We’ll start with a disclaimer. Blanket statements about entire generations don’t work. Not all Millenials like avocado toast and not all Boomers wrecked the economy. (Besides, generalizing about generations is a Boomer trait.)
With that said…Hey America, maybe let’s not elect a Baby Boomer in 2020?
Especially not a “leading edge” Boomer born in the first half of the generation like Donald Trump, George Bush Jr., and Bill Clinton (Barack Obama was born as a person of color at the tail end of the Boomer years, his experience of American life was clearly different from his generational cohorts). Maybe as the conversation around this next election ramps up, we listen to Pete Seeger’s famous hippie anthem “Turn, Turn, Turn!” and remind any older Boomers (or members of the Silent Generation) running for president that “to everything there is a season; and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Or, to be blunter, perhaps we take a phrase from the same book of the bible that Seeger borrowed his lyrics from and remind ourselves that: “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh.”
Not that we want the Boomers to passeth away. It’s just that they’ve controlled the presidency for 25 years running. They’ve had plenty of time to enact their agenda. It’s time for a new era of leaders to run things.
To understand why the world is so down on Baby Boomers right now — especially the first wave of post-WWII babies, born from 1946 to 1955 — you have to look at the promises they made when they came of age in the late 60s, the wealth they cut corners to create in the 70s and 80s, the protections they gave themselves in the 90s, the tax burdens they dodged in the early 2000s, and the failed policies they kept in place since the George W. Bush administration, a 20-year-span when (in a generation-by-generation comparison) they controlled the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office.
Economically speaking, the once idealist, commune-dwelling Boomers have offered a 40-year masterclass in wealth capture. They decimated quality of living for the middle class (this will perhaps be their most lasting and haunting legacy) and increased the wealth gap dramatically, by feathering one hell of a nest for themselves. The corporations they took charge of lifted the 1% to oligarch-levels of income. They are on pace to withdraw more from Social Security than any generation ever, and yet — because of their tax-obsession during the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s (which came about because their parents began to die and they wanted to gobble up their windfalls without interference) — they have contributed relatively little. They are the generation of leveraged buybacks, excess debt, and stock dividends. You know, the sorts of financial tools that have helped turn our economy into a “get what you can now and let it burn later” system.
Speaking of letting it burn later, the Boomers wreaked absolute havoc on the environment. That drastic wealth creation? It came with an environmental cost. The rampant oil use, factory farming, and overall ecological corner-cutting are all part of what helped Boomers (and their parents) generate wealth at such a rapid pace. It’s ironic that Boomer icon Al Gore kickstarted the green revolution in 2007 with An Inconvenient Truth, and a shame that he didn’t call his own generation out for the policies they enacted to push us toward ecological collapse. Of course, Gore’s post-Oscar fiasco — with his huge electric bill coming to light and then being explained away with trite lines like “every family has a different carbon footprint” — is peak Boomerism. This is the “do as I say, not as I do” generation, full of people who believe that their lofty 60s ideals still deserve some sort of respect, though there is no empirical evidence to suggest that they kept their promises. Meanwhile, the true costs of climate change (which will be financially devastating) will be passed to future generations.
An interesting thing happened when Sean “Puffy” Combs (then called simply Diddy) went on Hardball with Chris Matthews to defend his Vote or Die campaign after the 2004 election, in which a Boomer — whose legacy is starting a war he couldn’t afford for reasons that didn’t pass muster — ultimately beat another Boomer. Matthews challenged Puff with a question about whether his efforts felt like a failure because John Kerry (who Matthews assumed Combs wanted to win) had lost. It felt like a big “gotcha” moment, but the rap mogul played it cool. “We got a million young people to vote with two candidates who didn’t speak to us or our issues and concerns. Just wait to see what happens when we find someone who will.”
This, ultimately is why Donald Trump needs to be the last of the Boomer presidents. Because, as Trumpism makes so blatant: the Boomers have never been able to bring themselves to care about any generation but their own. Their failure to understand the true burdens they owe to the tax system, long-term macroeconomics (just look at what they’ve done to the GDP-to-debt ratio!), and the massive toll that their consumerism and financial single-mindedness will have on the country make them unfit to lead a generation that will absolutely have to deal with the fallout of these problems.
Theirs was a generation that was always told: “your lives and your world will be better than the lives your parents had.” As such, they are horribly ill-equipped to govern a generation who have had it drummed into their heads that “you’ll never have it as good as your folks did. Everything was better in our day!”
Boomer selfishness is not endemic to the generation itself, of course. The generations before the Boomers benefitted from a world where being white and a male was (bar a few outliers) the only viable means of upward mobility. In fact, if we were making the case for Boomers, it would start with the Civil Rights movement and their efforts to break down the massive systems of white male supremacy that have plagued our nation since its inception. But even here — at the moment of their greatest success — the leading-edge Boomers didn’t go far enough. Just look at how incomes for people of color and women have stagnated over the past three decades. As an aggregate group, the most powerful members of the generation have acted like an 80s movie deadbeat dad, making big promises and then speeding off in a fancy car, leaving the rest of us (particularly minorities, the uneducated, and the lower middle class) to stare listlessly after them.
The big ideas of the 60s were indeed thrilling, but they were compromised or forgotten as white, male Boomers raced to accumulate wealth over the subsequent decades.
So if not the Boomers, then who? Kamala Harris has serious heat behind her right now. Beto O’Rourke is charming and folksy and surprisingly moderate, all traits that helped Barack Obama. Kristen Gillibrand just launched an exploratory committee. Gabbard. Booker. Point being, there are options.
Surely, a certain degree of experience will be important for someone running against an incumbent president, but by 2020 that president will still only have four years as an elected official to his name in total. It speaks to our paucity of imagination that the names Democratic poll respondents came up with were all leading-edge Boomers or pre-Boomers that have already had plenty of time to make their imprint on the nation — Clinton, Biden, Sanders, Warren. The idea of our society trusting this group to change behaviors that they have shown literally no indication of changing over the course of two and a half decades with a complete stranglehold on the federal government is a sign of our own willingness to be charmed by the marches and speeches they made “back in the day.” Perhaps someone without elected experience, like late-boomer William H. McRaven, — who led the mission to kill Bin Laden — would offer a conciliatory middle ground if one is absolutely needed.
And here’s the thing: it very well might be needed. Because if Boomer’s inhabit the “American exceptionalism” that their appointed representatives always speak of in any one way, it’s this: They vote. Though they are no longer the largest demographic in the nation, yet they remain, far and away, the largest active voting block. And when they vote, they vote with their interests in mind, oblivious to the effects that their selfishness will have on future generations.
That is where to begin if we want to keep Boomers out of the White House in 2020: Be like them. Get involved and register to vote and, in doing so, to make our influence felt. Demand, as Puff Daddy did back in 2004, that candidates speak to our needs.
Of course, once in power, the onus will shift to a degree. Boomers will still have their hordes of gold and high-value houses (benefitting from a market that they artificially inflated and the treasury bonds that made them rich). What they do with those as they retire en masse is yet to be seen. Maybe with all their free time and disposable incomes they’ll begin to think about collective legacies and healing the world they were instrumental in breaking.
Meanwhile, Gen Xers and Millenials, once in power, will be faced with the same “short-term benefit vs long-term benefit” decisions that the Boomers failed at. They’ll have to choose investment in America’s future over easy payouts. The Boomers won’t be off the hook, but it will officially be up to a new generation to decide how to navigate the world we’ve all inherited.
It’s going to be hard. Getting handed the keys to a democracy is scary as shit. But it’s the right time for a new generation (or a combo of GenX, Millennials, and Gen Z) to take the wheel.