“It’s all your fault,” the Generation X 43-year-old scolded as she pointed her finger at me. “Holes in the ozone level, a crappy housing market, job insecurity, expensive college tuition, income inequality, lack of universal health care, derisory minimum wage, global insecurity, wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, environmental degradation. And Harvey Weinstein.” She paused to catch her breath. She was just warming up. To her, the Baby Boomer generation, my generation, was the root cause of most, if not all, of the world’s problems.
I took advantage of the short pause to try to respond that all those problems were not directly caused by people born between the mid-1940s and the early-to-mid 1960s.“The use of cars and fossil fuels exploded during my parents’ generation, not mine. The rise in college tuition has enabled improved facilities that benefit all students. Certain economic cycles are unavoidable, and technology has caused severe disruptions but also positive things such as the Kindle, wifi, etc. that your generation are using.” I could tell by her smirk that I was not doing well. And, I admit, I was sounding defensive and pedantic.
“In fact,” she resumed her broadside against me and all Boomers, “it’s not really my generation that is suffering. It’s the Millennials. You people won’t retire so they can’t get jobs. You still use paper which requires cutting down trees which reduces forests and oxygen for the upcoming generations. You continue to eat meat which reduces the water and grain supply to feed the world. All these affect Millennials and future generations.”
“So,” I quickly interjected, “you profited from the activities of the Baby Boomers and it is only generations after you who will suffer. I think that, at least, your generation could thank us for all we have done. You refuse to accept that you benefitted from what Boomers gave you.”
After having allowed me my thirty-second, defense, she looked at me with renewed determination and delivered what she thought was the ultimate accusation. “And Donald Trump? He’s your generation’s gift to humanity. All that levitating the Pentagon, Woodstock, the Age of Aquarius, ‘I have a dream,’ ‘what you can do for your country,’” All that you 68’ers are so proud of, what has it gotten us? Donald James Trump. That’s your legacy.”
Ouch. That that one really hurt. How have we gone from consumer-rights advocates like Ralph Nader to environmental destroyers like the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt? From the idealism of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements to increasing racism and perpetual wars such as in Afghanistan? From the fall of the Berlin Wall to the construction of new walls with Mexico? From the end of Mutual Assured Destruction to the increase in nuclear capabilities and nuclear states? From the cosmopolitanism of the Peace Corps to the narcissism of the Me Generation? From the optimism of the Kennedy’s to the cynicism of Trump and his followers?
To admit these changes is one thing. To accept responsibility for them is another. Generation X was looking for a simple cause and effect. She wanted accountability, and she wanted it now. And I, and my generation, were the symbols of all that had gone wrong. There was no use in quoting Stephen Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature or Hans Rosling in Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. No, Generation X was infused with all the negative headlines in the media. No revelations about new advances in medicine and increasing life expectancy would change her perception that things are going downhill and that I and my generation are to blame.
I had to agree with much of her negativity. There are many indications of serious declines in democracy, the rule of law and morality. She has a point there. Whatever statistics show that millions and millions of people are better off today than they were 50 years ago will not erase images of Israeli soldiers firing on innocent protesters behind the fence in Gaza, photos of melting glaciers in the Swiss Alps or headlines about the latest school shooting in the United States.
It is one thing for a Generation X or Millennial to blame Baby Boomers for where we are today. That is understandable. What is not understandable is how Baby Boomers have not asked themselves the same questions. How many of those who marched for Senator Eugene McCarthy and surrounded the Pentagon shouting to stop the Vietnam War are today marching and shouting against the war in Afghanistan? How many who went South for civil rights are today outraged about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as a modern form of apartheid? How many who are comfortably ensconced in retirement accept some responsibility for Trump’s election?
Generation X may have some valid points, but I would have preferred if fellow Baby Boomers had asked them. How did the tragic route from Jack to Martin to Gene to Bobby lead to The Donald. Did all our hopes die in Dallas, Memphis and Los Angeles?
If Generation X accuses, should Baby Boomers accept responsibility?