Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2021 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
We are in a time of change. A new year. With vaccines, a way out of the pandemic. The beginning of the Biden era. Another change always chugging along is generational change. And the new American presidency highlights this change by ushering in an unexpected generation.
First, how accurate are these broad generational concepts like "baby boomer" or "millennial?" Of course, they gloss over many complexities. But looking at whole generations can be illuminating. And just plain fun! A question to ponder: how much does the generation you happen to be born into influence your entire life?
There were five generations in the 20th century. The first has been called the Greatest Generation, those born from 1901 to 1927. This generation survived the Great Depression and then fought the Second World War. After that war, there was another dynamic generation, the Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964. Easy to forget is the quiet generation in between, born from 1928 to 1945: called, appropriately, the silent generation.
I find it interesting to notice that Canadian prime ministers and American presidents have taken different generational paths.
For three decades — from 1961 to 1992 — U.S. presidents (John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) were members of the Greatest Generation. All had served in the military. In contrast, Canada had only one leader from that era, Pierre Trudeau, but he famously snubbed his nose at military service.
Then, U.S. presidents jumped from the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boom, leaving out altogether the silent generation. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump are all Baby Boomers. (Although one could argue that Obama, born in 1961 at the tail end of the Baby Boom, is more a member of the next cohort: Generation X.)
Canada took a completely different route. While the U.S. seized on the Greatest Generation and then the Baby Boom, Canada settled into the silent generation. Prime ministers Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin were all members of the silent generation. (I am ignoring the few months of John Turner and Kim Campbell.) Then, Canada had one — and only one — Baby Boomer PM: Stephen Harper.
Where are we at now? The two countries have again taken different paths. Canada is firmly under the leadership of Generation X, born from 1965 to 1980. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Annamie Paul are all Gen-Xers.
The U.S. has gone in another direction. President Joe Biden, who was born in 1942, is a member of the silent generation. Biden is the first, and likely only, president from that generation. American voters switched from the crazy and cacophony of Trump to the sanity and serenity of Biden. Part of this shift is generational: from the raucous, boomer Trump to the restrained, silent Biden.
Generational tension is in the air now, as the world has had enough of the Baby Boomers. They are seen as an entitled, selfish group who have overstayed their welcome. After all, boomers have left quite a mess. No surprise that there is exasperation in the put-down of "OK, boomer."
And now there is a fresh urgency, especially in the U.S., with conspiracy theories and social fracturing. Younger generations watch in horror as their baby boomer parents and grandparents are flummoxed by cable news and social media and fall into QAnon and other wackiness. The sad, new meme: "broken boomer brains."
Baby Boomer politics lean toward grievance, resentment and anger. Their appeal is anti-intellectual, disregarding science and disparaging experts. Remember Harper? Remember Trump?
I look forward to more of Biden, less of the Baby Boomers, and more of generations X, Y and Z. What the alphabet? Gen X, as noted, were born from 1965 to 1980. Gen Y — usually called millennials — were born from 1981 to 1996. Gen Z were born from 1997 to 2012. Compared to their elders, these younger folks are less racist, less sexist and less homophobic. They are also more knowledgeable, more media literate and more accepting of science.
In light of generational awareness, I would like to conclude by giving some unsolicited advice to O’Toole. He has had trouble in his new role, lurching from awkward to defensive. I think the citizenry would welcome an opposition leader who elevates our civic discourse.
Mr. O’Toole: embrace your Gen-Xness, ignore the Baby Boomers and draw inspiration from a successful Tory leader of the silent generation. When you frame and phrase issues, channel Mulroney and be positive, confident and respectful. And imagine you are addressing only Generation X, millennials and Generation Z.