Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a message last week for all Americans, especially Millennials: “We’re all in this together.”
After the failure to repeal Obamacare, public criticism took voice in Columbia, South Carolina on Saturday. Graham’s town hall transformed into an outlet for disappointed voters to share, and sometimes shout, their reactions.
The crowd, mostly self-identified Bernie Sanders supporters (by a show of hands), flooded the conference building by the hundreds. The audience was not allowed to bring any signs, so instead they showed up armed with red and green cards to express their disapproval.
Appearing on the stage alone, without introduction, Graham faced down the crowd, representing a political minority in his state. Amid boos and taunts, the 61-year-old senator stuck to his message of moderation and bipartisanship. He crafted his message around a single rallying point: the next generation.
“My generation, you know we’ve had it pretty damn good. I’m worried about the next generation…”
“My generation, you know we’ve had it pretty damn good. I’m worried about the next generation,” Graham said.
On the most pressing issues, including healthcare, education and the economy, Graham kept coming back to Millennials and the dire situation they are already facing.
For good reason, too. While the numbers change based on how exactly you define the generation, most are not doing well, according to most economic indicators. Millennials, now the largest generation, earn 20 percent less than their Baby-Boomer parents did at the same stage in life.
In fact, Business Insider released a disturbing map in November 2016 documenting the median annual income of Millennials by state. Excluding the outlier of Washington D.C., most states show an income of less than $24,000 for those employed under 35. For a number of states, that number is under $20,000.
most states show an income of less than $24,000 for those employed under 35.
According to to the Census Bureau, their annual income has continued to decline since the 2000s. And this graph compares statistics from the Bureau of Labor showing how Millennials’ earning compared to the overall workforce, which has mostly stabilized after the Great Recession.
By almost every measure, the younger generation has been unable to recover from the global economic crisis. As a result Millennials are putting off buying homes, delaying having children and skipping big ticket purchases.
The South Carolina lawmaker touched on how this new generation would face economic problems even without lagging behind their parents. “How many people are worried about social security?… You ought to be, worried about social security for your grandchildren.”
“I’m worried they that can’t pay off the debt that they are required to pay.”
Then Graham spoke directly to the 20-somethings in the audience. “To young people, we gotta adjust the age of retirement one more time, if we don’t do that I’m not worth a damn to you.”
He went on, referencing the national debt and the burden that Millennials will have to take over. “I’m worried they that can’t pay off the debt that they are required to pay.”
Fortunately, Graham does see potential solutions. He used the touchy issue of health care as his prime example.
“Let me tell you about health care: I don’t think one party is going to be able to fix this by themselves,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
Graham, who has been an outspoken critic of President Trump both before and after his election, admitted, “This process is not what I wanted to see.” Going forward, Graham called for cooperation from all sides. “The president should reach out to Democrats. I should reach out to Democrats… Let’s take a shot at doing this together because it isn’t working by ourselves.”
“The President should reach out to Democrats. I should reach out to Democrats… Let’s take a shot at doing this together because it isn’t working by ourselves.”
However, Graham also defended the president in front of the largely anti-Trump crowd.
“I ran [for president] for about 30 minutes and I enjoyed the entire process,” Graham said. “But [Trump] beat the former Secretary of State and former First Lady and 16 more people… He is now my president and I want to help him where I can, to be successful for the good of the country…” He called some of Trump’s actions, like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, good decisions—despite boos and red card waving from the audience.
Acknowledging the anger felt by those in the room, and the millions of Americans who did not vote for Trump, Graham said, “I understand upset people, but you have to accept the consequences of losing an election… It’s okay to be mad. Washington is broke.”
But Graham made sure the crowd knew his determination to break with D.C. party politics as usual. “I have been reaching across the aisle to my detriment,” he said. But Graham made clear that he would continue to do so.
“I’m not worried about losing my job, I’m worried about our country,” he added.
Then he called on Americans to follow his lead, to look for solutions together, especially after what he called an “attack” on American democracy by Russia, referencing the election. He specifically called President Vladimir Putin “a crook, a thug.”
Graham continued, “When you attack one party, you attack us all, I really do believe that.”
“I understand upset people, but you have to accept the consequences of losing an election… It’s okay to be mad. Washington is broke.”
While Graham clearly wanted to push a bipartisan agenda during his town hall, he made sure to state his Republican credentials, too.
“I’m a conservative Republican and I’m proud of it,” he said. “On occasion I am defined by my attempts to reach across the aisle on issues like immigration, but at my core I’m a conservative both socially and fiscally.”
Graham obviously intended this message to be heard by his constituents in South Carolina, but it may also resonate with many Millennials across the country. Their issues—particularly the economic burden they will have to shoulder—are often ignored by politicians who focus on older, more reliable voters. As the new, largest voting block comes into power, there may be a chance to see more emphasis on bipartisan solutions moving forward, for the benefit of all.
Katrina Jorgensen is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter .