In writing and publishing two of my last three articles, I ran into people angry at Boomers or the 60s. The anger was sometimes loud and aggressive, and it was difficult, when it was in a one-on-one situation, to say anything in response that the attacker would hear. One person criticized my post on resolving to vote and imagine a true democracy, claiming I was glorifying the Boomers and blaming Millennials for the situation we are in today. I never mentioned Boomers anywhere in the piece, although I clearly spoke from a Boomer perspective, being part of that generation myself. In the other post, I described someone who blamed Boomers for DT.
Where is the anger and blame coming from? Certainly, people are feeling hurt, possibly that they were treated unjustly. But what is the source of that hurt?
At the heart of one critique was a study by Yascha Mounk at Harvard who had found that the people of the 1930s who fought the Nazis said democracy was extremely important to them, and people born much later (like Millennials) did not value democracy as highly. One reason for this difference, speculated Mounk, was that Millennials and Gen-X’ers had not fought against Nazis or against other non-democratic governments in order to safeguard democracy. The younger generations of Americans were not familiar with the threat to our freedoms these other governments could pose.
The critic said I had claimed Boomers had fought the Nazis and thus knew what it was like to face a threat to our democratic institutions. Maybe I wasn’t as articulate as I could have been, but clearly we Boomers could not have fought against the Nazi Germans. We weren’t alive yet. Once alive and speaking, we certainly heard about the war and Nazis quite often, from relatives who had fought, as well as from the news and literature, as we were born right after the war had ended.
All of us alive in the US in the 1950s felt the threat of Soviet Russia daily, whose leaders threatened to destroy US democracy. We went through the McCarthy Era, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and “duck and cover drills” that were created in fear of a nuclear war. Likewise, people today are feeling the threats of gun violence, global warming, increasing terrorism, the loss of democratic institutions, etc.
While young people in general tended in the past to vote at lower rates then older people, as I said in my earlier blog, this is changing. The Pew Research Center, whose statistics showed, for example, that the number of millennials who voted nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018 ⎼ and more voted than older generations of Americans. Things are changing quickly, and I welcome this particular change. Young people today are leading in several fronts, including the environment and ending gun violence.
Boomers are attacked for dropping out of society and also for dropping in and becoming greedy capitalists. For being too idealistic and for not caring at all about democracy. For drugs, sex, and rock’n’roll or being without morals and for being too judgmental. I was attacked for dropping out of society to return to the land as well as for supposedly claiming Millennials were responsible for all the ills of our society today, or for DT ⎼ but I never said they were responsible. Neither are all the Boomers or Gen-X’ers. The people who support DT are responsible.
The 60s decade was alive with experimentation, protests, art, music, and the promise of great political and social change, of increasing equity and opportunity. It was the decade that saw not only the anti-war movement but civil rights advanced, and the passing of the Voting Rights Act, Medicaid and Medicare. And early in the 70s, we saw the women’s rights and environmental movement grow, the Clean Air Act passed and the EPA created. The Clean Waters Restoration Act was passed in 1966 and the Clean Waters Act in 1972, all resulting in a great improvement in air and water quality. There was Woodstock⎼ and there was Altamont, the assassination of a President, his Presidential candidate brother, as well as civil rights leaders.
But although we heard President Eisenhower’s warning in 1961 about the Military-Industrial Complex, the people of the 60s grew up in a capitalist society, as did everyone else who was born in the US alive today. Some of the super-rich capitalists are Boomers, but you can’t blame Boomers for capitalism.
But much of the promise of the 60s rebellion never bore fruit and fell apart, and there is anger about that. The 60s became the 70s. And then the 80s, Ronald Reagan, and the economic divide between the top 1% and the rest of us started to increase once again. The limitations on the rich that were enacted just before and during the war and were extended through the 60s and 70s, were undermined or terminated in the Reagan years, and the economic divide has been getting worse ever since. And the Boomers did not stop that injustice.
According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group in 2017, around 70% of the nation’s wealth will be concentrated in the hands of million and billionaires by 2021. Matt Bruenig of the Peoples Policy Project, said “…the top one percent owns nearly $30 trillion of assets while the bottom half owns less than nothing, meaning they have more debts than they have assets.” And according to CBS news, the rich pay a lower tax rate than most in the middle class. If my math is correct, and we took the total income earned in the US in 2018 ($17.6 trillion) and divided it by the number of full-time workers (128.57 million), we get $136,890. Imagine that as the salary of each worker. All this accumulation of wealth in so few hands is undermining the future for most Americans.
Many factors contribute to the ease by which we attack each other, but one could be social isolation, which can negatively affect our physical and emotional health. How we use social media and other technology plays a big role here. For example, instead of going out to the movies, or to work, or to shop, or even gather with friends, more of us stay home on our computers, Prime or Hulu or Xboxes or FB or texts or whatever. This makes it easier for us to experience loneliness, anger, and lose sight of the humanity of others. Face to face communication is so much more than words. It is the felt presence of a breathing being, and texts, written words, even images cannot replicate that.
With all the talk about different generations of Americans, it’s easy to pit one generation against another. But a generation is simply a group of people born at a certain time in history under a certain set of conditions, and we need to remember that. Any statistics about a generation can be useful to know, but it is just a generalization. In-between the generalizations are the truths about individual people, and it is those individuals who we meet in the gym or on the street ⎼ or who write blogs.
There is cause for anger, but it should be directed at the actions of those super-rich people who are trying to undermine democracy right now by setting one generation, one group of people ⎼ or one race, religion, or gender ⎼ against another. And we can’t let ourselves take part in that manipulation or allow it to succeed.
Previously Published on irarabois.com