The following is from the talented Rebecca Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds is a Christian, blogging about life and culture at her website, Thistle and Toad. She recently wrote a gracious and thoughtful piece about the seeming disconnect between “Baby Boomer” supporters of Donald Trump and conservative “Gen X’ers” who can’t seem to get on board with the Trump campaign. We hope you’ll find this piece a valuable tool to help you bridge the gap when trying to convince other conservatives about Mr. Trump.
For a different take on why it seems that Mr. Trump can’t seem to fully consolidate support for his candidacy, read on:
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.