The golden generation
Posted on July 10, 2017
(Also published in The Hill.)
Talk about bad decades.
Hollywood is set to release a new movie about the Battle of Dunkirk, which occurred in the first year of the 1940s.
Pearl Harbor happened in 1941. The Holocaust was mostly perpetrated in the 1940s. D-Day, Hiroshima. The Battle of Stalingrad. The Bataan Death March. The birth of the Cold War.
The 1940s was a decade of death, destruction and despair, but also a decade of heroism and ultimately victory.
It would be nice to park the ’40s in the box of history.
But to paraphrase William Faulkner, the past is not even past. It lives on as the crucible of experience in the minds of our national political leadership.
Donald Trump was born in 1946. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was born in 1940. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was born in 1941. Hillary Clinton was born in 1947. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.) was born in 1942. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was born in 1949. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) was born in 1940. George W. Bush was born in 1946. Mitt Romney was born in 1947.
Those who were born in the 1940s remember well the day President Kennedy was assassinated. They remember the fear that came from the Cuban missile crisis. They laughed at “Laugh-In.” They mourned when Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down. They marveled when we landed on the moon.
They have seen the worst of America, including the race riots in Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles. They witnessed the resignation of one president and the impeachment of another. They have seen us go to war under false pretenses twice.
If they remember Pearl Harbor, it is only vaguely, but they will never forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
They witnessed a cultural transformation, first in the movies, then on television and finally on cable. Some of them became cultural warriors on the left and on the right.
They danced to disco in the 1970s, and then saw the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s.
As they lived their lives, on the leading edge of the baby boom, they saw some bad times, but they also did well for themselves.
Some demographers called them the golden generation, because there is gold in them thar bank accounts.
If you were born in the 1940s, you will be the one generation that did better than both your parents and your children.
I often think about this generation because it still has the reins of power and won’t give those up, not without a fight.
There has been a lot of talk about how the House Democrats need to dump Pelosi. Good luck with that.
And who would they turn leadership over to? House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was born in 1939 and is thus an honorary member of the golden generation.
This is the generation that promised to make America great again as it proclaimed that America is stronger together.
These proud members of the golden generation tell the rest of the boomers what to do. They lead by example by fighting the old fights better than anyone else.
And they sit atop America’s political class, consolidating power and plotting to win the next fight.
I sense that the bulk of the American people might be ready to move on, to stop fighting the fights of the past, to stop with the intense partisanship and start with making progress on a common objective.
My guess is that younger people might look at technology and see the possibilities to solve problems, to see that old racial and ethnic resentments need to be put away and that America is best when it uses ingenuity instead of ideology.
I also bet that younger Americans would look kindly at efforts to transform entitlement programs to weed out waste and put them on a better fiscal trajectory.
But if you were born in the 1940s, you see comfort in fighting the old fights. You also are angry that America isn’t either what it once was or hasn’t become what it should have been. You have been doing this stuff for a long time and you know how to make things happen — or not happen, if that is the objective.