Hey Younger Generations, We Boomers Apologize for the World We Left You With, but Don’t Blame All of Us.
On the evening of August 16, 2019 — the 50th anniversary of Woodstock — Brian Williams interviewed devoted muckraker Michael Moore on MSNBC’s late-night 11th Hour talk show. In his typical no-bull fashion, Moore cogently brought to light a good number of disturbing issues facing our nation today (see transcript).
Moore talked about the Flint, Michigan (his hometown) and Newark, New Jersey drinking-water crises, the politics of the so-called “Squad,” and gun control issues. But perhaps most interesting was Moore’s resonating message about the legacy of Baby Boomers:
“We — our promise to the next generation was we’re going to leave you a better world. Well, we have ruined it for these kids. We have choked the planet to death. We send them into debtor’s prison when they graduate from college. They’re in debt for the next 20 or 30 years in ways that we weren’t when we went to college. All these things that we didn’t fix and that I think everybody over the age of 50 has to redouble their efforts to turn this thing around.”
Why and how did we do this to our younger generation counterparts?
It may help to realize that Boomers, like all generations, can be identified within a variety of subgroups that help to define today’s social milieu. Start with the fact that Boomers today are between the ages of 55 and 73, born between 1946 and 1964. That’s a wide 18-year span that can help explain who Boomers are and what kind of legacy they are leaving to younger generations. A 55-year-old is quite different than a 73-year-old.
During the implausible, cosmically conscious Woodstock weekend 50 years ago, many young Boomers were anti-status-quo teenagers and twenty-somethings whose inner values strongly aligned with the peace, love, anti-war, and an individual-freedom movement of the short-lived Hippie subculture. Many of these Boomers have obviously changed their openly idealist philosophies with the times.
More than 400,000 youthful spirits gathered together for Woodstock under very difficult circumstances within a quickly built make-shift infrastructure designed for less than one-tenth of those who showed up. Yet, everyone got along. As Max Yasgur — the conservative-learning farmer whose land became center stage of the concert — so eloquently said to the throng of peaceful young people before him on August 17, 1969:
“The important thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Yasgur)
What has happened to us since that inspiring moment in time? Looking around today in our increasingly divisive society, it seems evident that we have dramatically diminished that spirit of brotherly and sisterly love and human empathy that moved the entire planet toward an awe-inspiring peaceful coexistence, at least for a weekend.
To explain this phenomenon, perhaps we can point to how Boomers’ political ideologies, over time, eventually split almost evenly. Party affiliation by generations, according to Pew Research, shows that 59% of Millennials affiliate with the Democratic Party while 32% identify as Republicans. Boomers, on the other hand, are almost equally divided, with 48% identifying as Democrats and 46% as Republicans.
How did so many Boomers, who in their youth could be considered followers of political ideologies more closely aligned with Democratic Socialism, become Republicans? The late Theodore Roszak offered a comprehensive explanation in “The Making of an Elder Culture: Reflections of the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation,” published in 2009, 40 years after he had written an award-winning book about the Hippie movement, titled “The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition.”
In Counter Culture, Roszak described the prevalent anti-corporation and anti-mainstream-society viewpoints passionately espoused by youth and young adults of the late 1960s. In Elder Culture, he takes up where these so-called counter-culture individuals sit today and where they should be pointing their arrows into the near future as older and wiser adults.
Most Boomers eventually followed in their parents’ footsteps, he explained “They would be as patriotic, as pious, as law-abiding, and as complacent about the inherited ideals of their society as their parents and grandparents before them.”
The folks who were overly stereotyped as sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll crazies were the minority.
He reminded us, for instance, that George W. Bush, Karl Rowe, Newt Gingrich, and many of the architects of the Iraq war are all Boomers (not to mention Trump, who’s on the cusp at age 73, and Pence, who’s on the lower-age end at 60). In hindsight, Roszak regretted not being able to foresee how many with roots in the Woodstock generation ultimately became cultural conservatives and evangelical Christians.
Nonetheless, Roszak believed right up until he passed away in 2011 at the age of 77 that many of the social ideals the counter-culture Hippies championed “are as bright and promising today as they were in the days of Woodstock.”
So where does this leave Boomers today? With unfinished business, wrote Paul Taylor in the Winter 2018 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. “We haven’t been paying our way. It’s time we cleaned up the ledger” screams the sub-headline of Taylor’s article.
Taylor explained how Boomers have scaled back on spending for education, infrastructure building, and basic research; caused the national debt to balloon; and put Social Security on a path that may leave younger generations with no financial safety net when they grow old. He added, however, that “we got the time, means, and clout to change course. Boomers are the healthiest, wealthiest, and most politically wired generations ever to reach the cusp of old age.” He also noted that many Boomers are selfish people who put their own interests first. With the passage of tax cuts, for instance, Taylor included a reference to journalist Ron Brownstein, who said that such cuts will “bury younger generations in debt to fund the current consumption of their elders.” Brownstein also accused Boomers of “trashing the place” leaving the next generations with no choice but to evict them from “the penthouse of American politics.”
But Taylor, who’s in his late 60s, claimed that such gloom and doom is not inevitable because many Boomers like him have become “more inclined to ‘give something back’ or ‘pay it forward’ in other important realms of our life.” He wrote that such altruistic efforts are seen in Boomers who frequently volunteer and participate in grassroot campaigns that bring young and old together. That’s a nice thought, but some facts paint a different and ominous picture.
For one, many Boomers may not “yet” be on the same bandwagon as Taylor. According to Pew Research, voter statistics from the 2016 election show that “Trump had an advantage among 50- to 64-year-old voters (51% to 45%) and those 65 and older (53% to 44%).” It remains to be seen if those percentages will change in 2020.
As noted in an Atlantic article published in May 2019, “unless Republicans can find a way to stop young voters’ slide to the left in the 2020s, the party will survive only if it can pull older voters — Boomers and the remaining members of the Silent Generation (currently age 74 to 94) — to the right fast enough to compensate for the leftward shift of the young.”
The great hope among anti-Trumpers is that the GOP “pull” for older voters will fail in 2020, and the younger generations, along with millions of Boomers who still believe in the peace and equality ideals passionately expressed in the late 1960s, will convincingly expel the current White House administration with a voter-based eviction notice like never seen in our nation’s history.