Cynicism Isn’t Genetic, It’s Learned

In December of 1998, Congress voted to impeach President Clinton over the crime of lying under oath when investigated regarding the Monica Lewinsky affair. Lying about sex had already become an accepted behavior for adults. Wrote about that here.

But now we were watching adults who had been lied to take revenge upon one another. We were watching a career in jeopardy. The leadership of our nation in jeopardy. Over something we had come to accept as expected adult behavior.

During the campaign, Clinton had made a big show of being an everyday person, he’d played his saxophone on late night TV and answered a “boxers or briefs” question during a town hall. His sexuality and virility were marketing highlights. They differentiated him from his elderly competitor, George H.W. Bush in 1992 and again from wounded veteran Bob Dole in 1996.

Clinton’s masculinity – inextricably tied to his sexuality – was a selling point. And then people are all shocked when he used it (abused it?) in the Oval Office.

Hearings took place in the Senate on January 9th and a month later President Clinton was acquitted. It seems lying about sex is not a fireable offense.

adult bedroom black and white door
Photo by Pixabay on

What did this indictment of the man holding the highest office in the nation do to GenX?

GenX believes in the importance of virility, health, youth, potency, and all those Kennedy-like factors. That right there makes a good leader and President. More damaging, though, we see workplace sexuality as forgiveable.

Only Andrew Johnson had been impeached before Clinton and he, too, was acquitted. His crime was trying to fire his Secretary of War. Richard Nixon, whose nickname Tricky Dick should be a hint, resigned from office before the public humiliation of impeachment and was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford.

Ford thought there’d been enough scandal and ugliness and we should all just move on with our lives. He was more than likely right.

The American people didn’t have the stomach for scandal that we have now. Our appetite has been fed by reality TV: celebrity chefs who misbehave, investors who call themselves sharks, and game shows where people voluntarily strand themselves on a “deserted” island.

We love a good scandal in the U.S. now. The #MeToo movement and #TimesUp aside, watching celebs like Kevin Spacey writhe in public shame has become a national pastime. But we forgive scandals, too. Our appetite may be large, but our tolerance is short and most things we are rabid for wear off within a few news cycles.

GenX is cynical. About leadership, about power, about sexual politics, and sexuality in general. It’s why we’re unlikely to shame a non-binary, gender non-conforming, non-identifying youth for anything other than overuse of hyphens.

Be you, we tend to say. The rest will work itself out. In most cases, there’s no substitute for time.

After December is told over five days. Brian doesn’t have time to process all of the sexual politics that occur while he’s suffocating with grief. Instead, he sees the encounters like booze or drugs: a way to ease the pain.

We are cynical about sex. It’s another vice. We didn’t come to that conclusion on our own. The 90s that made us this way.

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