America’s youngest adults think it’s high time for the United States to step back from its imperial role on the world stage, while the oldest American’s are beginning to lose their love to the Big Stick.
Perhaps it’s because they grew up, unlike earlier generations, living fully with the blowback from generations of aggressive interventions into the affairs of others, and the mountains of debt this country has incurred from belligerence and bullying.
Perhaps at no previous time in the nation’s history has it become so startlingly apparent that all those bloody adventures have done nothing beyond profiting plutocrats who have no intention of sharing the wealth harvested from oceans of blood.
From Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, writing in The Conversation, an open access journal:
Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, see America’s role in the 21st century world in ways that, as a recently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and change compared to prior generations.
For over 40 years the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American public whether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of world affairs.
This year, an average of all respondents – people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences could be seen when the numbers are broken down by generation.
The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War, showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there through each age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That’s still more internationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups.
There is some anti-Trump effect visible here: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22 percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also were the least supportive of the “take an active part” view during the Obama administration as well.
Four sets of additional polling numbers help us dig deeper.
• Military power: Only 44 percent of millennials believe maintaining superior military power is a very important goal, much less than the other generations. They also are less supportive of increasing defense spending.
And when asked whether they support the use of force, millennials are generally disinclined, especially so on policies like conducting airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, using troops if North Korea invades South Korea, and conducting airstrikes against violent Islamic extremist groups.
• American ‘exceptionalism’: Millennials also were much less inclined to embrace the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world.” Only half of millennials felt that way, compared to much higher percentages of the other three generations. In a related response, only one-quarter of millenials saw the need for the U.S. to be “the dominant world leader.”
These findings track with the 2014 American National Election Study, which found that while 78 percent of silent, 70 percent of boomer and 60 percent of Gen X respondents consider their American identity as extremely important, only 45 percent of millennials do.