American politics has become a tug-of-war between two generations. Boomers (and those older) dominate positions of power even as their capacity diminishes. Eighty-year-old Joe Biden has repeatedly displayed signs of frailty and confusion but, as far as we know, he’ll be running for re-election in 2024.
Over on Capitol Hill, eighty-one-year-old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to freeze during public remarks and ninety-year-old Dianne Feinstein faces calls to retire from within her own party. While mental impairment is no impediment to serving in the United States Senate — if anything, it’s probably an advantage — the upper house is older than it has ever been. The average age in the Senate today is sixty-five. There are eight serving senators who were born during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.
Millennials frustrated by this gerontocracy want the boomers to shove off so their generation can take power and dramatically lower the median age in DC. New blood would be no bad thing but would going from rule by boomers to rule by millennials really be an improvement?
On the left, it would see leadership of the Democratic Party pass from the generation of acid, amnesty and abortion to the generation of privilege, pronouns and police abolition. On the right, the Republican torch would go from tax-cuts-for-Jesus Reaganbrains to Viktor Orbán fans who think they’re terribly edgy.
In the round, it would mean replacing the most coddled, entitled, insufferably certain generation in American history with the generation that comes a close second. Which brings me to my proposal for solving, if not all, then quite a lot of America’s problems: put Generation X in charge.
Gen X — those born between 1965 and 1980 — have the perfect political hinterland, forged in the fiery crucible of absolutely nothing. They had no war to protest, no draft to dodge. No counter-culture, no “Helter Skelter.” By the time they came of age, politics had escaped from the dread clutches of relevance and returned to its rightful place as the preserve of nerds, sociopaths, egomaniacs and other descriptions of Hillary Clinton.
Instinctively post-racial, mostly unfussed about private preferences, casually skeptical of authority, if Gen X has a political philosophy it is the great cause of not giving a fuck. Some might call them slackers but I consider them the chillest generation. The last to make a proper go of smoking, the last to do any drinking worth the name and the last to actually enjoy sex, which given the backdrop of AIDS is impressive. Besides, how can you not love a generation whose twin enthusiasms were cocaine and exercise?
Gen-Xers made careers for John Hughes and Cameron Crowe and Robert Zemeckis. They couldn’t get enough of watching their likenesses sliced up by summer-camp stalking psychos. They made hits of lowbrow sex comedies like Porky’s and Spring Break — and if you want to know why that’s super problematic, some joyless hall monitor called Melissa at VICE or the New Republic will explain in 1,000 breathless words.
They read Bret Easton Ellis and Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis — and Alice Walker, because someone had to. They Vogued and Walked Like An Egyptian and pretended to understand what Michael Stipe was on about. They found their sound in The Smiths and Tracy Chapman and Prince, and we’ll just gloss over the whole U2 thing. They started grunge bands in their parents’ garages and some of them ended up playing their music on MTV back when MTV played music.
Fine, Gen X is less buttoned up than the generation that came before and after. It has eclectic and easygoing tastes in popular culture. But are these really qualifications for running the world’s most powerful country? In a word, yes. In a Gen X word, duh.
How can you not love a generation whose twin enthusiasms were cocaine and exercise?
Take the economy. There’s no better generation to lead on this than the one that falls smack-bang between boomers and millennials. The former entered a less competitive labor market, with fewer qualifications and those who did attend college paid a lot less for it.
They benefited from more job security, cheaper housing and a more active government, born into the economic stability fostered by the New Deal and coming into adulthood in time for the Great Society. Their grandchildren’s generation, in part because of boomers’ voting patterns in the Eighties and Nineties, came of age amid recession, precarity and pared back government.
Gen X understands both experiences, having shared in some of the boomer-era benefits while taking some of the hits that landed on millennials. They are well-placed to strike a balance between economic growth, competition and innovation, on the one hand, and economic security, social protection and an enabling state, on the other.
Ditto on another defining challenge, climate change. Gen Xers grew up appreciating the value of fossil fuels but also seeing their escalating impact on the planet. They are the ideal cohort to find a middle ground between carbon-clingers resistant to change and doom-mongering idealists who would shutter entire industries overnight. As for the culture wars, Gen X is the generation most likely to practice a laidback liberalism that says do what you want, think what you want, and say what you want, but you don’t get to decide what anyone else does, thinks or says.
There is an alternative to government of, by and for the nursing home and the dismal competing visions of those who would supplant the current order, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s wokeocracy on the left and Vivek Ramaswamy’s neo-Trumpism on the right. Between boomers’ self-enrichment and millennials’ identity-obsessed illiberalism there is a generation that can lead America with cool heads. A generation that can fix some of the mistakes made by boomers and head off some that millennials are itching to make. Everybody wants to rule the world, according to a seminal band of the era, but only Gen Xers should be allowed to.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.