"Who's Ted Nugent?"
Although admitting to being disconnected from the youth movements and protests in the 1960s when he himself was young, Ted Nugent has plenty of negative things to say about today’s Millennials. In a recent op-ed piece in The Washington Times, Nugent blasted U.S. youth, arguing, “they appear to be terminally stoned on apathy.”
Nugent, who is not an expert on Millennial youth group movements, goes on to question their absence in the Tea Party. The fact that he is ‘stunned’ raises questions about his understanding of the extreme demographic differences between youth today and those who comprise the so-called Tea Party movement. It seems Nugent wishes to romanticize the size and capability of the movement, which tends to be older, white, and overwhelmingly Evangelical. When it comes to their take on abortion and other social issues, Tea Party folks generally have more conservative views. That does not tend to be true for Millennials, however. For example, a recent study suggests why Millennials do not identify with the values of the Tea Party:
- Overall, they have a more progressive view on politics.
- They are also quite diverse. That diversity lends itself to more progressive politics.
- Those Millennials who are white are even more progressive than their minority counterparts.
Comparing those facts and the clear difference in demographics should not leave anyone confused about the reason for why Millennials are not gung-ho to be part of the Tea Party Movement. Future Majority Editor Kevin Bondelli pointed out in a recent piece, and not by text or by tweet, “while [Nugent] may be right that Millennials aren't flocking to the Tea Party and rioting in the streets protesting raising the debt ceiling, he is dead wrong about students not protesting at all.” Bondelli then provides a lengthy list of the recent protests that Millennials have organized and participated in across the country. So Nugent is off base in suggesting that youth today are politically inactive. There has been a good deal of protests, but not with the Tea Party he seems to admire.
There is something, however, even more troubling about Nugent’s poor understanding of demographic differences, and that is the overall tone of his piece. He blasts Millennials for being ‘high on apathy,’ ‘asleep’ as their world crumbles around them, and so on, and so forth. That tone – putting aside all of the stilted metaphors – suggests that youth today lack the vivacious agency of yesteryear. Indeed, back in the day when Nugent was young, his fellow youthful Americans were actively engaged in change, whereas the youth today are clearly incapable of even keeping their drooping eyelids open long enough to see what’s really going on. Assuming that Bondelli did not provide us with plenty of evidence to the contrary, one might ask in despair: Where did all that agency go? How have the youth today been robbed of that ability to protest, fight back, and demand change?
If there were such apathy among youth, which there is not, perhaps Nugent’s boomer generation could take some of the blame for handing over a world that has been excessively “financialized” and commercialized. Those things have also served to undermine representative democracy in the U.S. But that is really beside the point, because, again, Nugent is wrong. Agency is alive and awake, as it has been witnessed over the past few years and stirring Millennials to act even more so now than before.
Perhaps the best approach to such unfounded and inaccurate criticism can be drawn from Stephen Colbert’s droll take on Nugent’s piece. When ‘interviewing’ an NYU student on his show recently, he asked her what she thought about Nugent’s biting comments. The young woman looked at Colbert blankly and asked, “Who’s Ted Nugent?” Before Colbert could ask her any more questions, she was already gone. Off to conquer the world. Her world.
Cryn Johannsen is a political activist and the founder and executive director of All Education Matters. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including USA Today, The Huffington Post, Truthout.org, and The New England Journal of Higher Education.