Friday, May 01, 2015

For Baby Boomers, the arguments go on forever

Big news from the Brookings Institution: Baby Boomers are in each other’s faces – again. According to a Brookings report:
“The primary political output of the divided boomers has been frustrating gridlock and historically low evaluations of congressional performance.”
As an early cohort Boomer (born 1950), I’ve been engaging in political arguments since my high school days. I grew up Catholic, attended Catholic school and went to mass regularly with my large family – I’m the oldest of nine children. For most of my childhood and teenhood, arguments with my parents revolved around curfews and whether rock was devil music (Parents: Hell Yes; Mike: Hell No.)  Vietnam wasn’t a hot topic – not yet, anyway. Civil rights, drugs, abortion, and all of the rest.

My first two years if college was one long political argument. I was a ROTC guy, but didn’t want to be. But I also didn’t want to go to Vietnam. I solved this by smoking pot, skipping classes and engaging in dorm-room political arguments that raged into early mornings, punctuated with long sessions of devil music. 

Over the decades, family gatherings have been filled with toasts to our continued good health and raging political arguments that may last an entire Thanksgiving weekend.  Most of my friends are boomers. Many are liberals, even here in Wyoming, but others are not. I no Longer have lunch with some conservative friends because it leads to indigestion on all of our parts.

These arguments will rage until we can rage no more. They can be traced back to the divisions caused by the Vietnam War. You might say: “That was a long time ago, guys – can’t you get over it?”
In a word, no. The divisions are deep and will only be solved by cohort replacement – death of all of the Boomers.

Go back to spring of 1970. On April 30 of that year, Pres. Nixon announced that U.S. troops would be sent into Cambodia. We had been told that Vietnam was winding down and now here was news that is was winding up instead. That led to protests in college campuses across the U.S. The most radical one was held at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, a place I had never heard of until then. On May 2, KSU students burst down the ROTC building. That was a bit off a shock to us ROTC guys at University of South Carolina. We spent quite a bit of time there. Attended naval science classes there during the week. Played basketball in its gym at night and on weekends. We assembled there in uniform weekly for our drills. Following Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, demonstrators had trashed our ROTC building. There were no real signs of the damage when I arrived in September 1969.

Ghosts remain.

We make enormous decisions when we’re young. We hope to receive guidance from our elders. We don’t always get it, or the right kind. So we end up making decisions on our own that come back to haunt us later. Then, at 64, we have to forgive our younger selves for our ignorance and our passion. I can remember how lonely and afraid I was at 19. It’s as if it happened yesterday. I was supposed to be a man but I was just a little boy.

I was sensitive and gifted with a great memory. That helped me lead a life of empathy. It also contributed to my passion as a writer. I could have turned out otherwise. Nixon parlayed a natural distrust of pointy-headed intellectuals and anti-American college brats into an election strategy. At a NYC demonstration after Kent State, hard hats rallied for Nixon. Most of these blue collar guys were Democrats then. By the next election (1972), Vietnam and student protestors and civil rights had turned them all into resentful Republicans. Many of their sons and daughters continued this policy of resentment. Some of them remained liberals and activists who continued to march for peace and justice. After the Vietnam War and civil rights struggles came the women’s movement and LGBT rights. The anti-nuke movement and swarms of environmentalists. All of these people looking for special treatment! Reagan and his policies arose from that resentment. That, eventually, gave rise to the Tea Party, that privileged group of Boomers who are wildly indignant about nearly everything.

But for me and my fellow liberals, there were more struggles ahead, more wars to protest, more inequalities to be addressed.

So Baby Boomers continue to argue. Not sure how our descendants will see us. Hippies. The Me Generation. Warmongers. Peaceniks. The generation who brought us the Millennials with all of their faults (everybody gets a trophy!). The generation that despoiled the planet with their excesses and stood by and did nothing.

Argumentative? You bet. And don’t expect the conflict to cease as long as we have breath enough to hurl an invective.


Sam said...


Good points here. I noticed that many boomers, including both of my older brothers got very conservative once they started making good money, bought homes and settled in.

My sister in law (tom's 3rd wife) was very surprised when I showed her pictures of him with long hair.

Guess it shows that for some, it was just sex, drugs and rock and roll...not that there is anything wrong with that.


Michael Shay said...

Nothing wrong with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. I always thought there was something bigger at stake.