7 Requests from a Right-Wing Gen-Xer: Why Boomers are Having Trouble Convincing X-ers to Vote for Trump
Conservative Baby Boomers are going nuts, trying to figure out how to convince people my age to vote for Trump. As more embarrassing news about "The Donald" emerges, I'm hearing more Gen-Xers say they just can't push that button, which means that tension between older and younger conservatives seems to be growing significantly.
"Don't you get it?" they ask us. "Don't you see what terrible things could happen if you let Hillary win this election?" But at least in my Gen-X circles, Boomer expressions of anger and disappointment don't seem to be persuading the younger #nevertrump conservatives.
Poking around in generational divides is tricky because no summary of a group describes every member of a group. To stereotype the many is to be unfair to the few. However, as I've seen certain political patterns repeating over the past few months, I've wondered if naming some of those patterns might benefit conservative discussion.
In a reactive age like ours, when so many are drunk on fury and offense, is it even possible to look at our generational tendencies as conversation starters instead of as conclusions? Is it possible for one individual to simply say, "Here's what I've noticed. Here's what hurts. And now, what do you see in my assumptions that might benefit from a new perspective?"
Have we become too barbaric, or can iron really sharpen iron? For though radicals boast about "blowing up G.O.P." and starting over again, the pragmatic conservative understands that a divide could not only hurt the party nationally but also cause tears in the fabric of many dear Christian relationships.
Not all conservatives are evangelical Christians, of course. But in the intersection of faith and politics stand many bruised souls, frightened, frustrated, and confused about how to handle Election 2016. And in this confusion, we stand primed for rage writers who milk party dissension for financial gain. Well-known political bloggers easily make $100K a year off inter-conservative controversy, so they pump out sensationalism at the cost of America's greater good.
I want to stop that bleed, so below you will find seven points that I hope will be helpful in starting to heal relationships among Christians within the Republican Party. For what it's worth, I'm a bit scared to attempt such a thing. I'm a real human being, not a political robot, so how you receive my words matters to me. I don't want to hurt anybody, and I don't want to create more division than what already exists.
If you could grant me patience and understanding as I take this risk, I would be grateful. I will also do my best to be fair and honest about what I have seen from my neck of the woods.
I might be wrong about some (or all) of what I have observed and concluded. If I have misunderstood the truth somehow, I'm willing to talk with you about what I have missed and then learn from you. I don't like the idea of being foolish in public. However, I think this conversation is important enough to take the risk. Because as awkward as this subject is to talk about, conservatives are eventually going to have to stop ignoring the elephant in the room if we are ever going to link arms and get out of this rut.
Before we begin: The hard pinch of a Boomer vs. Boomer election
Today my Gen-X friend, Catherine Reynolds, noted that this election is decidedly Boomer vs. Boomer. People my age look at this race and find the same two extremes running for office that have haunted us all our lives. Hillary represents the Woodstock-era. Her snide dismissal of traditional meta-narratives demonstrates cynicism's stain on our country's spirit. Trump represents the thirst for money and indulgence that left so many of my peers ignored as latchkey children. Like the parents who were too busy chasing their own pleasure to be good mothers and fathers to my classmates, The Donald has spent his life getting whatever thrills he could find.
Gen-Xers have grown up in the shadow of these two mammoth forces, and we're tired of them. We're tired of the way so many Boomers seemed to bully through culture with very little regard for what was before or after them. We're discouraged to now have these two archetypes as our primary choices for national leadership.
Because I'm not a known blogger, my chances of making an impact on Election 2016 are slim to none. No matter what I write in this essay, no matter what I attempt to persuade anybody to do in November, a huge section of Gen-X-voters has decided the Right has gone too far this time. They won't budge come Hillary or high water.
Many of my peers are voting third party, and they don't care if that's pouring water in the sand. Subconsciously, I think at least some of this defiance boils down to resistance against extremes of the Boomer establishment.
A similar stubbornness seems present in a certain segment of Boomer voters--no matter what dastardly Trump-deed hits the news tomorrow, they fear Hillary enough to never budge in their decision. Bring these two convictions together, and we are at an impasse as a party. We are the North Going Zax and the South Going Zax.
What makes Boomers and X-ers so stubborn? Let's find out. Let's stop throwing our truth bombs and start telling our stories to tell one another. Boomers, I'm sure you will disagree with some of my points, so help me. Fill out this conversation in the comments below. As long as you are fair and respectful, I am willing to learn from you. Together let's create a nook of civil, irenic dialogue amid the polemic madness of our time.
1. First off, I think Boomers need to understand that evangelical leaders no longer have the cultural clout to persuade Gen-Xers to make political decisions.
I remember when "power preachers" used to have political leverage in American society; but for people of my generation and younger, we simply don’t trust the right-wing religious establishment any more. Before you assume that we are just trying to be rebellious about this, hear us out. We aren’t hippies or punks. There's more to it than that.
Gen-Xers grew up loving Focus on the Family, and we remember believing that the Christian life could be relatively black and white. (To be honest, we miss believing that sometimes.) But over twenty, thirty, forty years, we also saw one disaster after another emerge from the conservative religious right. This happened so often and with such severity, it finally affected our trust permanently.
I was 16 in 1988 when right-wing political preacher Jimmy Swaggart was first caught with a prostitute. (I say “first,” because this happened again a few years later.) In 1987, it had been Jim Bakker hitting the skids. We watched Newt Gingrich lambast Clinton for his affair, then watched Gingrich exposed for his own. We watched Rush Limbaugh snuggled in to the conservative religious right while making ugly, demeaning jokes that belittled women. We listened to him spew rude insults to the indulgent left while living secretly hooked on drugs. We saw Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, advocate for right wing policies before getting caught in his gay sex scandal. John Ensign, the Christian Coalition darling, taught the sanctity of marriage while having an affair. Jim West advocated against gay rights before being caught in homosexual activity. Lou Beres of the Oregon Christian Coalition molested little girls. In 2006, Mark Foley, rated highly by the Christian Coalition, was caught sending sexual emails and texts to male pages.
Josh Duggar, former executive director of the Family Research Council Action team, was accused of molesting five little girls. Doug Phillips of the conservative group Vision Forum used his power to take advantage of a young woman. Bill Gothard hurt scores of young women who trusted him because of his spiritual position. And on. And on. And on.
Several of these men gave us conservative life systems, plans for godly marriages and families that scores of Christians tried to follow. Friends of mine felt guilty if they didn't comply with these systems because they were taught that if they could just set themselves apart from the world a little more, they might please God with their choices, and He might bless them.
I’m not including every scandal that I remember in my list; this is just a smattering of how many Gen-Xers have experienced the religious right. In fact, if I were to include disasters that took place in the microcosm of my churches and evangelical organizations, among people I knew and trusted, I could add so much more. If this had happened once or twice, it wouldn't have mattered much. We would have considered those stories outliers. But over time, moral duplicity began to define right-wing fervor for many of us.
Now when we see someone crusading hard for legislated morality, red flags go up instinctively. We think to ourselves, "I wonder what he's doing in private?" We brace ourselves for disappointment.
It's not that Gen-Xers are ungracious with sin. We have made many mistakes of our own. We know that everyone needs grace, and we are willing to extend that to the broken. But Boomer Conservatives tend to appeal to moral superiority when they ask for our political allegiance. They don't seem to realize that this appeal means little to Gen-Xers, because we haven't seen some of our biggest conservative heroes live uprightly. In fact, some of the most disturbing, perverse, abusive stories we have heard have come from the religious right. Our hearts have been broken over and over again.
So when Boomers now ask us to vote for a man who has used women terribly all his life, a man who has openly and repeatedly bragged about living an exploitative sexuality, my peers can feel like the moral infection that has plagued America for decades has crept so close that we are now being asked to inject it into our own bloodstreams. This appeal might feel different if conservative arguments for Trump didn't appeal to theology. But voting doesn't feel like simple, practical politics when preachers ask us to vote for Trump because he is the most "godly" option.
I could be wrong, but I think many X-ers could vote for Trump more easily if this sort of persuasion weren't involved. A lot of Gen-Xers could move a piece on the political chessboard without flinching. But when Jerry Fallwell Jr. tries to convince us that Trump is a good man, that spooks us. It feels like he is delusional. It feels like our party has gone crazy. And our votes resist this sort of argument more than they would resist a straight, businesslike appeal.
I think maybe Boomers grew up in a time where people believed that Presidents had to be heroes, so they automatically try to make gold from lead. But Gen-Xers don't need political alchemy because we never had the world you Boomers had. We have different defaults. We didn't have I Love Lucy or Father Knows Best as television standards; we had Three's Company. Our culture has always been ugly, disjointed, perverted, and broken.
When we were taught American History, we were taught by disillusioned Vietnam-era educators who didn't love our country. We used textbooks that disparaged our founders and painted a grim picture of the future. We don't have those old, patriotic stories inside us that might pull us back to what Boomers would consider center. Your generation saw Nixon resign for activity mine would hardly notice. We were young adults when a sitting President was impeached for mistreating a female intern, and yet he didn't have the respect for America to step down from office. Both conservatives and liberals have disappointed X-ers as long as we can remember, and while we have lived in close quarters with you Boomers all these years, our American experience has been quite different from yours.
However, that doesn't mean we are liberal. We aren't liberals. In fact, a lot of Gen-Xers are even more conservative than you Boomers are. We've raised our kids with hovering care. We've sheltered them like we were never sheltered. But because of what we've seen in the marriage of politics and religion over the course of our lives, it's harder for us to believe that voting the token GOP figurehead into the Oval Office will remedy what's broken in the soul of America.
When you tell us Donald Trump is God's answer to our national problems, we can hardly believe you've spoken that in earnest. Just tell us that he's a concrete roadblock to slow down progressives, and we might agree with you. But we know that this man is no messiah.
2. We need you to stop trying to scare us into action.
For years now, Boomers have been filling up social media with internet links from right-wing propaganda sites. These sites are riddled with horror headlines and reactive, end-of-the-world predictions. When we've clicked on them, the side bars have been full of advertisements for bulk food and gas masks.
Boomers, we love your generation, and we have wanted your guidance. We've tried to be fair and heed your warnings when you have passed them along to us. But so many times when we’ve followed up with research to your check facts, we’ve been burned. Sometimes we've even reposted your links and then felt foolish when others have shown us how badly they err.
I don't mean that you've been wrong every time, but your batting average is low enough that we have learned to jump on your bandwagons more slowly than we used to. You've cried wolf a few too many times, and we have grown numb.
And here's the kicker. I think it's entirely possible that you're right this time-- Hillary is likely to cause serious damage to America. But if the Gen-Xers close to you aren't listening to your warnings about this, maybe it's because you've told them that the sky was falling when it wasn't.
BTW, in case you're wondering, we feel this same mistrust of the Left. We don't buy Hillary's cover ups or propaganda. She doesn't fool us. We know about her lies. We know about her connections with globalism. We aren't voting for her.
So it's not that we are naive; it's just that progressives aren’t the only ones who have lost credibility. In our experience, the right hasn't always been honest or reliable, either; and especially in the past decade, the conservative tendency to distort news has only grown more intense.
Again, we know you were trying to help save the world by passing this stuff along to us, and we are grateful for that desire. Some of what you have shared with us has been super helpful. Sometimes you were right! But our trust has been broken at times as well, and it’s going to take some work for you to build that trust back.
3. We don’t mind our faith influencing politics, but we don’t want politics determining our faith.
Both Liberal and Conservative Boomers tend to hand-pick hot topics from Scripture to integrate into their ideals for government. However, lately the sin-scale doesn't adjust issue-by-issue but candidate-by-candidate. If a right-wing politician commits a foul deed, it seems like conservative leaders tend minimize that fault while nailing a left-winger for the same exact wrong done.
If Gen-Xers notice this snag and say, "Hey! This double-standard feels unfair!" the best explanation we get is often a tu quoque, "The liberals did this, too! And besides, they did this other horrible thing, as well."
And technically, that might be true. But when a serious question is answered with an accusation instead of an explanation or consequence, before long it feels like the buck stops nowhere. It feels like a deflection.
Gen-Xers understand that the world isn’t perfect and that we will never have a perfect moral candidate. However, we need Boomers to respect our intelligence enough to admit disparity when there is one. You've taught us to be critical thinkers, but now it feels like you want us to set critical thinking aside.
I think it might be easier for us to vote with you if you would just admit straightforwardly that Trump talks like an abusive buffoon and that his behavior makes you nervous. If you would stop trying to assure us of what cannot be true, we will be more likely to believe you when you say that you still think it’s better to have an buffoon in office than a corrupt, globalist snake.
Lately we feel like kids who have been told by the doctor that a shot won't hurt. We'd rather you just tell us that the blasted thing is going to sting, but that the sting is necessary. If you will just admit what is obvious, even if it's ugly, we might actually be more okay with voting for a messed up President than you think we will be.
But what you can absolutely bank on with Gen-Xers is that we will recoil when you come at us with rhetoric suggesting that your favorite candidate is suddenly "born again," or that he’s a good leader, or that he is a good father. We feel like you are making things up when you try to tell us this stuff. You push us away with these arguments; you don't draw us in. And if you lie to us, you're going to lose us.
4. If you want us to be single-issue voters, your politicians are going to have to actually do something about abortion instead of using this issue to win votes, then growing passive about it once they get in office.
Roe v. Wade was passed the year after I was born. When it passed, six of the nine justices on the Court were appointed by Republicans (Burger, Brennan, Stewart, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist). Since then, we have had six full terms, 25 years (including one year of Nixon), of Republican Presidencies. Over those same years, Republican-appointed justices have outnumbered Democrat-appointed justices. And yet, Roe v. Wade hasn't budged.
Why? Why do we keep seeing politicians campaign on abortion then never seem to touch it after election day?
The thought of Hillary repealing the Hyde Amendment is horrific, and this needs to be stopped. Partial-birth abortion is an abomination that should be filed alongside the worst atrocities humanity has ever committed. When we look at the numbers on abortion (nearly 60 MILLION since 1973), we see death on a scale that outnumbers every war we have ever fought as a nation. This is the single greatest shame of American history, and we do not need to be spending federal funds to kill more babies.
But as true as this is, my generation hasn't seen conservative legislation do much to prevent the slaughter of innocent children. If GOP politicians want us to believe that this problem can be remedied by government, the minute they get a Republican in office, we want to see steps taken. And we want these politicians working on this issue until they leave.
I understand that individual voters cannot make this happen, so I'm not attempting to accuse Boomers here. I'm just letting you know why Gen-Xers tend to listen to single-issue arguments and wonder if a pro-life President is really going to do much to stop the killing.
5. Please. Stop trying to insult us into agreement.
Over and again during this election, Boomers have come to us yelling, “Supreme Court” as if we had no idea those vacancies were coming up or how serious they could be. Guys. We’re not stupid. We understand the gravity of this election at the judicial level. We know that a bad Court could take our wounded nation down.
Yet we also know that some of the most harmful legislation to the religious right was written by our beloved Reagan’s appointees to the Supreme Court. A study rating the Martin-Quinn score of SCOTUS justices (1937-2015) has shown that Republican appointees tend to grow significantly more liberal the longer they serve. One chart indicates that Republican nominees actually end up more liberal than their Democratic counterparts. If this data is correct, if it is indicative of a future trend, we can't be sure that a conservative will secure conservative values on the court. It's difficult for even the best of Presidents to know what a justice will do once he/she is in the hot seat, let alone... well... let alone Trump.
Like you, we hope that Trump would provide better Supreme Court nominees than HRC would. In fact, in my view, SCOTUS is the most persuasive argument for a Gen-X Trump vote. If we mess this up, this is a "doodle that can't be undid."
Still, Trump doesn't provide the automatic sense of Supreme Court assurance for us that he does for you. His brand of chauvinism seems bizarre to us because we grew up after the women's rights movement had hit full force. Men weren't allowed to talk to women like he does in our world.
We also think he's a narcissist. And we think he's a populist who says whatever voters want to hear. We think he is unstable because he tweets angry attacks about porn videos at 4:30 AM because he has zero self control. So even though we share your wish that a Republican President might make America at least stable again, it's very hard for us to believe Trump is up for the task.
Might Trump be the lesser of two evils in regard to the Supreme Court? Probably, yes. But if that's your argument, we need you to admit that Trump is AT BEST OUR BEST GAMBLE, or else we are going to have difficulty having a serious conversation.
Why should you Boomers communicate like this with us even though it's not your natural groove? Well, if results are motivating to you, here's something to consider. Even though the #neverTrump movement is growing, quite a few members of the Gen-X generation haven't decided how to vote yet. If you will have some calm, respectful, honest conversations with us over the next few weeks, we still might help you out before this is over. And certainly, we will be more likely to work with you in the future.
But as long as you treat us like WE are naive when we simply want to admit that neither emperor is wearing any clothes--as long as you act like WE are your enemies because of our healthy skepticism--as long as you continually berate US with condescending talking points or threats, we will lean the other direction. You're going to lose us entirely if you don't stop engaging with us this way.
You come to us and say, "Benghazi." "Abortion." "2nd Amendment." You cast these words at us with a shrill nervousness, as if we didn’t know the major issues of our time existed. But my generation lives on the internet, and most of us have done quite a bit of quiet research already. We click on all sorts of websites looking for background, theories, and answers. So when you come to us with single-word appeals, expecting those to knock down walls all by themselves, they don’t. They can even make you seem a little silly to us.
If you want to convince a Gen-Xer how to vote, here's the big secret to doing that. Calmly unpack each issue with us. Don't react. Don't threaten. Just humbly explain.
Show us that YOU have done YOUR research. Share what you have learned about the Supreme Court, its justices, and its past decisions. Show us that you know who each candidate wants to nominate, and give us your calm opinions on why you think these candidates would be good or bad. Show us your hesitations, too. This is how you earn the respect of a generation with the internet at its fingertips. You might even win a few votes as well.
6. Please stop telling us that God needs our votes "or else."
This feels like an insult to God and His sovereign power.
Yes, we know that there are terrorists at our borders who hate Christians. Yes, we understand that persecution is likely to come to those who love Jesus if serious steps aren't taken to protect us. No, we don't think Hillary or (Gary Johnson, for that matter) will protect religious liberties. Yes, we are seeing what is happening at Target, with private businesses, and with the media. We get that things are bad and likely to get worse.
But as dire as this situation is, we are tired of being asked to live in constant reactive fear while worshiping a living God. We want to rise like Churchill and confess that "we do not live in darker times but sterner times." We want to live with that sort of focus and strength. It's bad enough that the world is going to hell while we are trying to raise our children, but we at least want the dignity of standing strong while it crumbles.
See, Gen-Xers grew up choking in threats. When we were kids, we watched The Day After and worried about nuclear attack. We watched AIDS creep across the nation. We were suffocated in talk about global warming, acid rain, a collapsing economy. We've never thought the future would be bright--we've been scared as long as we can remember, and we are worn out from the constant panic.
Now that trouble is starting to hit the fan, we want so desperately to live by faith. It's not that we aren't scared with you, it's that if these are the worst of times, we want to live them with courage and purpose. So whatever you ask us to do, please ask us to move in trust and integrity. If you want to connect God to our politics, ask us to do hard, good things for him--not run around in terror and fury on his behalf.
7. Understand your context.
Please, go back and do a little research about the formation of the Christian Coalition in 1989. Look into how corrupt it became and why.
Sometimes it seems like conservative Baby Boomers operate without understanding the impact this whole quasi-religious movement has made on them and their defaults. When we say that we are tired of the religious right, this is what we are talking about. We aren't talking just about resisting a government that is influenced and undergirded by sincere faith, we are talking about a political movement that has adopted religious robes to promote its own causes.
By asking you to learn about these things, we aren’t saying you need to change your beliefs. We just want you to orient your beliefs in the context of political/religious history so that our discussions might be a little more productive.
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Well, there you go. Seven suggestions for persuading a Gen-Xer.
I hope you will read these suggestions in the spirit they were offered and be gentle with one another in your responses. Hopefully these points will bridge some of the barriers you Boomers are encountering while trying to convince Xers. I can tell that many of you are exhausting yourselves trying to motivate us, but the harder you push, the more we pull away.
Please know that we respect you and that we are willing to work with you. We might even be willing to join forces with you in 2016. We aren’t crazy, socialist, left-wing radicals. We aren’t naïve. We aren’t too idealistic to get our hands dirty.
But we do need you to speak honestly to us and to the world. We need you to value integrity. If we are going to join together to make ugly choices for the greater good, let's call a spade a spade while we do that.
X-ers shoot straight, see. That's how we roll.
And if we are going to do conservatism as a team, we need you to lay aside the old, withered shell of the religious right and help us step forward into something better. Because even though we've grown up in the Boomer shadow, it's our America, too.