My step-father is one of those guys who knows a whole lot about a whole lot but has never been to college. He’s a retired sheet-metal worker who spent two tours in Vietnam as a Seabee and raised five kids, with an assist on two more. He is as optimistic as he can get after all the shit he has seen.
He understands that Barack Obama is our last, best chance to start delivering on the founding documents, which explains why Colorado is trending blue these days.
He is also more than a little pessimistic. He has seen his generation squander and lay waste the country they were given to protect. He has seen the middle class systematically squeezed as pensions were raided and jobs shipped overseas. He has lived with the pain of injuries suffered while fighting OUR country’s war in Vietnam, pain that we failed to fix when he managed to make it home alive.
He has seen every promise broken by our government that it has ever made. Worst of all, he has seen the change in our government as his generation inherited the mantle of power from the World War II generation and promptly turned it over to corporate America, a trend that started with Nixon’s election in 1968. He has had a front-row seat for this takeover.
Yet he remains hopeful because of the next generations coming up – Generation Jones, Generation X & Y, Millennials – are poised to move into positions of greater responsibility and have been challenged to get involved by a charismatic and transformational leader.
That is why he is still hopeful.
As we had this conversation the day before the most recent primary (he predicted a loss for Obama, but hoped it would be small) I realized that the only reason we are even in a position to make this country work for all people is because of the lessons learned at the knee of the Baby Boomer generation. Many of us have Boomers for parents. Many of us were raised on protest songs and stories about a more turbulent time. A time when rights were being fought for while a peaceful center had been found as well. We were raised on dreams about a City on a Hill, of a utopia that can exist if we all care enough to make it happen.
We were taught that we could create reality, but to never trust the government. Everything we see today shows us they are right – we can create reality and the government can’t be trusted.
This was a nice line of thought for me, because the Boomer generation has also been the one that hastened our destruction and allowed (in fact propelled) our government to evolve into a fascist state, corporate-controlled and bottom-line focused. That is also their legacy. A mountain of debt and a plan for the future that has no strategy. Tactics that concentrate at the ground beneath our feet instead of goals seven generations out. That is their legacy as well.
They created a reality that is demonstrably monstrous.
I wonder what my generation’s legacy will be. So far Generation X has been trying to do good by most people. We also have our ruthless capitalists that are squeezing every last dime from whatever advantages they can exploit. I think it is a smaller percentage in Gen Y, my little brother’s generation. They are starting to think in terms of ecological and sociological capitalism – doing well by doing good, for profit and for benefit.
This sustainability trend is picking up steam across the current generations.
Our defects, as a species, seem to be fixing themselves quicker than they can kill us. Just when we couldn’t wait another moment for a solution, we have back-to-back-to-back generations who are more capable and willing than ever before to take on the challenge. If we can continue to evolve at the rate we have seen recently, it is hard for me to not hope that we can in fact achieve all those pretty words that Thomas Jefferson used to define our nation in the Declaration of Independence, before the compromises of his day turned black Americans into 3/5 of a human being.
At the end of the day, the Boomer legacy is one of starting us down a path toward change. They saw an opportunity to turn our country into something drastically better than what they would be given by their parents. In large part, they have been very successful. The job hasn’t been completed because it was always a multi generational effort to get over 400 years of national disgrace and a bloody past.
I guess all I have to add is: Thanks!
Jason, as a boomer myself (I’m 55) I have to agree with the majority of your post. I’ve thought about this myself, and it saddens me that the “boomer legacy” will (hopefully) be limited to Bill Clinton and dubya – a truly disappointing legacy on both counts!
I certainly hope the upcoming generations can do better – and I do believe that will happen.
I hope so as well. I think we have a great foundation of change to build on – the effort just got derailed for forty years..
Great post, Jason. You might be interested in Thomas Frank’s book The Conquest of Cool which has some interesting things to say about the commodification of dissent when the boomers came of age.
Thanks, Mercer. I will look that book up. I think we are in the initial throes of the de-commodification of America. Finally!
Another excellent post, Jason.
“He is also more than a little pessimistic. He has seen his generation squander and lay waste the country they were given to protect.”
He has seen only PART of our generation — the wealthy minority which includes the ever-AWOL Bushit. I take personal offense at being insulted by your all-inclusive condemnation, in the name of your step-father, also of those of us who both opposed the US’s ILLEGAL involvement in Vietnam, and worked to get his ass out of there YESTERDAY.
“. . . . He has lived with the pain of injuries suffered while fighting OUR country’s war in Vietnam, pain that we failed to fix when he managed to make it home alive.”
Anyone who paid attention at the time — including those of us who not only hadn’t yet attended college, but hadn’t yet graduated from high school, he wouldn’t have been suckered into going to Vietnam in the first place. The history was there, and readily available; all he had to do was READ it.
So I have no sympathy for those who were suckered, due to their own gullibility and irresponsible REFUSAL to avail themselves of the facts, the history BEFORE gathering for themselves the “opportunity” to whine about it after the fact.
And you leave out that it was not OUR generation which got the US into Vietnam, nor OUR generation which sent the gullibles and the gung-ho to Vietnam.
“. . . . Worst of all, he has seen the change in our government as his generation inherited the mantle of power from the World War II generation and promptly turned it over to corporate America, a trend that started with Nixon’s election in 1968. He has had a front-row seat for this takeover.”
Does he also blame HIMSELF for that? Or is he the only exception of our generation who DIDN’T do that? In fact, cCHILD, some of us were actively after LBJ for war crimes BEFORE Nixon announced his candidacy the first time. Then, when Nixon did announce, I, and others, said: “Forget Johnson. Let’s get THIS gangster,” because many of us saw him for what he was from the get-go.
I was one of the very few who admitted to being “out to get” Nixon when accused of being that. I recall seeing the very first report of the Watergate break-in, and following that from there through hearings and resignation.
So “our generation” is not guilty — without exceptions — of your father’s benighted allegations, or your misstatement of them, if the latter is the problem. Note this fact and note it well: those who opposed the war, and refused to go — such as Clinton — were of our generation, and were both consistent and correct. That portion of our generation which includes ever-AWOL Bushit and Dick “Five Deferments” Cheney were, on the other hand, supporters of the war who also REFUSED to go.
And where did Bushit and Cheney get their “values” on the point? From the same place I got mine: the WW II generation. The difference is that my father, who enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor, spoke about the abuses he saw during that war and after by THAT generation. And in his case directly, at seventeen years in the military, the military found a spot of TB on a lung — and told him it wasn’t service connected.
That’s the WW II generation. Except the large portion of it that supported Nixon “for the glory of America” against their own children — both those who went, and those who opposed the going.
You’ve much to learn, son, about your step-father’s “our generation” which is contrary to his erroneous certitude and LACK of optimism. Regardless his view at the time, we who set out to d so both GOT Nixon, and ended the war.
It was, by contrast, the WW II generation, in Congress, who agreed to “move on,” that FAILED to excise the Rumsfeld-Cheney[-Buchanan] cancer from the Executive branch.
Sorry you find it necessary to SHOUT when MAKING points to people on-line but no amount of shouting disguises the fact that you completely missed the entire point of what I wrote.
I condemned no one and blamed no one.
You blame my step father for the injuries he sustained? You blame him for hoping that the government would keep its promises? Getting drafted? For not running to Canada and leaving his young daughter and wife behind? You blame him for what exactly?
No wonder my step-father says his generation is fractured. You prove that point.
The World War II generation made their mistakes, to be sure, but those mistakes were multiplied ten-fold by the Boomers who took over. They are responsible for the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s. Yes, they are most certainly responsible for much of the fascist state we live in.
But again, this blog wasn’t a condemnation. It was an admission that for all their faults, the Boomers instilled in us, their children, the optimism to shoot for a better way.