A Follow Up to the "7-Requests for Boomers" Post
Thanks for the warm responses to 7-Requests from a Right-Wing Gen-Xer: Why Boomers are Having Trouble Getting X-ers to Vote for Trump. As that post has spread, I have realized that a few more thoughts might add to the conversation.
1. Comments from Boomers have been interesting.
While I’ve had a handful of Boomer responses expressing hesitation to characterize an entire generation by a handful of traits, far more have written to let me know that they are grateful to have some cross-generational communication tips. Many Boomers have seen these tendencies in their peers, and they are eager to learn how to bridge the gap with younger Americans.
My favorite comments so far have been those that say, “Oh! I finally understand the problem! I’ve been trying so hard to convince younger conservatives of what I see, and nothing has worked! Now I know what I’m doing wrong.”
These comments don't just excite me because I feel like the younger generation needs convincing. They excite me because I know that as Boomers learn to communicate calmly, with respect, without projecting fear, and with solid research, civil adult conversation between generations will begin to take place that will grow America from the inside out.
In talking about generational traits, there will always be exceptions to the overall force of an age group. Not all Depression-survivors are frugal. Not all members of the WWII-generation are patriotic. Not all Millennials are lazy. (Does anybody care enough about the Gen-Xers to even give us a stereotype? Ha! We’re the invisible generation.)
So discussions about generational traits aren’t meant to condemn or imprison. They are a tool for defining core tendencies that might exist in 60%-70% of two population brackets, so that barriers can be removed as those two brackets try to engage. That's the ultimate goal.
(Also, for the one person who wondered if I wrote the first post about my own family, no. My family is wonderful. I have the smartest, fairest, most loving parents in the world. I should just ignore that comment, but I love my parents too much to let this go unsaid.)
2. Where did I come up with the idea of an evangelical generational divide?
I didn’t include this list in my original post, but later I realized it mattered. (BTW: I’m not including females here because Trump’s impact on evangelical females is an essay in itself. That gender dynamic is just more complicated for lots of reasons.)
PRO-TRUMP EVANGELICAL BOOMERS(Born 1946-64)
Pat Robertson (1930. Including him because he's a fixture of Boomer evangelicalism.)
PRO-TRUMP EVANGELICAL X-ers (Born 1965-1984)
Jerry Fallwell Jr.
WARY-OF-TRUMP EVANGELICAL BOOMERS (Born 1946-64)
WARY-OF-TRUMP EVANGELICAL X-ers (Born 1965-1984)
I’m not including Wayne Grudem here, because he was pro-Trump until very recently. I think his presence in the pro-Trump camp for so much of the election indicates the general thrust of Boomer evangelicalism. Also, I'm not including folks like Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, or Brian McLaren because (to me) they fit more in the "renegade evangelical, emergent/pre-emergent camp." (And that's not an insult, BTW. From what I've read of those guys, I imagine they'd probably like that distinction. Ha.)
Also, this isn’t a comprehensive or objective list, so don't cite it as qualitative or quantitative research; I’m throwing it together mostly based on who I notice from where I stand. But since I’ve lived smack dab in the middle of right-wing evangelicalism for more than 20 years, maybe that counts for something. When I hear Dobson, I think my “parents generation.” When I hear Russell Moore, I think, “my generation.” From the responses I’m getting, I don’t think I’m alone in that sort of breakdown.
3. A little nerdy back story and my “I have a dream” appeal.
I teach Classical Rhetoric, so I spend the first quarter of every year working slowly (and painfully) through Aristotle’s tips on persuasion. This certainly isn’t the most exciting thing I teach. As my friend David says, "Reading Aristotle is like eating sawdust." I could read Cicero or Plato for fun, but Aristotle's writing is as boring as it gets. However, Aristotle does have some strategies for communication that could benefit most Americans at the moment.
First off, Aristotle says that ethos (or the character of a speaker) carries more persuasive weight than facts or emotions. I didn’t agree with him on this at first. I thought facts could change people's minds no matter who spoke them. But over time, I have come to see how facts matter very little to most listeners compared to personal trust in a communicator.
And not only does ethos move mountains for leaders, it also serves peers attempting to move peers to action. You've seen this play out. Americans are currently throwing choppy, reactive articles at one another without grounding those articles in their own character and reliability, but this accomplishes nothing worthwhile.
"Hey, stupid. Read the facts!" we yell. We shove data in our opponents' faces, but of course, they don't listen. By this approach, nothing moves forward. The divide widens.
For the most part, links delivered by insult are only making people angry, not changing their minds. And in the process, many of us are losing the most convincing commodity of all — the weight of our own reputations.
For months I have been watching the futility of Republicans straining to find the right news link that will tip the balance for party voters. For months, I’ve watched that strategy dig everybody's grooves deeper. Anger and mistrust are rising. Most of us feel misunderstood. Evangelical leaders are burning their ethos by stubbornly embracing this one rhetorical strategy at all costs.
It might seem like taking time to root our political arguments in the context of a bigger, personal story is a waste, but it’s not. Context is vital. America needs civil, reasoned discourse that is rooted in facts, presented in the context of trustworthy character. In other words, we need to communicate as if we were equal members of the same, living community.
One of my biggest concerns about this election (just underneath a Hillary presidency) is that we will emerge from it barbarians. I don't simply fear the old progressive/conservative split we've always heard might lead to a Civil War. My greater apprehension is that conservatives will abandon one another because too much relational collateral has been lost.
This is a sobering possibility, because we’re going to need one another no matter what happens November 8. In every single possible outcome to this current election, conservatives will still need to engage in high-level collaboration over the next four years if we want to serve the good of this nation.
I’m not into theological ecumenicalism. Kindness and gentleness should always apply to Christian discourse, but in matters of doctrine, loving lines will always need to be drawn in the sand. But in terms of politics, I think it's important to learn to find common ground.
So much of the tension between American conservatives doesn't reduce to fundamental, irreconcilable differences. We differ on peripheral matters like communication style, preconceptions about culture, and decision making techniques. We can sort this stuff out. And we need to.
4. Several of you have asked for a companion piece from a Boomer that provides calm, intelligent insights from the older generation. I’m working on getting one of those, and I’ll post it when it arrives. :) Great request. Thanks for asking.
Finally, I want to thank you all for providing such humane and thoughtful comments. I’ve only had to delete a handful of responses, which is stunning in light of the reactive fervor of this election. Libertarians, Democrats, Trump fans, Conservative non-Trumpers have all written to me in one form or another with respect and goodwill. You seem relieved to have found a little cave of stability amid the madness. (And for what it's worth, I'm relieved to find you, too.)
When I look at all of the kooky conspiracy theories plaguing America right now, the one that lodges most deeply in my heart is the one suggesting that our adversaries long to divide us so that we might be more easily conquered.
Evil exists in the world, at a level more intense than many of us can imagine. And here we are, brothers and sisters, sitting around the family dinner table. We might disagree as we pass the mashed potatoes, but we are not one another’s enemies. We can have responsible dialogue, weighing our options, and acting like adults in stern times.
No matter what childish banter is happening at the upper levels of American politics right now, America is ruled by her people. From the ground up, let’s take the lead from within our homes, from within our little towns and cities, and let’s find a way to develop a civilization that could never again produce two such heinous options for Executive governance as those we have at present.