Generation X Will Govern a Country It Hardly Recognizes

Things won’t be the same after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

I was a grown-ass man by the time planes slammed into the World Trade Center in 2001, and I was nearing forty years of age when the economy collapsed in 2008. Those were enormous events in my life, but they weren’t formative. In many ways, my life in politics has been an effort to battle the way we reacted to those traumas because I think they made most Americans go a little crazy. This is a Generation X type of reaction. It’s a lot different from how younger generations have responded, and this has created a chasm in our culture and even among progressives on the left. Here’s how Maggie Astor of the New York Times describes it:

The oldest of them were just out of college on 9/11; the youngest were not yet born. Over the two decades that followed, they all came of age under storm clouds: of war, of recession, of mass shootings, wildfires and now a pandemic.

The result is perhaps the most profound generational gap since the 1960s: between the Generation X, baby boomer and Silent Generation voters who remember one world, and the millennial and Generation Z voters for whom that world never existed.

I never really thought my generation would be lumped with the Silent Generation since the most fundamental fact of my youth was that the 1960s had ruptured everything. Today, people can look back to the early years of the century and see a recognizable America. Growing up in the 1970s, the 1950s might as well have been the 1850s.

But I do see the point Ms. Astor is making. You can see the generational gap between Generation X and the Millennials in the massive difference in who they support for the Democratic presidential nomination. And you can see the discomfort Millennials and Gen Y folks have with not getting their way. They’re coming into their own, but it’s Gen X’s time to run the country. We’ve waited patiently for the Boomers to pass the torch and we won’t be skipped over.

At the same time, nothing is ever going to be the same after the coronavirus pandemic is over. The old debates about big and small government are over. Many of the death-grip battles of the Boomer generation will be set aside or diminished in importance, and that’s been a lifelong goal of Gen X’ers.

I think we will discover our destiny was to serve as a bridge between the old and the new rather than a force in our own right. We’re here to keep the porridge from getting too hot or cold.  For the next twenty years or so, Gen X will have the most power in the country, but we’ll be living in a world we hardly recognize. It’s a big responsibility, it’s not what we expected, but I think we’re up to the challenge.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com