I’ve just finished reading Boomers, Helen Andrews’ send-up of her parents’ generation. My parents are Boomers too, but I’m laughing a little, because her assessment is almost exactly the opposite of mine. She blames the Boomers for, well, pretty much everything that’s wrong with modern life, but especially neoliberalism, technocracy, and politically-correct pop culture. It’s a rehash of all the stuff the populist right normally decries, presented as hate mail for the Boomers.
Mostly the book is focused on yesterday’s political controversies, but at a few points Andrews — editor of The American Conservative magazine — does imply that today’s right-wing politics are a needed reaction against Boomer folly. The Boomers ran the ship aground, and now it’s up to right-wing populists to get things back on track.
But They Loved Trump
“But Helen!” I think. “The Boomers loved Trump!” That’s an oversimplification, of course. Many Boomers (including my own parents) steadfastly refused to support him, but it’s still basically true that he got elected on the backs of older voters. It was Andrews’ Millennials who loathed him. Trump himself is almost too old to be a Boomer, but nostalgia for the glory years was clearly a major driving force behind Trumpism, and most of Trump’s initial enablers (Bannon, Hannity, etc.) were Boomers.
If Andrews views the Trump takeover as a good thing, she should end the book on a redemptive note. Think what a great storyline that could be! After years of chasing false idols, the Boomers see the error of their ways, and use their waning years to set the country on a path to reform. That’s what you call “catnip for commentators.”
To me, Trump’s rise to power was a tragedy, for conservatism and the nation as a whole. In the aftermath, I’ve struggled a little to get perspective on the Boomers. I don’t exactly blame them (especially because my favorite Boomers rejected him), but I do see Boomer bitterness as a powerful force in our crazy, off-kilter politics. It’s not a healthy one. If I were to write a note to the Boomer generation, it would say something like this:
“You did some good things and some bad things, but you could never quite let go of the idea that you were supposed to make the world perfect, which no generation can do. The worst legacy you could possibly leave to future generations is your bitterness and despair. The world has disappointed you in certain ways. It does that. Try to keep it to yourself.”
The Boomers’ Fears
I often hear Boomers express concern about the world they are leaving to their grandchildren. I can sympathize with those fears, but it surprises me that people with that concern wouldn’t recognize the importance of encouraging their children. Many friends in my own age cohort have described conversations with parents or older friends, which go something like this.
“I get that there are challenges, Mom or Dad, but maybe it just takes time to work some of these things out. Our culture has had its growing pains before.”
“Oh, you youngsters. You’re whistling past the graveyard. You weren’t alive when I was young; you don’t understand what we’ve lost.”
In their disillusionment, these Boomers end up undercutting the same virtues that they worked so hard to instill. Their kids are still willing to face the future with courage, and some measure of hope. Their Boomer parents aren’t feeling it, so they disparage and demoralize, instead of offering the reassurance that their children may still need.
A Chance to Try
If that’s you, perhaps you should consider that embittering rising generations doesn’t help anything. Sometimes younger people come up with solutions that their elders hadn’t considered, perhaps because the problems or the solutions didn’t present themselves clearly until a later hour of the day.
Maybe we at least deserve a chance to try? As a parent myself, I still find tremendous strength in my parents’ reassurances that, “We believe in you. We take pride in your efforts. We trust you to carry the torch into the future.”
That confidence might make a real difference in the lives of today’s children. Anyway, that would be my message to the Boomers.
Rachel Lu is a contributing editor at Law & Liberty, and a contributing writer at America magazine. She writes on politics, religion, and family life.