Our dinner table discussion of the midterm election spanned four generations: Millennial, Generation X, Boomer and the Silent Generation. So I gave a quiz to gauge the generational span of views. As the Boomer in the room, I directed them to describe their first impression of the election in less than five words. The Millennial wrote down the question before answering "overwrought." Gen X was bored and drew goofy pics but answered, "chaos, melodramatic, tribal." The Silent Gen immediately listed: "conflict, anger, abortion, 2020 election denial."
Fascinated by the difference in styles, I carried on with another question: "What do you think is the biggest impact of the mid-terms to your age group?" The Millennial view was close to my Boomer one: "The potential this election has to diminish Trump's hold on the Republican party holds promise. If he exits the scene, voluntarily or otherwise, perhaps we can spend less time losing our mind every few years." And I didn't disagree with Gen X: "There will continue to be an overall political stalemate where little is accomplished but persistent polarity and petty whining." The Silent Gen added that "Inflation will still hurt, political infighting will continue, and people will want to get behind a good leader."
That cross-generational agreement didn't extend to thoughts on who should be the next president. The answers ranged from Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson to Liz Cheney. But when asked what skills the next president needs to lead the country in 2024, they all put a priority on competence, intelligence and "the ability to spend time with and understand those who hold opposing views." And when asked what their advice would be as the president's campaign manager, they echoed each other: "Stick to your guns, even when the partisans try to sway you;" "don't get tilted;" "stay level-headed."
Another question: "Of all the issues prominent in the past election, what will engage your generation?" all agreed that economic issues will be first and foremost. But details naturally differed, ranging from student loans and climate change impact to Medicare. More surprising were the responses to "What issues won't resonate?" The Millennial said the idea that we have to vote a certain way to save democracy would not resonate with his generation. Gen X yawned at border defense or voting reform. The Silent Gen said that his cohorts would have little interest in either electric cars or education.
I couldn't resist asking if they ran for office, who would they appeal to the most. The Millennial said very few people because he was non-partisan. Gen X said that she'd appeal to moderates. The Silent Gen just remained silent. Pushing further, I asked if they would consider running for political office so that they could address their generation's needs. Their answer was loud, unequivocal, and unanimous, "No way!"
And here's where we come to the main theme of the discussion. Our political environment has become so toxic, mean-spirited and ugly that the over-riding emotion today is disgust.
There's no denying generational differences, among other characteristics that divide us, affect how the economy, education, climate change and health care are perceived. But given the mid-term rejection of so many super- divisive characters, we seem to have a commonly-shared quest for civility.
Let's hope that our quest shapes the choices that politicians make leading up to the 2024 election. Otherwise, this Boomer suggests that Americans will take a hint from a Boomer- favorite movie, Monty Python's "The Holy Grail," and "Run away!" And our democracy will disappear by default.
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at email@example.com.