Why This Exchange with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Went Viral

February 2nd 2017

Trevor Hill was scheduled to ask "a pretty soft question" during a CNN Town Hall forum with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday. Instead, the NYU sophomore went off-script, and then went viral.

Hill told ATTN: he was encouraged by CNN to ask Pelosi a light, personal question. Instead, he cited polling on millennial skepticism toward capitalist economic policy and asked if there was "anywhere you feel that the Democrats could move further left to a more populist message the way the alt-right has sort of captured this populist strain on the right wing?"

"I thank you for your question, but I have to say, we’re capitalist ― and that’s just the way it is," Pelosi responded. "However, we do think that capitalism is not necessarily meeting the needs with the income inequality that we have in our country."

The moment has been satirized on social media.

Hill told ATTN: that while he was surprised that the lawmaker had recognized the importance of addressing income inequality and "used a lot of rhetoric that we saw from [Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (D)] during the election cycle," he was "disappointed" that Pelosi seemed to focus exclusively on his reference to capitalism when he had emphasized that he wasn't "looking for some sort of radical statement about capitalism."

"I wanted to know if there was a place the Democrats could move left on economic policy to accommodate the newer, far-to-the-left generations that are coming into the fold," Hill said. "I didn't get anything remotely close to an answer to that, so I was disappointed there."

Asked whether he felt the exchange was reflective of growing tensions between younger generations and the Democratic establishment, Hill said he did, adding that he felt dismissed in a way that has become common for young progressives. Hill added:

"The younger generations, a lot of what we feel — what my friends and I experience daily — is a lot of condescension from older generations. Like, why can't you just work hard? Why can't you just get a job and pay off your student debt? It seems like there's a genuine disconnect... It felt like I was being treated like the kid in the room who didn't understand what was going on, when I felt like I had a pretty firm grasp of what was going on. And I think that's how young people feel generally toward the Democratic party. That we're not being respected."

The millennial interest in populist economic policy that Hill described is supported by polling. A 2016 survey conducted by Harvard's Institute of Politics (IOP) found that 69 percent of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 considered the economy their top priority. Thirty-four percent of those surveyed said that "reducing inequality" was their biggest issue, and 23 percent cited "reducing the role of money in politics" as their top concern.

The survey came as a follow up to an earlier survey, which found that 51 percent of Americans from that same age bracket disapproved of capitalism, compared to 42 percent who supported the economic system.

"Should the leadership of both political parties — in Washington and throughout state and local governments — choose to ignore millennials’ values and principles and only engage them at election time as subgroups in swing states, there is every chance that we will lose their participation in politics and their support of government, paralyzing American progress," the director of IOP, said in a press release.

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