realities of a life’s difficulties grind away a little bit of the optimism.
Sadly, as it has been noted time and again, millennials don’t have it as easy as everyone assumes. They aren’t all trust-fund recipients who took gap years in Europe on their parents’ dime. And when they fail to live up to those easy stereotypes, they’re mocked for not being as wildly rich and successful as they’re made out to be.
Case in point, there was a media uproar when it came out that Ocasio-Cortez can’t afford to put down a deposit, and first and last month’s rent, in the nation’s capital, one of the most expensive cities in the country (one-bedroom apartments average about $2,200), plus pay moving and living expenses before getting the first paycheck from her new job.
Neither could most of America, never mind a young person who has been open about having student loans she’s still paying. Someone who, until recently, was working as a server in a bar.
At least in this instance, level heads, even from opposing camps, came to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense.
“It’s perfectly appropriate to criticize the kinds of anti-market policy prescriptions a socialist like Ocasio-Cortez is likely to recommend. But let’s not beat up on her for failing to have as much access to wealth as the average member of Congress,” wrote Robby Soave, an associate editor at Reason.com. “This problem should inspire sympathy, not scorn.”
Sure, we can have sympathy and even chalk up Ocasio-Cortez’s “first-world problem” to folksiness or “relatability.”
Better yet: Cut out the millennial condescension.
By most measures the youngest millennials are 22 and the oldest are 41. It’s a range so incredibly wide, a populace so diverse and heterogenous across geography, race, ethnicity and socio-economic class, that lumping them all into one category of detached, internet-obsessed narcissists is every bit as offensive as the religious, racial and gender-based stereotypes we all know are both in poor taste and off-limits in polite company.
Young people are America’s present and future. If we don’t like them, we should point the finger of blame toward ourselves -- and who bought all those pre-teens their internet-enabled smartphones and laptops for their bedrooms and didn’t set limits? -- instead of piling on.
Just be nice! Remember, we need those idealistic young people to pay into Social Security and take care of us in the not-too-distant future.