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When generations make their marks

Boomers and Millennials are the twin peaks of demographics -- big, influential generations. Right now, though, it's Gen X's moment.

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    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited a Toronto youth club Feb. 12.
    Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press/AP
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Like many of you, I’m a baby boomer. It’s been great sharing the past four or five decades with you guys, but enough about us. Roughly 10,000 boomers a day are retiring. The torch is passing. Marketers are salivating over the Millennial generation, a bigger, more diverse demographic than boomers. Millennials came of age during the digital revolution. Like boomers, they seem destined to influence society for decades.

But before that happens, Generation X is having its moment – or maybe more than a moment. This is a generation that the Pew Research Center once described as “the neglected middle child,” as a “low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths,” boomers and Millennials. Demographically, that seems accurate. Individually, many Xers are hardly low-slung.

The founders of Google and Amazon are Xers. In the arts, Xers range from pop star Beyoncé to opera soprano Maria Agresta. In government, members of Gen-X are quietly making their mark. Governing magazine recently noted that Generation X “long ago shook off its disengaged-slacker stereotype to become known for its entrepreneurialism, DIY ethic, skepticism about bureaucracy and comfort with collaborating over far-flung networks.” Many members of Gen-X are engaged in practical politics, especially in local government, which, after all, is where democracy is rooted. But they are also represented increasingly on the national stage.

The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, is an Xer. Two cogenerationists, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have been top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. The prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, is an Xer. But the Gen-X pol who has captured the most attention of late is Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister of Canada and the subject of Dylan Robertson’s cover story (click here). 

Mr. Trudeau is Canada’s J.F.K., an individual whose energy, confidence, and optimism have redefined his country and captured attention far beyond its borders. The son of a former prime minister, he is, like many members of his generation, the product of a broken marriage, a young man who therefore coped, comforted, watched, and learned during the turmoil his parents went through. In early adulthood, he blazed his own trail. He was a snowboarding instructor, nightclub bouncer, teacher, and volunteer boxing coach. He entered politics one foot at a time, building a support base and observing the ins and outs of Parliament as a member of the opposition.

Now he’s a prime minister who seeks to return Canada to its traditional position as a liberal society and a peacemaker in the world, a country whose maple leaf emblem has always denoted neutrality and safe passage. Ahead for him lies the difficult world of governing.

No individual, of course, defines a generation. Plenty of Xers didn’t wear grunge. Plenty of boomers didn’t turn on, tune in, and drop out. Millennials are just as diverse. Generations come and generations go. Ecclesiastes said that long ago.

The kids – boomers, Xers, Millennials, and whoever comes next – are always all right.

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