I’ve started to look at the upcoming elections…not just these mid-term’s, but for the next dozen or so years…differently, generationally. Up until the 1990’s, our elected officials were for the most part products of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”, people who grew up in the Depression and fought in or at least lived through, WWII. Then came Bill Clinton and the Baby Boomer’s, the people who led till us today. Barack Obama is part of the first Gen Xer’s to lead America, so for awhile politics will be dominated by two generational groups, the Boomer’s and the Xer’s. This last happened in the late Seventies and then the Eighties with WWII generation vs. the Baby Boomers. I think this is why it’s gotten so screwy lately.
The ‘Greatest Generation” was a lockstep group; millions served in the military during World War II and Korea and were used to taking orders and acting as a coordinated entity. Corporations such as IBM fostered this attitude during the Fifties and Sixties. Then the Boomer’s came into play- even conservative members of it were comfortable with the concept of individualism and self-gratification, coupled with an attitude (again even among conservatives) that “the times, they are a changing”.
Thoughts on race, women’s rights and a global world were different. The great immigrations of Europeans were long over, Chinese were having a hard time even escaping to come here and Mexicans were coming just to work awhile and go home. We were rich and strong and not too worried about the things that seem so important today…what a guy’s religion was, his politics or social beliefs. Phrases like, ‘to each his own’ and ‘whatever turns you on’ sort of said it all.
In the Eighties, Japan and Germany, the guys we beat in 1945, were now becoming the economic leaders of the world, buying American businesses and real estate, so even our wins looked like losses in the end. Nixon proved even our President’s were crooks, Carter that they could be moral but inept and Reagan showed that a guy who could at least act like a President was probably the best we could hope for.
Somewhere in there came a subset known as the “Me Generation”, where the idea was fuck everybody else, I deserve everything I can get. It was a hybrid of the counter-culture and decadence of the Hippies and the isolationism caused by the loss in Vietnam, the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian hostage crisis…things like that. We stopped thinking globally and turned broodingly inward. There seemed to be a new attitude developing that said, ‘If I thought of it, not only is it a good idea for me, but it’s a good idea for everyone else too’. We became more strident, less inclusive, less tolerant. Things weren’t going well: there must be someone to blame.
Even Hollywood helped- we went from the counter-culture of Spaghetti Western Clint and Billy Jack, Butch Cassidy and The Sting, vigilantes, thieves and happy-go-lucky con artists to Dirty Harry, Charles Bronson and Patton, who were now out there ‘kicking ass’, part of the system but operating by their own rules, and winning. Technology allowed us to isolate ourselves and read and watch things that only re-enforced our own views.
In Washington, after finally getting a military win in Gulf I, Bush lost to a recession…no, that’s not right. He lost to something far bigger. The Boomers were emerging and the Greatest Generation lost to them. Clinton became the President, playing sax with rock bands while reforming Welfare while trying to expand healthcare- a weird mixture of two generational ideals; the intellectual side of the Sixties. Bush II represented the “Me” side of entitlement and ‘I know best’.
Now we’re at another crossroads of culture. Gen X, the lost generation with nothing to point to as their own, children of the era of drugs and cults, the generation who grew up post-labor union solidarity, post-Nixon, post-Vietnam, post-feminism, post- America the victorious. They’ve turned away from everything we were, since to them everything we were seemed to represent only failure. They believe it’s time to re-write America, using their own particular religious, political, philosophical or moral beliefs. That’s why the Tea Party can’t codify itself into a coherent platform- it’s far too diverse.
Will Rogers once joked, “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” That’s the way all of America is today…completely disorganized, disunited and disgruntled and with no inclination towards moderation or compromise. Forget the Fifty/Fifty Nation…we’re far beyond that now. And when that’s what we are it means we’re ripe for the plucking, both from without and within.
Dangerous times. Hang on folks…the next decade or so’s gonna be a ride.
(Author’s Note: I’m not sure if the ideas in this article are correct, so I actively invite your comments on it)