At times in President Obama’s inaugural speech, he seemed to be addressing himself directly to Generation X — now, the new leadership of this country — and the Millennial Generation — the rising workers and doers of America.
Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
This has been a concern of my generations’ since I was in college almost 20 years ago. But in These Times, with trouble abroad and at home, there are greater concerns than our long-held worry about own prosperity and future retirement (though this is no less real or less important).
President Obama’s call to our nation’s generations for a new era of responsibility is the message America needs.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
As members of Generation X, the burden to lead will be on our shoulders, though, if history is any indicator, the bulk of the credit and praise will fall not to the leaders from our generation (with the notable and correct exception of our presidents).
Rather, the rewards and praise will go to those industrious Millennials, who will work and carry out the plans our generation designs. No, our reward will be in a cranky and stable, if not overly prosperous, old age. With the way things are, and the way things have been, that sounds OK with me.
And though this may be our humble lot, a rallying cry can produce hope, even among my fellow cynics. Indeed, a call to action penned by the man who has been called America’s first blogger, Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, helped rally troops to action and eventual victory and redoubled the faith of a weary and doubtful new nation. It made sense that Obama paid homage to this author from a like-minded generation.
From my own personal story, I can’t agree entirely with Generation X’ers are largely self-indulgent and ungrateful (fellow blogger Latchkey Man is even stronger in his disagreement). But Author Darke does reveal an often uncited characteristic of my fellow misbegotten Gen X’ers: a tendency toward self-critical analysis.
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William Safire takes his unique lexical look at the ongoing generation-naming debate, sparked by the election of our first Generation X President (more here and here, too). (And I love the lede of Safire’s column: “Welcome to the socio-literary parlor game of ‘Name That Generation.'” Of course, I am a fan of most things Safire writes. But I digress.)
Safire begins with the Gertrude Stein-coined, Hemingway-cited “Lost Generation,” which appears as one of the two epigraphs that opens “The Sun Also Rises.” Safire also quotes Neil Howe, of Strauss & Howe fame and co-author of the groundbreaking book Generations, and whose work obviously heavily influences this blog.
Safire reminds us of a couple of once heavily used generational names that look a little hazy in the distance, but at the time, were quite popular in their usage: the Beat Generation and the Me Generation. Best as I can rationalize, those names now appear to be better suited to the period they were used in, or at least appearing to be a subset of the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, respectively.
Where Safire really hits home is his use of the term “Joshua Generation” to apply specifically to African-Americans like President-elect Obama — those who came of age after the great Civil Rights battles of the last century, and are now reaping the rewards of the work of those in the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and later (actually, Safire cites Obama citing the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. who reminded the president-elect to “look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation.”
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