Harnessing the Politics of Disruption

LONDON – The United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union and Donald Trump’s election as US president exposed a deep generational divide. Cosmopolitan millennials and nationalist pensioners – what Thomas Friedman calls “Web People” and “Wall People” – seem to have nothing in common. But both point to the same crisis of political representation.

In the UK, for every “Leave” voter under the age of 24, there were three over the age of 65. In the US, Trump won 53% of the over-65 vote, but was supported by only 37% of 18-29-year-olds.

In both cases, the elderly were attracted by pessimistic rhetoric assailing the damage to their communities brought about by free trade, free movement, free love, and human-free technology disrupting their jobs and economic security. Young people were far more optimistic about the future, their personal prospects, and technology’s potential – and far more empathetic toward marginalized groups.

The pessimists won, and now they’re feeling pretty hopeful. The former optimists now fear the worst.