Your author has noted, mostly via anecdotal evidence, that it appears a very large part of President Donald Trump’s core support comes from people in my age group.
And that makes sense to me, for a number of reasons I’ll outline with the help of Jay Connaughton, a Mandeville, Louisiana-based political consultant who spent quite a bit of time during the 2016 presidential election cycle working with the Trump campaign and helping to develop the President’s winning message. Jay was not only heavily involved in the campaign’s market research efforts, he served as media advisor for the campaign and produced roughly half of Trump’s TV ads. Jay and I are about the same age, so he lives this experience as well.
A bit of autobiography by way of explanation: I’m 48, which means I grew up in the 1980s. For me, the formative cultural, political, and economic experiences as a kid and as a teenager were based on Ronald Reagan’s America. As such, I’m for as capitalistic an economy as possible, and making heroes out of the people who can turn a great idea into a massive fortune. I’m for patriotism and American exceptionalism forcefully advocated, as Reagan did so well. And I’m for a culture which scoffs at the idea of masculinity as toxic and that finds the idea of political correctness and censorship for fear of “triggering” anyone nothing short of intellectual weakness. Chuck Norris, Tom Selleck and Sylvester Stallone never tolerated any of that. Nor did Richard Pryor or Eddie Murphy.
Today’s social justice warriors wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in 1985. Forgive me a bit of nostalgia.
But for me, and lots of people in my age group, there is a great deal of disgust still lingering over the Obama years. We spent a great deal of our prime economic growth years (from 38-46 in my case) in a stagnant, moribund economy making it very difficult to get ahead the way our parents did at a similar age. We saw the culture we grew up in blown up by the country’s elite. And the robust America on the world stage Reagan showed us was impugned, maligned, and closeted by a president many of us never saw as particularly liking the country — and he certainly didn’t like us much.
Along comes Trump and he speaks our language almost perfectly. While I wasn’t a huge Trump fan during the primaries, I can’t dispute that he’s grown on me greatly as his tenure has progressed and his achievements have mounted.
Now let’s bring Jay into the discussion, because having conducted focus groups, polling, and other research on this very question he can bring some scientific conclusions to the table.
“We are an age group that doesn’t feel bound to party establishment,” Connaughton says, noting that many of the political heroes of today’s 40-somethings and early 50-somethings are usually Tea Party types (as examples on the Republican side: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Jim Jordan) who bear little resemblance to those who came before. “They believe that the current two party system is propping up a corrupt political elite and that President Trump is challenging that in a positive way.”
He goes further. “The economy and the political system are seen as wrapped up together and he’s breaking the stranglehold the political class has over everything.
“It’s also that our age group is not as bothered by the more modern reality-style communication methods that he deploys.”
There’s a key point in what Connaughton is saying we’ll come to in a minute. But he continues…
“What President Trump is doing is very similar to what President Reagan did when it comes to going over the media’s head to engage directly with people. Reagan used a satellite feed to get directly to local news, bypassing the networks. He also used humor and storytelling in a way that had never been done. President Trump’s use of twitter and rallies and his speaking style is something Generation X can relate to.”
Trump doesn’t fit in a box previous presidents and major political figures did. Particularly on the Republican side, it was considered impossible to get ahead unless one displayed a great deal of “class,” even if that meant refusing to stand up for oneself against the calumnies and name-calling the other side so ceaselessly deployed. Reagan handled those attacks with the humor and elegance befitting a movie star, but he was something of a special case. The Bush GOP which followed him established more of a tradition of reticence to respond which was, frankly, disastrous — it cost George H.W. Bush a second term and it left George W. Bush a lame-duck, unpopular and quite arguably failed president after the 2006 midterms. When Mitt Romney continued that attempt at nice-guy politics in 2012, he blew what should have been a very winnable election.
Along came Trump to try something very different. Not surprisingly, it works. His popularity numbers with the public at large are nothing to write home about, but even his strongest critics have given up trying to claim he can’t govern the country or that he’s politically weak.
But here’s something else.
“I think also, that our generation is interested in results and solutions,” explains Connaughton. “We’re not so jaded as other older generations that have so much cynicism that they’ve given up how much you can actually change the system.”
But, he says, we’re a little jaded — particularly after eight years of Obama following eight years of Bush and the tears his presidency ended in. “For so long Washington never accomplished anything and families saw zero positive impact from anything that any politician ever did.
“The frustration is with the entire system where the politically connected and powerful get special treatment from a government that is ineffective and a drain on society. Consider how little Obama actually changed anything. For all the talk about ‘Hope and Change’ there was very little change at all.”
You can’t say Trump hasn’t brought change.
“All of a sudden here comes President Trump who in just two short years cut taxes, launched a booming economy and reinvigorated the stock market. Finally we can see results of actions taken by someone serving in Washington.”
Another thing to understand about Generation X is this age group understands technology and its potential societal effects better than any other. We’re the people who as little kids had only three network channels and PBS on TV, then had cable as teenagers. We were the first kids to play video games. We saw the development of VCRs, cell phones, smart phones, personal computers, laptop computers, iPads, ATM machines, online banking, video rentals, the Internet, social media beginning with AOL in the 1990s, talk radio, satellite radio, iPods, Amazon and E-Bay, Airbnb, Expedia and a host of other things. Virtually every minute of private life in America is greatly changed by some technology the private sector either invented or revolutionized over the past 30 years, and as such our whole lives have been marked by mastering new technologies and revolutionizing how we’ve done things.
And yet government, and how it delivers services, looks almost exactly the same as it did back then — only less efficient and more expensive. For someone accustomed to revolutionary change and its positive effects on daily life to have to sit for hours on end at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the difference between the world that works and the world that doesn’t is stark…and infuriating. Particularly since none of the Establishment’s politicians seems to give a damn.
Connaughton says for Generation X, Trump embodies the hope somebody will bring that revolutionary change to governance.
“Our generation is not willing to accept a government that is so wasteful and outdated,” he says. “We are the generation that has been defined by the explosion of technological advancements and the total adoption of technology in every aspect our lives. That realization makes our generation more willing to blow up the current system if it means a total reboot.
“How could it possibly get worse?”
Indeed. Though in Bernie Sanders we see how it could get worse, and the fact Sanders, and his ideological pals on the Hard Left, is as popular as he is with the next generation is a worrying sign.
But for now, Trump is doing just fine with the 40-somethings. And if he continues to deliver the economic results the country has enjoyed so far, he’ll do even better.
What’s more, his success will likely deliver a bumper crop of Gen X’er leaders into the system, unafraid of the media-entertainment establishment’s enforced political correctness and willing to be brash about forcing government out of the hands of the elite.
And after two decades of Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas, and the palpable societal decline attendant in their ineffectual leadership, that’s a breath of fresh air — no matter how unexpected it might be.