Boomers gave us the financial collapse of 2008, the worst economy since the Great Depression, a crushing federal debt and worse inequality. They devoured fossil fuels and did little about global warming while allowing infrastructure and research to deteriorate. They expanded entitlement programs and are now poised to bankrupt those programs. Their leadership has led to declining confidence in religion, the presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, banks and big business, schools, the media and the police. They may leave their children (the millennials) worse off than they were.
Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides. Though Vietnam War-protesting boomers got the attention, their peers on the right were just as ideological, creating the religious right.
A repeating pattern
Generational patterns repeat over time, as researchers William Strauss and Neil Howe showed. A “civic” generation is followed by an “adaptive” one, then “idealist” and “reactive” generations. The boomers are idealists — same as the generations that led the United States into the Civil War and the Great Depression. Gen Xers are reactive — cynical and pragmatic — and clean up idealists’ messes. Millennials, like the Greatest Generation, rebuild institutions.
Happily, Gen Xers, the cleanup crew, could become the plurality in Congress as soon as 2018. The question is whether my generation, working with the millennials, can break the boomers’ gridlock and deal with the many crises boomers left us.
Gen Xer that I am, I’m not convinced my cynical cohort has what it takes. But Rosen is hopeful. “When we see national emergencies arrive, Generation X will be able to get things done when it needs to,” he said.
And this much is for sure: After a quarter-century of boomer mismanagement and the monstrosity that is Trump, we can’t possibly do worse.