Blame it on the boomers. Go ahead: Jump on board! It’s all our fault!
What? Well, everything: Greed, racism, pointless wars, political demagogues, climate change, economic hardship, those embarrassing TV commercials hawking pills to help aging bladders hang on until the next gas station.
Whaddaya want me to say? Put it on me, I don’t care.
But don’t blame me for Donald Trump. Find another goat. Mea non culpa.
As a (late issue) member of the two-decade postwar age cohort labeled Baby Boomer, I’m evidently supposed to feel an affinity for whichever of two (early issue) boomers is elected our next president.
I’ll say this: Here’s hoping whomever is elected next week really is our final Generation Boomer president. After that, it can be somebody else’s turn to take a whacking for everything that has gone wrong since they left grade school.
Naturally, I grasp the inherent tendency of pollsters, “thought leaders,” and the common folk to separate us all into demographic pie slices, and I try not to take it personally. I was born when Ike was in the White House and Elvis was on the radio, and there’s not much I can do about it now.
Besides, defensiveness is unbecoming: How stereotypically egocentric of those boomers to resent being stereotyped! Who in our splendidly heterogeneous nation has not felt the sting of broad political generalization now and again?
But we boomers are an awfully popular target. With each rising class of freshman pundits, our guilt intensifies: Here are a few (of very many) recent headlines: “Baby Boomers are ruining the entire world,” “Boomers: The most entitled generation,” “Rejoice! Baby Boomers’ reign of electoral terror is coming to an end.”
Last week, respected Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank hurled this grenade: “The generational support for Trump’s burn-it-all-down campaign is the latest reminder of why the Baby Boomers are in the running to be remembered as the Worst Generation.” Ow!
Milbank blames all our current woes on boomer-era presidents who have occupied the White House since Bill Clinton was elected. His version of history begins in 1992, entirely obliterating the hangover effects of Wall Street scandals, Jim Crow, collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, Middle East hostilities, institutional sexism, and pretty much every other historical catalyst going back to the Reformation.
Of course, some boomer criticisms are warranted. We did not invent the suburbs, but we grew up there, and remain strangely nostalgic over cultural artifacts that, to the modern eye, seem like contemptible trash: Tang, “Gilligan’s Island,” disco.
We take the influence of our sheer numbers casually for granted. We’re reluctant to get off the stage and allow younger, more energetic, and increasingly impatient generations to run the country, make policy, repair all the things we’re supposed to have ruined or broken.
Yet every generation is restless and impatient. We’re all myopically unmindful of all that our parents got right, tirelessly critical of what they screwed up.
Still, I suppose boomers, having enjoyed the benefits of postwar optimism and enthusiasm, probably take too much for granted. We were lucky.
Which doesn’t make us parasites and monsters - not all of us, anyway.
Most of the boomers I know care about social justice, child welfare, humanitarian values, fiscal responsibility, decent care for animals, historical and environmental preservation. They worry about the world their kids and grandchildren will inherit.
They don’t exactly square with the depiction in a June Forbes column of suspicious, befuddled old cranks flummoxed by “inexorable changes they find incomprehensible, and thus unacceptable,” - intolerant, in other words, of minorities and immigrants. Or more plainly, racists and bigots.
Some of this, of course, may be my own prickly sensitivity (as a Junior Old Person) of “old” as a casual insult. The New Republic, citing a Trump spike in the polls attributed to older voters, sketched a deft portrait of spiteful old boomers deliberately bent on brainless anarchy, like an ‘80s metal band wrecking a motel room: “Boomers want to leave Trump to millennials as a parting gift before they shuffle out of God’s waiting room into eternity.”
The not-very-subtle subtext: Your lives are over; you’re all just waiting to die, so why don’t you go ahead and do it already? Ow, ow, ow.
Certainly, our values are shaped, in part, by the time slot we occupy in history.
But they’re also shaped by our families, our experiences. They’re formed by the leaders we choose, the information we consume, and - to borrow a noble phrase - by the content of our characters.
So don’t blame the rise of Trump on me. I have a lot to answer for, but not that.