We the millennials, in order to form a more perfect democracy
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Though Monday’s presidential debate between Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSantorum: Dems have a chance in 2020 if they pick someone ‘unexpected’ Trump should heed a 1974 warning penned by Bush NRCC breach exposes gaps 2 years after Russia hacks MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE reeled in a record-breaking 84 million viewers, this level of engagement in the democratic process — if you can call it that — probably signals bad, not good, news for the health of American democracy. The upside? The bar is pretty low.

Despite what you may have heard, there is no Golden Age of American democracy. The architect of our Constitution, James Madison, longed for a Congress “as un-corrupt as possible,” but 100 years after it was written, President Rutherford B. Hayes concluded that America had become “a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.”


Americans have long struggled to make the ways we choose our leaders “more perfect,” to open the political process to all, and to incentivize accountability, transparency, and responsivity because democracy is a journey, not a destination. So there’s no real question that before the U.S. Supreme Court further radicalized our election laws with its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC — which disintegrated the thin legal line that separated U.S. elections and unlimited corporate spending — the American experiment in self-government had plenty to complain about.

But prior to Citizens United, one could make it through the morning news without seeing stories of foreign nationals pumping a million dollars into our presidential elections, of so-called “independent expenditure” groups naming themselves after candidates, of brazen financiers funneling backdoor donations to pleading politicians simply because they asked, or of multinational corporations driving millions upon millions of dollars into “super PACs” that spend as much as they want on our elections. (Heck, super PACs didn’t even exist back then.)

Toss in the fact that half of all that super PAC money — now estimated at over one billion dollars in 2016 alone — comes from merely 50 donors, or that special-interest groups are now responsible for a record-breaking share of money spent in judicial elections, and it’s not hard to long for the days when one could buy all 535 seats in Congress with the gross earnings from Titanic.

From the 35,000-foot view, it’s easy to see that millennials have the most to lose from this new world. We’ve come of age in this brutally incompetent political system, and we’re threatened with having to live with it the longest. Put it this way: While earlier generations who fought the good fight for reforms like McCain-Feingold are collecting their pensions — whatever those are — the largest generation in American history will be watching Sallie Mae-sponsored attack ads over Snapchat. Can we do better?

Plenty of evidence suggests we can. While it’s true that millennials — roughly defined as those Americans who became young adults around the year 2000 — vote less frequently than other living generations, and are often accused of sporting a rabid sense of self-entitlement, we’re also the most educated (though worst paid) and the most racially diverse generation ever, and we’ve helped raise everyone’s voice through the technology we’ve created. Most importantly, millennials are uniquely concerned about the influence of money in politics, and more and more of us are itching to get involved in the fight to save our democracy.

This effort takes an important step this week, as the first-ever Millennial Roundtable on Money in Politics kicks off at the inaugural National Citizen Leadership Conference this Saturday. Brought together by American Promise, Millennial leaders will offer their perspectives on the democracy issues that hit our generation the hardest: voting rights, youth empowerment, issue intersectionality, and the cross-cultural components of a new, Millennial-fueled reform movement.

The consequences are clear: We, the millennials, have the most to lose — or gain — in the fight for an equitable and responsive democracy, and we are coming together to make clear the political priorities of the soon-to-be largest voting bloc in American history.

The end goal of our generation’s works isn’t a Golden Age of American politics; it’s progress toward one. It’s the rebuke of the failed system we stand to inherit. And it’s a big, burdened, and yet determined step forward on the journey for American democracy.   

Scott Greytak is a counsel at Free Speech For People


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.