Growing up in South Carolina in the 1990’s, I vividly remember sitting around dinner tables, in grocery stores, in church buildings, and at sports fields, listening intently as our parents’ generation chatted about the American political landscape. As I listened, there was one common theme I found present in those conversations that eludes me in conversations with my peers now in 2016…a presumed conservative political framework. A previous generation of conservatives could walk into a conversation with neighbors or even strangers and almost immediately uncover similar threads of frustrations about government, because the majority of people we interacted with in the 90’s were operating from a similar worldview, or lens through which we make sense of the world.
Fast forward to the growing cities of America in 2016. Living in Durham, NC and getting to know my neighbors, there is a presumption I make in conversations with my peers. I assume that the person I am speaking with has a somewhat different or radically different worldview and likely operates with a different political framework.
Both through personal perception and the growing amounts of published data, I now know that young conservatives stand as the political minority in America, possibly even a deep minority. This new landscape for conservative millennials, surprising to some, doesn’t scare me. I would even dare say that it makes me more hopeful for the future. As the minority, young conservatives will be challenged to soundly hold up the banner of limited government all while expressing our ideas with clarity to an audience that is increasingly skeptical or confused. It will require us to leave angry rhetoric at the door because now, as the minority, our movement will never survive without growing. Our success will not only be in understanding the principles of conservatism that we see eroding, but in expressing conservatism as a more true and better alternative.
Growing the movement requires convictional kindness, listening, and coherently defending our ideas. We must stand firm and do so charitably. This will stand in contrast to a longstanding cultural perception that conservatives are “always mad” and that “they just talk at you”. Young conservatives, living as the minority, will not be afraid to engage in conversations on topics such as income inequality, environmental sustainability, and care for refugees. If we do not speak to these issues, the narrative will be shaped without our input whatsoever.
If we practice convictional kindness and show the next generation how the Constitution stands and applies meaningfully in the 21st Century, I feel certain we will grow our movement and influence in the public square. Even as we watch Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ramp up rhetoric, inciting some of the worst fear and attitudes in our electorate, we have an opportunity to be even more visible in the way we build and share our message. Let us be known for our actions as principled public servants, not for our rhetoric spoken from a pedestal of superiority. The images of 2016 may look bleak, but the future can be extremely bright.