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Filibustering Generation Z

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Deputy Opinion Editor

APRIL 12, 2023

On the way back from a high school wrestling tournament at 10 P.M., the entire team and I were battered and half-asleep. We rested our sweat-caked heads on the leather seats of the school bus and scrolled through Instagram. Then, everyone jolted in their seats when someone in the back of the bus yelled, “Look at this s—t Big E wrote!” 

We all turned around to see one of our teammates brandishing his phone with a recent article that I wrote on the U.S. Senate filibuster — a procedure requiring 60 votes to end debate over a bill. Half of a dozen of us walked to the back of the bus, and we all gazed over the writing. Some of them made lighthearted jokes about the writing’s quality while others seriously debated the issue. 

This prompted the bizarre spectacle of a high school wrestling team composed of burly, overweight jocks debating the merits of the filibuster. 

The intense deliberation lasted the duration of the bus ride, and when the bus began pulling into the school parking lot, the team was impatient and frustrated with one other. Finally, somebody just yelled that we should just abolish Congress — lightening the mood before we all passed out in our beds that night. 

While that unserious debate registers as a fond high school memory, I do believe that the debate over the filibuster is indicative of a broader Generation Z approach to politics. 

Most of us inherited the hyperconnectivity and instant demand of the internet. Unlike previous generations, we plunged into a fast-paced world of social media and endless entertainment. Some of us have become so ingrained in a social media intended for connection, but ironically have found ourselves disconnected from reality. 

Thinking back to the filibuster, I would not be surprised if Generation Z would be in favor of abolishing it. The most recent poll by YouGov for approval over the filibuster indicates that 31% of voters under 30 either somewhat or strongly oppose the filibuster, while 40% are not sure. However, if the filibuster is framed as a serious legislative obstacle for issues such as codifying abortion legalization into federal law, I would imagine more young voters would oppose it. 

For the past two decades, the filibuster has been the bane of both the Republican and Democratic parties. The Senate procedure has impeded the wishes of 59 senators through the dissent of only 41 — an extraordinary device wielded to prevent the ruling party from passing their political agenda. 

As such, whenever either party takes the Senate, the longstanding instrument of minority power has arguably become a great source of consternation for those that are most politically expedient. Its opponents argue that the instrument is weaponized into a hammer of vicious and unyielding partisanship. However, those in favor suggest the filibuster also forces bipartisan compromise that disrupts the predations of a one-party rule. 

To me, the best argument for the filibuster is that it is universally damning to both parties. That shared consternation of the filibuster has become a resilient Hoover Dam against the flowing waves of political expediency. If that dam is demolished, the political wishlist of both parties may very well be enacted every time they win the Senate majority. 

No party maintains the Senate majority for decades on end, and whatever policies hastily passed by a razor-thin majority could just as easily be reversed when the political winds blow the other way. 

Now, I am not explicitly advocating for the filibuster’s preservation but rather for a careful examination of the long-term consequences when prying open a Pandora’s Box in politics. In general, however, the allure of temporary political expediency should not eclipse our reasonable dedication to longstanding institutions. 

If the filibuster needs to be torn down, then so be it, but an unprecedented change in politics may yield unprecedented results.  

This is what I believe should be the lesson for Generation Z. 

Typically, the younger generations are ignited with a rebellious zeal. In the mid-1960s, UC Berkeley’s young student movements protested the Vietnam War and the university’s crackdown on free speech. On the other side of the nation, Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Michigan issued the famous Port Huron Statement and condemned U.S. foreign and domestic policy during the Cold War. 

During the 2020 racial justice protests, thousands of students walked out of schools and held demonstrations to protest perceived acts of police brutality and racial profiling. Similar protests occurred during the overturning of Roe V. Wade, mass shootings and, of course, last semester’s UC academic worker strike. 

Yet, what distinguishes this generation is that our given technology and connectivity have empowered and amplified us. The protestors of the Vietnam War did not have the degree of organization afforded by social media or smartphones. Almost everyone now has a high-quality camera with the potential of garnering a massive social media presence. 

With increasing political engagement and voter turnout, our generation has become more engrossed and animated in politics. That should be encouraged as we challenge the merits of these institutions, but that does not warrant a complete overhaul of any system without an in-depth reflection on its existence and the consequences. 

Change is needed — but when fundamentally uprooting political systems to advance agendas, our approach needs to be measured.

Ethan Kim writes the Wednesday column on measuring the medium of the two political sides in a marketplace of ideas. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2023