First 13er President: A Gen X Independence Day

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“As they reach their turn for national leadership, 13ers will produce no-nonsense winners who will excel at cunning, flexibility, and deft timing.”

—Neil Howe and William Strauss, 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?

I’ve written before that 2016 was the first Gen X Election. And that Donald Trump would be the first Gen X president. Not because he’s an Xer, but because he personifies our coming-of-age view of the world.

Note:  I use 13ers and Gen Xers interchangeably. Historians Howe and Strauss called the generation born from 1961 to 1981 “13ers” before Douglas Coupland coined the term “Generation X.” Howe and Strauss were referring to the fact that we were the 13th generation born in America.

Donald J. Trump symbolizes the 80s and 90s. The 80s and 90s symbolize Gen X.

As I wrote last February in This Is the Gen X Election:

I’m not saying all Gen Xers will vote for Trump. I am saying the Gen X attitude that formed in the 1980s and 1990s has finally pervaded the generations on all sides. Just as the Boomer attitude, hatched in the 60s and 70s, didn’t really seize full power until the  Clinton administration.

Howe and Strauss had more to say about Gen X leadership in 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?:

If 13ers turn out like every earlier generation of their type—Lost, Gilded, Liberty, and Cavalier—they will ultimately become a stellar generation of get-it-done warriors, able to take charge of whatever raging conflicts are initiated by their elders and bring them to successful conclusions. In the tradition of George Washington, Ulysses Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower, the most memorable 13er Presidents may themselves be ex-generals. Military or not—and regardless of sex—13er leaders will be cagey, jockish, unpretentious, inelegant with words, more inclined to deal than to argue, and more admired for their personality than for their vision of learning. As they come to power around the year 2020, younger voters will view them as a welcome change from the ponderous, principles-first Boomer style. In public, they’ll come across a bit shallow. But, as any 13er already knows, low expectations can be a game you can use to your advantage—in a poker game or in the White House.

Trump is probably 4 years ahead of his time if Howe and Strauss’s calendar was correct. It’s possible that conflict between the Washington establishment and the Trump administration owes to Gen X’s early arrival in power.

But it’s also possible that whenever one of these generations of Nomads reaches power (“Nomads” is the Howe and Strauss name for Gen X’s archetype throughout history), conflict ensues. Nomad generations reach power at the end of Crisis eras, usually just before the climax. Previous climaxes were:

  • The Revolutionary War
  • The Civil War
  • World War II

Why should our Nomads get off any easier than those generations of Nomads?

It’s also worth noting that the national leaders of those eras were, like Trump, members of the Prophet generations that precede Nomads in birth order. Most of the presidents of the Continental Congress during the Revolution were, like Peyton Randolph, born before 1724, the start of the Liberty generation. Lincoln was born in 1809, 13 years before the first Gilded was born. FDR was born in 1882, but the first Lost was born in 1883. So, Trump’s timing is historically perfect.

The biggest difference between Gen X and Boomers: pragmatism over principles.

Boomers will blow up the world to prove a point. Gen Xers will find a way to survive.

Think about that. Think about the Boomers begging Trump to “do something” about Russia. The Boomers seem okay with nuclear war now. Ready to end civilization in a series of mushroom clouds. The generation that once donned bumper stickers reading “You can’t hug your kids with nuclear arms” is ready to push the red button and end it all. Maybe that name “Boomer” has gone to their heads.

Fighting for human survival is the generation of slackers. It’s not that we’re unprincipled. It’s that we think principles are evil if they require the destruction of our culture, our civilization, or our species. Or maybe we think principles apply to personal conduct, not to public policy. Either way, survival comes first.

And this gets us to the point of why we Trump supporters are so hell-bent on seeing our mission through. This is why we will tolerate, even applaud, our president’s most outlandish and most “modern day presidential” acts.

It is our mission. Howe and Strauss gave it to us in 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, published when we were kids in 1993.

Yes, 13ers do have a mission. Theirs is the American generation that history has charged with the task of cleaning up after everybody else’s mess . . . So too is theirs the generation charged with showing others how, in this millennial era, Americans can still enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” without letting the world fly to pieces, without bankrupting the nation, and without squandering scarce global resources.

Do the dirty work, have a little fun, help the kids behind them. Not bad. Let other call 13ers “underachievers.” They can take it. We, their elders, will never live to see how their story turns out. They will. The rest of us can only imagine how, when their job’s done, they’ll look history in the eye, give a little smile, and move.

It’s pretty clear Donald Trump has adopted our generation’s mission as his own. I call on the “principled” Boomers and the other generations to shut up, get out of the way, and let us get on with the job of cleaning up your messes.

And we’re getting too damn old to argue about it. As I warned last February:

The Buchanan Brigades are running the show, now. While the establishment could still produce the next president, he or she will be unable to govern, I’m afraid. The divisions are too many, the chasms too wide, the trust too broken, the economy too leveraged.

We’ve been warning the establishment for decades that we’re not gonna take it. They didn’t listen.

But something tells me they’re listening now.

It’s Gen X Independence Day. Get out of our way. This isn’t about unity. It’s about survival. There’s a difference.

BONUS: A great primer on generational history.


This is the Gen X election

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Who would have thought that Pat Buchanan would become the spokesman for Generation X?

I put a lot of stock into generational history. I am a big fan of Howe and Strauss, a pair of historians whose works include Generations: The History of America’s Future, 13ers: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, Millennials Rising, and, my favorite, The Fourth Turning.

As someone born in the 13th generation of Americans, more commonly called Generation X after the book by Douglas Coupland, I am overly captivated by that generation. My generation. The generation that was too young for Woodstock and too old by the time we turned twelve.

As a generation, Xers are iconoclastic, sarcastic, and just a bit nihilistic. (Our Boomer brothers and sisters grew up with bomb shelters to survive nuclear war. We just looked up.)

We rebelled against the Boomers’ excesses, but we still bummed pot off our older Boomer siblings. We were something of an Eddie Haskel generation–clean-cut, polite, and well dressed around the grown-ups, but we carried a flask in one pocket and a half bag in the other. We laughed at the Boomers who created so much tension by openly rebelling against the conformity of the post-war era. We rejected conformity, too, but we did it with more stealth. We didn’t get caught. And when we did get caught, we charmed our way out of the  most serious consequences.

That’s just my opinion. You mileage may vary. But here’s how those masters of generational history describe the Xers.

The 13th Generation (Nomad, born 1961-1981) survived a hurried childhood of divorce, latchkeys, open classrooms, devil-child movies, and a shift from G to R ratings. They came of age curtailing the earlier rise in youth crime and fall in test scores—yet heard themselves denounced as so wild and stupid as to put The Nation at Risk. As young adults, maneuvering through a sexual battlescape of AIDS and blighted courtship rituals, they date and marry cautiously. In jobs, they embrace risk and prefer free agency over loyal corporatism. From grunge to hip-hop, their splintery culture reveals a hardened edgePolitically, they lean toward pragmatism and nonaffiliation and would rather volunteer than vote. Widely criticized as Xers or slackers, they inhabit a Reality Bites economy of declining young-adult living standards. (American: Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster, Michael Dell, Deion Sanders, Winona Ryder, Quentin Tarantino; Foreign: Princess Di, Alanis Morissette)

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 2805-2812). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

That was written in 1997, by the way. I was thirty-three, Bill Clinton was president, and few people had heard of Osama bin Laden or Monica Lewinsky.

I realize Donald Trump’s support is strongest among Boomers and older (60+), and Sanders’s support comes from Millennials. But the reason these iconoclastic candidates are around at all is because the Gen X culture finally made it to politics in 2016.

Even though we dressed like Alex P. Keaton, our heroes were working class American rebels. Our music pissed off the Glenn Miller  (WWII) and the Pat Boone (Silent Generation) crowds, of course. But grunge and hip-hop also pissed off the Boomers. We liked everything hard: Joan Jett, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Nirvana. The song I heard most in 1985 was a Dire Straits song about installing microwave ovens and custom kitchen deliveries while dreaming about being a star on MTV. Everybody was working for the weekend, and the girls just wanted to have fun, and I had one hand in my pocket and the other one’s smoking a cigarette.

Well, the Eddie Haskel generation, the generation that nobody watched, is now running stuff. The slackers are in charge. The principal’s name is McFly. We hung around with the establishment kids in college (because they had cool boats and good drugs), but we never were of them. We ran in circles with the elites, but, by mutual agreement, we never got too close. And didn’t touch the fine porcelain statues in the foyer. (But we did hook up with their sisters.)

And now that reckless, dangerous generation is in charge–of business, of political campaigns, and of the media. Yeah, there’s a lot of Boomers hanging around in the the C-Suite, but the Xers are, for a short time, calling the shots.

And the shots we’re calling are angry and risky, like a Van Halen song.

Tory Neumyer writes on about the end of the political establishment that’s held sway since V-J Day:

This cycle, dynasty hasn’t counted for much. In the debate two days earlier, Trump viciously attacked the elder Bush’s record, marking the first time anyone can remember a GOP poll leader lacerating the party’s most recent President. Trump earned boos for the performance, but the audience in attendance—South Carolina party faithfuls—was so distant from the Republican rank and file that the question “Why are people booing?” trended on Google during the debate. What’s more, the businessman’s soaring popularity statewide didn’t suffer. If Palmetto State Republicans didn’t punish that heresy against the last Republican commander in chief, it could spell the last gasp for Jeb, who finished 6th in Iowa and 4th in Iowa.

Punish heresy? Hell, no. Not in the Gen X election year of 2016. Heresy’s what we gave up Lent for.

I’m not saying all Gen Xers will vote for Trump. I am saying the Gen X attitude that formed in the 1980s and 1990s has finally pervaded the generations on all sides. Just as the Boomer attitude, hatched in the 60s and 70s, didn’t really seize full power until  the  Clinton administration. (George H.W. Bush belonged to the World War II Hero generation, as was every president before him, back to Kennedy.)

Nor am I saying the next president will be an Xer. That doesn’t matter. Just as Reagan embodied the spiritual awakening and suspicion of government that the Boomers launched, it’s very possible for someone of an earlier generation to animate the zeitgeist of Generation X. Boomer Trump is very much an Xer in attitude. So are Sanders, Cruz, and Rubio. Bush and Clinton typify the Boomer attitude which turns off Xers.

Maybe successful candidates need a bridge between Boomers Millennials–the two largest generations in American history. And that bridge is Gen X. While Xers are too small in number to dominate an election, we’re the conduit needed to win.

Pat Buchanan sees the problem for a political establishment that refused to listen to us since 1996:

But while difficult to see how Sanders captures the nomination and wins in November, the rebellion in the GOP is larger, stronger and deeper. In every national or state poll, anti-establishment candidates command a majority of Republican voters. Which presents a problem for the establishment.

The Beltway elites may succeed in blocking Trump or Ted Cruz. But the eventual nominee and the party will have to respect and to some degree accommodate the agendas of the rebellion on immigration, border security, trade and anti-intervention, or face a fatal split.

After Ed Martin decided to run for Attorney General to give Ann Wagner clear sailing to the US House of Representatives, I sat down with her for a few hours. Ann and I graduated from high school the same year, so we had a lot of shared memories of the time.

I asked her how she got into politics. “1996,” she said. “After Missouri voted for Buchanan in the caucuses, I had to do whatever it took to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”

I told her that I had a small business that sold bumperstickers and shirts. Our most popular item in 1993 and 1994 read “He’s Rested, He’s Ready, He’s Right! Buchanan ’96.”

Ann laughed when I told her. Maybe she thought I was kidding.

The Buchanan Brigades are running the show, now. While the establishment could still produce the next president, he or she will be unable to govern, I’m afraid. The divisions are too many, the chasms too wide, the trust too broken, the economy too leveraged.

We’ve been warning the establishment for decades that we’re not gonna take it. They didn’t listen.

But something tells me they’re listening now. They might even be listening to Pat.

Why Don’t We Have an Anti-establishment Party?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m totally envious of Europe, and I think two American generations can fix it for me.

Gen X (born ~1961 to ~1981) is a thoroughly anti-authority generation. Millennial (born ~1982 to ~2002) is a completely anti-institutional generation.

It’s time for these great generations to get together and form an anti-establishment movement. Maybe even a party.

Check this out:

A new poll surveying young Americans’ political attitudes released by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics Tuesday found millennials have less trust in government than ever before.

Read more:

To an anti-authority, liberty-loving Gen Xer, that’s the most beautiful paragraph in the history of polling literature. As Pete Townsend said, “the kids are alright!”

Not that the Millennial folk will listen to me, but I gotta say they’re 100% right in distrusting government. The US government, their state government, their school board. Every level of government is a trough that big corporations fill for the satisfaction of the elected swine. Government’s like a big pig farm.

Last night, I took my son Patrick to Ballpark Village on our way home from Fast Eddie’s Bon Air.  It was his 21st birthday. BPV is an awesome place, but it was bought with taxpayer dollars–and without taxpayer input. In other words, Fox Sports Midwest and the DeWitt family stole Missouri’s ATM card and PIN and withdrew 19 million of your tax dollars to build an amazing sports and drink palace.

The DeWitts (and others) get the profits; you get the costs. Wonderful.

That’s an example of why Millennials think government is the cousin of lies. And that’s why America needs an anti-establishment movement, if not an anti-establishment party.

This movement or party, or both, will have a very narrow focus: reducing government activity to a few, necessary tasks. Kinda like Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution.

The party will ignore the “issues” establishment uses to keep us divided. Stuff like gay rights and public prayer. Those are important issues, but the establishment uses them to keep us fighting about minutiae while it steals our power and freedom. So we won’t play their game.

We won’t field our own candidates. Instead, we’ll cast negative votes in both establishment parties to deny them their traditional constituencies. Negative votes might include voting for third party candidates or skipping offices where the choice is more of an echo.

Most importantly, we’ll use our personal power to influence public officials. We won’t harass and protest; we’ll smile and converse. We’ll lobby like paid lobbyists, even though we’re just people.

We’ve learned our lesson. Yelling at politicians only makes them stronger. We’re not doing that anymore. Now, we’re talking. And smiling. And connecting.

Look, Gen X and Millennials together are an overwhelming force. We both hate the establishment. Let’s get together and destroy it, shall we?

Bob Marley