By Ann Arnof Fishman, President, Generational Targeted Marketing
As business author Tom Peters put it: “If you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.” America the Brave has become America the Confused. And, a constant barrage of side issues is keeping us from focusing on the most important issues.
For example, from the bathrooms of Target to America’s military, in schoolroom education and on Public Service Announcements, we have fought the war for transgender rights, a cause made famous by Caitlyn Jenner. Or, in the guise of protecting the few, has the transgender movement become one of the many diversions of the powerful to distract the media from the moment?
In one of the most critical presidential elections in our history, one in which we will elect the first woman president or a true Washington outsider as the 45th President of the United States, here are a few of the moments that confuse and confound us.
Has our current president, a former senator who was known for voting present to avoid facing tough issues, refused to be present once elected? Has a country, which proudly voted for equality, a post-racial America, and hope and change by electing him, experienced instead a reign of chaos with a country under siege, a medical system for all that may work for a few, an enemy whose name we cannot say, and borders that are virtually nonexistent? Is President Obama’s America leading from behind or lagging behind on his watch?
Have we gone from a generation of Founding Fathers like Thomas Paine who wrote: “If we must have trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace,” to a generation of Baby Boomers (born from 1943 to 1960) who live in the moment, focus on self, and break rules. Part of their legacy is to kick the can down the road so their children and grandchildren will have to deal with problems. Boomers let themselves off the hook by saying they’ve tried, let someone else solve them.
Millennials (born from 1982 to 2000) will have none of this, looking instead for leadership in all the wrong places: desperately seeking Bernie; gravitating to socialism; and rebelling on campus where the cause du jour is the avoidance of hurt feelings. Millennials were shaped by a strong societal support system which gave them a desire for entitlement and a feeling of empowerment. They want to save the world but at the moment are without the tools to save themselves.
Generation Z (born from 2001 to an unknown date in the future) may well bear the brunt of decisions made today. This generation is highly protected: at home due to kidnappings and Amber Alerts; at school due to Columbine-type incidences; in society due to the threat of terrorism and local riots. When a generation is protected to this extent, as adults, they will avoid taking risks, thus becoming a generation of conformists. Generation Z is a young but wise generation whose reaction to chaos is to seek peace and protection through conforming, worrying, and trying to please, to find a safe haven in which to be valuable, productive, and creative. Their little hands reach out to grasp leadership whenever allowed. These conformists are a modern-day version of the 1950s.
Then there’s Generation X (born from 1961 to 1981), children of divorce and latchkey lives who grew up at a time when society’s support systems—family, religion, and government programs—were weak. They are a pragmatic generation of survivors.
Simply imagine an entire generation where everyone is Harry Truman, the little hat salesman from Missouri, trying to fill the shoes of FDR, and underrated to the point that an inept media announced his election as president with the wrong headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Be aware. We are in an historic generational repetition here. Truman was also blunt, practical, in your face, and able to make tough decisions. The hat salesman dropped the bomb, won the war we could not lose, then returned home to Missouri without fanfare, but with modesty, having achieved the impossible in the most difficult way possible. His generation was called the Lost Generation by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss but it helped America find its footing. That’s Gen X.
Each generation is given—and gives what is required. A weary America gave Boomers a chance to work hard and play hard. A selfish and short-sighted America gave Xers the need and the will to survive the fallout from the Boomers. Millennials will benefit from Xers’ quiet strength and go on to help the less fortunate. And Gen Z, a generation of conformists, will give America a much-needed breathing spell.
There is a rhythm to America’s history. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, these are the times that try people’s souls. We have been America the confused before, however, we always will be America the beautiful. Just packaged differently.