In a recent conversation about politics with a 25-year old woman I, for the first time, heard the phrase “Ok, Boomer” aimed at me.
Well, she was wrong: I am not a member of the boomer generation. But this short conversation got me thinking about the social and political divisions that are plaguing America.
We are rapidly becoming a nation of factions and competing interest groups, and in analyzing recent polls and voting statistics it seems to me that much of our political dissonance is a result of generational differences.
The era into which a person is born and in which a person matures has a profound effect on future social and political beliefs.
I, for instance, was born on the cusp of boomer-hood and in the twilight of the silent generation. I and my counterparts are the “in-betweens,” and we see things differently than our parents, but also differently from the boomers.
I lived my early years in my parents’ culture of allegiance to authority and rule-following, but then matured in the boomers’ culture of freedom and independence.
This dichotomy formed the adult I became.
I was more open to ambiguity than both my forebearers and successors, and I think my in-between generation embodies some of the best and the worst traits of both. Most of us who are late-comers to the silent generation entered life during the final years of WWII––the last American war in which the military was wrapped in a myth of great glory.
We were out of college and in the service before height of the 60s turbulence, and many of us missed the “get high and drop out” craze of the boomers. As a 21-year old college graduate I did not question the rightness of Vietnam and I willingly–––maybe even eagerly––– joined the United States Navy.
In my mid 20s I abandoned the conservative political philosophy of my father and adopted the boomers’ more liberal leanings. I, however, held onto my parents’ belief in the potential goodness of the institutions and structures that governed our diverse society.
But, I agree with the millennial and Z generations that a major or transformation of our culture is required to confront the racism, misogyny, gun violence and economic inequality that threatens the future of our country.
So with this idea in mind…
I believe that health care is a human right, not a privilege of wealth; that our system of education needs to look more like Denmark’s than like that of 1950 America.
I believe that climate change is a mortal threat to the future of my country and the world.
I believe that racial, gender and religious diversity should be front and center in all of our social, political and business institutions.
I believe that all children should live in safe neighborhoods, eat nutritious meals, and have access to high-quality early-childhood education.
I believe that my hopes for America’s children will only be achieved if their parents earn a living wage, have the necessary paid time off to care for them, and that they will receive economic and social support when needed.
I believe that the young immigrants we now classify as “Dreamers” should have immediate access to full citizenship; and, that America must have a regulatory system that promotes clean air and water, safe food and equitable workplaces as basic human rights; and, finally, we must have a tax system that raises the funds necessary to accomplish all of the above.
Too Far, or Not Far Enough
I would guess that support and opposition to the beliefs I hold will primarily but not absolutely break down by generation. Many of those who agree will probably chastise me for not going far enough; many of those who disagree will call me a socialist.
I do not despair when people disagree, particularly if they have thoughtful and substantive reasons for doing so. I see the diversity of opinions and ideas as potential strengths for America.
No one person or party has all the answers and it is the primary task of politics to seek common ground by seeking common good––– rather than the victory of one ideological/political agenda over another. Positive and lasting change will come only through compromise and consensus rather than revolution, through pragmatism instead of dogmatism.
A position that champions compromise and accommodation is a difficult stance to take in today’s hostile public arena and my hope is that the millennials and those who follow them can figure it out.
We of the silent and boomer generations have wisdom and experience to offer, but the future is not ours. It belongs to our children, their children, and their grandchildren. It belongs to that 25-year old woman I spoke with last week.
My hope is that the younger generations can come together around a common vision and a common commitment–––and, that we elders will support them or get out of the way. Their future depends on it.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.