Ezra Klein dishes on millennials and the 2016 election - and sneakers

The editor of Vox spoke Friday morning at the Arthur W. Page Society's Spring Seminar.

Ezra Klein at the Arthur W. Page Spring Seminar. (Photo credit: Sean Czarnecki).
Ezra Klein at the Arthur W. Page Spring Seminar. (Photo credit: Sean Czarnecki).

NEW YORK:  Ezra Klein, founder and editor-in-chief of Vox, took the stage at the 2016 Arthur W. Page Spring Seminar in a suit and sneakers on Friday morning to dispel a few notions about his generation.

"I come to you as a millennial," Klein said. "And as an expert on millennials and sneakers, I don’t believe there are experts on millennials. The beginning wisdom here, I think, is millennials are a lot of people. They exist within a context and for all of us, that context changes. And as it is with any group, making broad sweeping generalizations is going to make you look like a fool. So we’re not going to do that today."

Vox is a media website with a specialty in explaining the news, and that’s just what Klein did in his 30-minute talk "Millennials and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election," which was followed by a 10-minute Q&A.

His speech contextualized millennials’ political attitudes, the buildup of anti-establishment sentiment, and the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump by connecting those events with historical developments.

"Millennials live most in this new context, this is most singular for them, but we all live in it," Klein said.

Klein went on to highlight some of the most salient political attitudes among millennials. For example, a poll showed 66% of millennials don’t think the socialist label has hurt Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning the White House, which Klein attributed to the post-Soviet Union era in which millennials grew up.

Instead of the specter of Communism, their greatest fears revolve around the failures of capitalism, manifested by the 2008 financial crisis.

Millennials also harbor a deep distrust of the federal government, Wall Street, and the media, but they’re overwhelmingly liberal and more statist than past generations. Their most desired attribute for a presidential candidate is integrity.

"For them, for us, honesty is not something we can take for granted. That something as basic as integrity is a top attribute people want in politicians speaks to a feeling of deep betrayal, speaks to a feeling of deep distrust, speaks to a group of people who don’t think they can take the most fundamental human decency for granted in their political system," Klein said. "This is all they’ve ever known."

Combine those historical events with the advent of the Internet, social media, and unlimited donations in the form of super PACs, and both Republicans and Democrats find their parties sitting on a powder keg.

The parties can also no longer dictate to the press which candidates to cover, especially at a time when websites extensively track which stories trigger the most reads and shares. Content creation is predicated on a radically new question: "Why would somebody share this? This is different from asking why someone would read it," Klein said.

"We have such deep analytics that not only do I know how many of you read an article but I know where you stopped, and the answer is it’s very high up and you should feel ashamed," he quipped. "What happens now is you have a much larger role in structuring my coverage than you ever did before."

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