November 1, 2016

A Gen X Perspective on the U.S. Presidential Election of 2016

I've always argued that generation lines are fuzzy (see one post at for more).  At best, generations describe more of a common mindset.  The Wall Street Journal reports (see for the article) some commentary by Neil Howe, who along with co-author William Strauss, used the term "Millennials" in their book "Generations: The History of America's Future 1584 to 2069."  By Mr. Howe's estimate, Gen X is a group defined by parental divorce and indifference, and the date ranges in birth from 1961 to 1981.

"The old joke is that it [Gen X] was the first generation born when people took pills NOT to have children," he said. "Much of the culture turned actively anti-child.  The giant genre of the 60s and 70s was child-devil horror movies."  The U.S. fertility rate hit a low thanks to the intro of the birth control pill in the 1960's, plus the divorce rate accelerated to unprecedented rates, so children born into that era have been described as one of the least-nurtured groups in American history.

But Gen X doesn't wallow in self-pity as Baby Boomers and Millennials sometimes do (listen to some Boomer music or watch some of their movies if you need proof), rather Xers grew up fending for themselves, and learned that the ONLY institution we could depend on was ourselves.  Hence, long ago, Gen Xers developed an independent spirit and can-do attitude, and became more than capable of taking care of ourselves.  Boomer parents didn't do a great job looking after Xers as kids, and government was close to useless with an ineptitude caused by a complete lack of funding and public support.

Less anyone get the wrong idea, that's not to say that Gen X is explicitly anti-government, but our perspective most visibly manifests itself in outright Gen X hostility towards government infringement upon people's individual rights.  That's one reason why Gen X has led the way (and become quite good at navigating how to succeed) with issues like bans on same-sex marriage, restrictions on voting rights or police brutality going unpunished.  This means that not only did Gen X make marriage equality happen nationwide (Jim Obergefell, whose name is associated with the supreme court case that made it legal nationwide is a Gen Xer who was born in 1967), but they also see right-wing attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement as oppressive, and Gen X has learned to successfully use the courts to overturn many attempts at voter restrictions that Republicans have implemented.

Voting restrictions have lost in the courts in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana and elsewhere, although its unclear whether all are complying.  The Republican party has been under a U.S. Supreme Court consent decree in place since 1982 because of previous voter intimidation efforts in New Jersey back in 1981.  Donald J. Trump has been actively encouraging vigilantism among his supporters by claiming the elections are "rigged" against his candidacy.  The Trump campaign's questionable "poll-monitoring" vigilantism (most often targeting racial minorities who tend to vote for Democrats), with supporters who call themselves "vote protectors" complete with phony, semi-official looking I.D. Badges that could be generated by vigilantes online at websites like which now threatens to extend the original decree against the Republican National Committee for another 8 years because it may held in contempt of that decree.  Slate is reporting (see for more) that on October 1, 2016, U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez demanded that the Republican National Committee (RNC) provide certain documents in 24 hours.

Anyway, back to the actual campaigns.  The appeal of the campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" from Republican Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump means absolutely nothing to kids who grew up when Xers did (or later), which could be a major problem for his candidacy.  Zilch.  Nada.  Zip.  It's all just empty words that doesn't mean anything.  Make no mistake, this is really a generational perspective, only the Baby Boomers-led campaigns don't quite know what to make of it, but its clear that Gen X and Millennials aren't quite necessarily rallying around that message.

For Gen X kids, most of whom were born in the late 1960's and 1970's, Mr. Trump couldn't have chosen a more irrelevant slogan, so he shouldn't be surprised if few of us are rallying around his candidacy.

I was born in April 1969.  The Baby Boomer Summer of Love and Woodstock all took place a few months afterwards.  The joke among many Gen X kids is that we weren't at Woodstock, but at least a few of us were likely conceived there!  But Gen X doesn't look back at those days with reverence, but a sense of having missed the big party.  We Gen Xers didn't get to celebrate, but many of us feel like we got stuck with the hangover.  Gen Xers were raised in the least child-friendly era in U.S. history.  Not only did more than half our parents get divorced when we were kids, but most of our mothers entered the workforce even if they didn't get divorced.  The latter issue wasn't completely their fault.  The OPEC oil embargo played a role, as did stagflation, but the point is that our childhoods were probably best remembered by waiting in long gas lines and inflation gobbling up our allowances so it wasn't worth as much a week later.  Oh yeah, and the Iranian revolution in 1979, during an era when America was making enemies around the world.  We also grew up amid racial riots, following the Stonewall riots and a "white flight" out of the cities, as well as hearing endless stories about how horrible Vietnam was, yet we have zero first-hand knowledge of any of that.  We don't understand what you're talking about when you say "make America great again".

That said, our parents were smart enough not to implement another draft, although that didn't stop them from sending troops to Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  While Boomers had free love in the 1960's, when we Gen Xers came of age, we were taught that HIV could kill us, but what did they try to teach us?  Abstinence, like that's ever worked.  Making matters worse, they screwed us when came to education financing.  Gone were the days of being able to attend college tuition-free in some Western states.  Oh, and because so many Baby Boomers defaulted on their student loan debts, Congress re-classified student loan debts the only type of debt that could NEVER be charged-off in a bankruptcy court -- thanks for that, Boomers.  Once again, you got the party, but left the hangover for your kids.

I don't think there's really all that much from the past that Gen X kids really want to return to.  We grew up watching TV shows from the early 1970's fail at racial integration, at least initially. From our perspective, those days are best left in the past.

I acknowledge that neither political candidate is exactly loved, in fact, both the candidate the  GOP nominated and the nominee that Democrats elected BOTH have the highest disapproval rates in the history of Presidential elections.  Mrs. Clinton should not presume we are "with her" even if she is preferable to her opponents.  Both candidates also represent only the Baby Boomer generation of politicians, which is a problem.  While we may yet see other Boomer candidates in coming elections, their days of leading the country are thankfully nearing their natural end, and that won't happen a moment too soon from many Gen Xers' perspective.  Politico recently observed that (see for the article) Baby Boomers in Congress have given us nothing but years and years of gridlock; yet research shows Gen Xers will be more productive.  It's time to step aside Boomers.  Let Gen X lawmakers like Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (a lesbian) or New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (an African-American) have a chance to change a Congress best known for a culture wars and gridlock into something better as a "gift" from Baby Boomers' time in power.  We want a government that works for the people who elected them, not special interests who bought and paid for many of your campaigns.

The Boomer experience at the gas pump in 1960 vs. the Xer experience in 1973

Important Points of Comparison between Baby Boomers and Generation X:

Baby Boomers
Gen X
Rosa Parks' refusal to move to back of bus
Jonestown mass suicide
First nuclear power plant
Three Mile Island, Exxon Valdez
Kennedy elected, then assassinated
Watergate scandal, Nixon resignation
Cuban Missile Crisis
Iranian hostage crisis
First moon landing
Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
Stonewall riots
Gay Marriage bans ruled unconstitutional
Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed
Rodney King beating

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