III. Boomer World
A common lament of the World War II generation is the absence today of personal responsibility.
-Tom Brokaw, writing in The Greatest Generation (1998)
In 1992, the first Baby Boomer was elected President, by the greater part of his fellow Boomers. Bill Clinton was born in 1946, the year after World War II ended and the first year of the Baby Boom — a child of the peace dividend. The parents of the Baby Boom celebrated their victory in the most destructive war humanity has ever known by multiplying: adding 76 million Americans to the country before birth rates returned to pre-War levels. At that point the new Americans amounted to a whopping 40% of the country.
Due to their sheer size, these children would soon become the country’s dominant force, driving economic and social activity at every stage of life, from booming diaper sales as toddlers to income tax cuts and booming McMansion sales as adults. Time Magazine declared the 1966 Man of the Year was “a generation: the man — and woman — of 25 and under” — in other words, Boomers — the only time an age group has ever been selected. They were passed the keys to the Post-War American superpower, and, for the entire lives of nearly all living Americans, the world has been oriented around them.
Boomers are a Prophet archetype in Strauss-Howe’s theory — a generation that grows up as the increasingly indulged children of the post-Crisis era High, comes of age as narcissistic young crusaders of a spiritual Awakening, and cultivates principle as moralistic mid-lifers during an Unraveling. Their spiritual awakening was the counterculture revolutions of the tumultuous 60s and 70s, and Boomers had a very specific rhetoric of rebelling against their parents and society, from “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30” to “Hope I die before I get old” when Talking ‘Bout [Their] Generation. It was during this era that Boomers’ trademark fractiousness first appeared in the sometimes-violent protests between Hippies and young ROTC soldiers over the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
As they got older, their hold on the levers of power and influence became more direct.
By the 1992 election nearly every Boomer was finally 30 years old — when Americans start to reliably vote — and since then every President has been a Boomer.
The Cold War had just come to a peaceful conclusion, and America found itself the last hyperpower standing — leaving even fewer constraints on Boomers’ willingness to fight with each other. With a Democrat in the White House, two year later Boomers swept into Congress with Newt Gingrinch leading the Republican side, his party capturing both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years. Soon clashes between the two parties led to the first full federal government shut-down in history. Why unite for the common good when hating on each other is so much more fun (and has so few short-term consequences)?
Newt zealously prosecuted Bill for getting a blowjob from an intern at the same time he cheated on his own wife with a congressional staffer. What began with Hippies vs ROTC in Boomers’ early adulthood evolved into MSNBC vs Fox News in their midlife. Politics has only become more polarized, from the decision to go to war in Iraq, to the financial crisis and its aftermath, to the 2016 election. Republicans in the Tea Party kicked out all the moderate Republicans (In Name Only), while Democrats rammed through Obamacare with the uncompromising power of a rhino.
In reality, President Clinton was a continuation of the political wave that started with Reagan in 1980 — when the youngest Boomer was nearly old enough to vote, and the generation began to wield its political influence. Reagan cut taxes, opened up global trade, blew out deficits, and didn’t care much about the national debt.
Clinton campaigned as a “New Democrat,” shedding the Democratic party’s historically anti-trade, high-tax, pro-union platform for many of the same policies Reagan championed. That meant welfare reform, deregulation of the financial system, NAFTA / Acceptance of China to the World Trade Organization, and especially, no big tax hikes. It was the only way a Democrat could get elected after twelve years in the wilderness, having been labelled “tax and spend liberals.” That’s a clue that something larger than political party loyalty had changed in the underlying politics since 1980.
What changed? Well, Boomers had entered their prime earning and consuming years, and they sure as hell didn’t want their income to be taxed!
The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
-Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987)
Taxed income would surely be wasted by the “big government.” Each Boomer wanted to decide exactly what happened to all his/her own money by him/herself. That taxed income could have been invested somewhere else with broader benefits — infrastructure, research, education — making the country stronger as a whole. But national riches aren’t an obvious boon to individual Boomers’ bank accounts. Of course, now Baby Boomers are retiring en masse — 10,000 a day since 2011. If income taxes do go up some day, Boomers won’t have much to worry about: their prime income-taxed years are well behind them. Besides, after years of wrenching fights, debating income taxes is played out — what’s really exciting is debating healthcare and social security!
What will the famously-labelled “Me Generation” fight over in the nursing home?
For a generation that was gifted American Superpower, their stewardship has become a cautionary tale. But many Boomers will hardly care — their entire lives have been geared toward themselves as individuals rather than larger society. While the Greatest Generation — coming of age in the Great Depression — valued self-sacrifice, Boomers value self-fulfillment. This is just the way of the world for every post-War Boom generation. To a Boomer, Boomer legacy — as a generation — hardly registers. It’s Bill’s legacy, and Oprah’s legacy, and Donald’s legacy, and…
Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? The money’s rolling in and this is fun.
I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going!
It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS!
-Les Moonves (President of CBS), Baby Boom Generation, on ad revenue from the 2016 Presidential Election
With great power did not come great responsibility.
We must condemn those who seek to divide us… We have no place for haters in America — none, whatsoever.
-Ronald Reagan, Hero Generation
Continue to Chapter 4: Identity
Find the full manifesto here:
Millennials Rebuilding America
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Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world
-Roald Dahl, Hero Generation