First 13er President: A Gen X Independence Day
“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.