Technically, sociologists say, I’m not a baby boomer. Just missed it, by about a year, which probably is a good thing.
Boomers, you see, have become the scapegoats du jour. And considering that they have pretty much been in charge of the United States since the early 1980s, there might be good reason for that. If members of Generation X or Generation Z want to send their elders off to the old folks’ home, well, it’s hard to blame them.
The latest manifestation of this is “OK, Boomer” — a dismissive metaphorical eye-gouge best translated as “your generation screwed things up and it is time to let some forward-thinking people take charge.”
Which probably isn’t a bad idea.
As author Bruce Gibney told Vox.com: “The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it. They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children. … They were born into great fortune and had a blast while they were on top. But what have they left behind?”
Good question. And it is one that Gibney apparently answers in his provocatively titled 2015 book, “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America.”
Admittedly, it is unfair to label an entire generation. No generation is any more homogeneous than any other group of people; despite sharing common ground, individuals have differences. Some, I assume, are good people.
And baby boomers have had some successes. As young adults, they marched for civil rights. As adults, they have expanded rights and opportunities for women and minorities and the LGBTQ community, and they won the Cold War. Ronald Reagan wasn’t a boomer, but he was the first president elected by them en masse, and America’s largest generation has mostly held control ever since.
Plus, Tom Hanks is a boomer. Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks?
But in looking back at the past 35 or so years of American politics — essentially my adulthood — it is impossible to ignore the defining trait of the baby boom generation. That trait is selfishness, and it is a selfishness that has abandoned our social compact and allowed problems to fester.
The Social Security system is teetering. The national debt is $23 trillion. Infrastructure has been ignored for decades. College is less affordable. We spend about $700 billion a year on the military, but any mention of improved health care is met with incredulous questions about how to pay for it.
All of these reflect short-term gains at the expense of planning and investment in the nation’s future. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what is in it for you. While their parents put an American on the moon, baby boomers don’t even want to pay for vehicle tabs to fix our roads, let alone address something as important as climate change.
All of this reached a nadir some 15 years ago, when President George W. Bush launched two wars while passing tax cuts. It was the perfect boomer ethos: No oblation is needed; we’ll just make future generations pay for it.
At least, we thought that was the nadir. Later, President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress passed tax cuts that benefited the wealthy while also passing a $1.3 trillion spending bill. As Gibney summarizes, “This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in order to preserve prosperity for future generations.”
When Reagan took office, the highest marginal tax rate was 70 percent. Now it is 37 percent, and corporate tax cuts have allowed for stock buybacks that further enrich executives rather than workers.
So, to be honest, it is easy to empathize with Generation X and Generation Z and long for change in the American power structure. They might not be my generation but, as the saying goes, you’re only as old as you feel.