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  • Will Generation X Ever Have a President?

       May 19, 2008

    As a proud member of Generation X, I couldn't help but nod in agreement at much of Robert Lanham's recent article Generation Slap. Generation X has a bad reputation (however, that's no reason to act like bitter old crones and complain about the Millennial whippersnappers, is it?). Sandwiched between two huge generations of Americans, we've been overlooked. Will we be outvoted too?

    Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe theorize that American generations follow a cycle that produces four generational archetypes: artists, prophets, nomads and heroes. The "Silent Generation" of my parents (born between 1925-1942) as well as today's toddlers (2001-present) are the artist archetype. The Baby Boomers (1943-1960) are prophets. Generation X (1961-1981) are nomads and the G.I. "greatest generation" (1901-1924) and Millennials (1982-2000) are heroes. According to Strauss & Howe, each archetype has a persona and endowments:

    • Artists are about pluralism, expertise and due process
    • Prophets bring vision, values and religion
    • Nomads most value liberty, survival and honor
    • Heroes are all about community, affluence and technology

    (As an aside, if you ever want to illustrate the difference between Generation X and Millennials, all you have to do is look at the websites they're most famous for - Gen X made Google, which is almost brutally all about quickly finding what you need, while Millennials have Facebook, which is all gabby and about creating communities and socializing)

    Each generation has produced great leaders. Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson were artists. Lincoln and FDR were prophets. George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman were nomads, while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Ronald Reagan ably represent the hero archetype.

    So why can't Generation X-era nomads produce another President? Well, part of it is sheer numbers. There are just too damn many Boomers and Millennials who will likely vote for one of their own before one of us. That's what happened to the Silent Generation. They were swallowed up politically by the G.I.s and the Boomers. In fact, unless John McCain wins the Presidency this November, they'll go down as the first United States generation that hasn't produced a President.

    Another reason I don't think we'll see Generation X in the White House is because of our mindset. Our three word motto (and it easily applies to other nomad generations) is "git 'er done". That certainly appeals to me, but how can that appeal to generations that are all about vision and values or community and consensus? It usually doesn't. Generation Xers are seen as too brash, uncaring or cunning, which is why nomad leaders only seem to thrive in the midst of huge crises (i.e. when the everyone else finally shuts up and realizes that we need to, uh, git 'er done).

    But what if there is a national crisis, won't the nation turn to tough Gen X realists then? Maybe, except that by nature, many of the best of Generation X reject political institutions the same way they rejected corporate life. While Boomers and now Millennials seek to change things they don't like, Gen Xers are more likely to just walk away from them and do their own thing. Translate that to political parties and you see the problem.

    That's not to say that Generation X won't lead the country through the next great crisis, it's just to say that maybe we won't be doing so politically. Perhaps Gen X scientists will save us from the climate crisis (in the glowing approval of prophet Al Gore) or Gen X generals and secret agents will take down global terrorism. But whatever the future holds, rest assured that Boomers will bitch about how we did it and Millennials will try to take credit for it. ;-)

    Posted by at May 19, 2008 10:56 PM

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