The Inevitable Demise of the Boomers
A little self-examination is a necessary thing
I recently wrote about the Boomer generation’s failures to achieve great things that were within our grasp to accomplish: fully enfranchised civil rights; reduction, if not elimination, of poverty and economic inequality; elevating the human condition; election of progressive leaders; and taking responsibility for our children’s futures.
Where there is plenty of blame to go around, the dominate responsibility for our society’s failure to achieve the most noble of our 20th and 21st century aspirational goals must be borne by those who wielded the power between 1975 and the present.
That would be those of us born between 1946 and 1964: the Boomers. Whether that power was exercised in banks, boardrooms, or voting booths, it was a gift that was squandered. At least that is my impression gained after seeing up close and personal the failure of the Boomer-operated power centers of this country to improve the lots of those who are powerless.
The dangers and pitfalls of generalizations
After a week or two of pondering my original intention, I realized I had not done the job I set out to do, which was to acknowledge that we Boomers aren’t all we crack ourselves up to be, and that we have placed burdens on our children they should not have to carry into the rest of this century.
In short, I realize I was neither appropriately kind enough, nor coldly hard enough in my analysis of my own generation.
For the record, I recognize that any generalization about an entire generation will never do justice to the exceptions and may well misrepresent the overarching accomplishments of the whole.
A sweeping statement such as “At 29,035 feet, Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world,” while true in terms of absolute altitude above sea level, is inexact. The tallest mountain in the world is Mauna Kea, which rises 33,500 feet from its undersea base to its peak above the Hawaiian island chain. Everest always get the credit, but Mauna Kea is the quiet champ.
So, too, with generalizations about the most visible evidence of the Boomer generation, large parts of which are overblown and hyped with irritating self-aggrandizement, while other parts have quietly achieved noble and notable successes.
No one generation can stand unblemished atop the moral high ground
It’s also important — and fair — to acknowledge the historical record of prior generations’ successes and failures. Our parents, grandparents, and the long lines before them did not overcome every crisis they faced or made.
Environmental failures, for example, are hardly novel symptoms of a selfish society. The Dust Bowl, to cite one of the greatest environmental disasters in modern times, was the result of chains of human-driven events — from greed to ignorance of science to political failure to act.
The Boomers had nothing to do with that terrible time, and yet it is clear future generations of educators and politicians did not do the homework necessary to prevent similar environmental collapses in our time.
And if you really want to go back in time to dig up villains and scoundrels , take a look at the Los Angeles Aqueduct and the California Water War of the late 19th century. Talk about the rape of a precious commodity and the devastation that followed the greed of the powerful over the needs of the desperate.
Frederick Eaton and William Mulholland — the powerful Boomers of their time — should go down as two of the most ignominious names in American history. One of the most chilling quotes of the time was Mulholland’s, “If you don’t get the water, you won’t need it.”
There is good to praise
My point of view is limited, and I am not preaching a total jeremiad. I give my Boomer generation credit for quite a few accomplished men and women — Barack Obama (1961), Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (1955), Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep and Elizabeth Warren (1949), Sally Ride (1951), Deepak Chopra (1946), Amy Tan (1952), and Peter Agre (1949).
This short list includes writers, an astronaut, entertainers, politicians, inventors, philanthropists, and a Nobel Laureate, all of whom contributed something of significant value to their generation and to succeeding generations. Any search of notable men and women from the Boomer time frame will return a healthy list of people who stayed on task to improve conditions or enlighten the world.
Of course, one can find equally horrible people on the Boomer list, but to my way of thinking, for every ne’er-do-well and psychopath there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of Boomers who are engaged in efforts to improve the world’s condition.
Time to get out of the way
And yet their contributions are coming to an end, and it will be up to the next generation to dissect the work of millions of men and women born between 1946 and 1964, and decide what to keep, what to build on, and what to discard. I fear that much of what my generation’s best and brightest lights achieved will be relegated to the trash heap of “we-don’t-care.” I hear that all the time from Millennials: “Get out of the way, grandpa, you had your chance.” Maybe so. Maybe so.
My point is that the self-satisfied portion of my generation should be more circumspect and humble in its claims to greatness. We did not change the world as much as we had hoped, and in many instances, we failed to live up to the sacrifices our parents and grandparents made in the hopes we would have better lives.
Oh, many of us had better lives, of that there is no doubt, but what we did with our wealth, independence, and opportunities — the fruits of our parents’ labors — was in too many cases, wasted and insignificant.
These and other generational shortfalls were much on my mind as the world and our nation began the terrible climb up the hill of coronavirus deaths. It was an ascent that could have been less arduous, less fatal but for the ignorance and reluctance of men and women of my generation to accept the science and evidence that was presented to them months before the curve began its exponential rise. [On April 10, the global death toll rose above 100,000]
Shouting in the wilderness of political expediency
That is not to say no one was paying attention. Many voices from the medical, scientific, and intelligence communities all around the world were vying for attention from leaders who would not listen, or who placed political expediency ahead of human life.
Many of the warning bells were rung by experts drawn from several generations — in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s — and one need look no further than Dr. Anthony Fauci, 80, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, 63, to witness the wisdom and leadership of matured generations.
For those of us who choose to watch the evening news or social media reports from the front lines of the coronavirus battle — the hospitals and morgues — the images of doctors, nurses, researchers, first responders and, inevitably, coroners, represent a broad spectrum of ages, from 25-year-old medical school graduates pressed into service, to octogenarian physicians and nurses who return from retirement to gown up and enter the gates of the pandemic’s hell.
Unmet expectations and the ashes of insignificance
But it seems to me, writing this from just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C., that too many men and women who resisted the hard evidence and urgent calls for action are from my generation — the Boomers — and that is a shame even if it is not a surprise to my children’s generation.
The nation’s woeful state of unpreparedness to cope with myriad crises must be laid directly at the feet of the men and women in power today, and their failure — either willful or ignorance based — to put the future ahead of their short-term self-serving plans.
I know there will be those who say we inherited the bad apples that rotted the rest of the barrel, but that’s not good enough, and it’s a cop-out. Blaming the previous generation for the problems we have today deflects the truth: we knew what we were getting and we looked the other way.
We will be judged for what we failed to do, what dreams we let die, what burdens we placed on our children’s and their children’s shoulders. Given the dark outlook waiting for us in November — and what will happen to the country should the election go horribly wrong again — I cannot blame the coming generations for throwing our morally-desiccated remains on a bonfire of our own making.
And when the pyre of our hubris cools, and our insignificant ashes are all that remain, the winds of a new era — hopefully an enlightened one — will blow us out of existence.