To My Parents Generation. Not particularly my parents or any other person I know, just to every person whom I know and people whom I know know, who have no memory of World War II and vivid memories of Vietnam,
I don’t know what to say to make you perceive what’s transpiring before your eyes if you don’t see it; but the rest of us have, for twenty-five years, been passive spectators chained to our seats, watching the whole drama unfold in which you were, as usual, the protagonists, the antagonists, the stars, the cameos, the well-paid support, the directors, the producers, the unionized stagehands, and simultaneously both the heroes and the villains, while we never even got a publication interested in our reviews of everything we saw you do on stage. We are the generations of social media, of free blogging and barely paid web magazines, expected to conjure lighting with matches you deliberately ran under water so that your lights could burn for longer in relief from our dull underachievement.
We had our hopes thwarted with the Trump election, but of course, you had your hopes similarly thwarted with the election of Nixon, and yet he resigned before he could even be impeached, with even the right wing of his party eventually demanding his departure. We had Mitch McConnell and the Party of No who thwarted every Obama initiative, but of course, you had Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, both of whom resigned like sows in the mud before even they could even get one smear of shit to dry on the face of President Clinton, who’d already surrendered to them so much of what they wanted. We are the generation of the Great Recession, but of course, you had recessions at the beginning of every decade of your adult lives, and you still managed to make six figures for decades while we leeches still have to live with your support. But more than a decade after the recovery, only a very few people’s standard of living is better than it was even in 2007 before the recession began, and even then, was not better than it was at the inauguration of President Reagan in 1981. And not just in terms of growth, in terms of raw income figures, not adjusted for inflation, almost nobody is making more money.
We had 9/11, you had the Cuban Missile Crisis in which nobody actually died. You had Nixon v. Kennedy, when the mayor of Chicago decided to make cemeteries vote for Kennedy so that Mr. Anticommunist Hysteria wouldn’t be the next President during a period when the Cold War could have easily turned hot, and we had Bush v. Gore, when the Supreme Court itself decided to stop a recount which probably would show that Bush lost both the popular and the electoral vote. The one thing you had on us was Vietnam and the draft, but if the entire world has to stay home, then an era is now arriving in which money means nothing at all, and in such times, the only way to get economies moving again is war.
You may think you’ve had it tough and that you’ve been through a lot, and in a certain way, you absolutely have. Your experience is completely unique and fascinating and mindbogglingly eventful. But what has always been so extraordinary about your life experience is that you came out on the other side of every struggle the winner. God has never looked out for anyone in any country in the history of the world in the way he looks out for the American Baby Boomer, and to this day, you clearly still think that your luck will always be with you, as though it will be part of the inheritance you pass on to your children along with the deed to the beach house that will wash away in the tide within six months of your blessedly aged demise. The losers worked no less hard, deserved no less, and certainly struggled no less, but they lost. They lost in Russia, they lost in East Asia, they lost in Latin America, they lost in the Middle East. They all are determined to stop losing and they are out for revenge, and if they can’t visit revenge on you, they will visit it on your children.
Most of you are now at the cusp of your biblical three-score and ten. You have both a young person’s vigor, and an elderly person’s inability to change their habits. You have lived the fullest lives anyone has ever lived in the history of the world, and you see no reason why you can’t continue living lives this full for at last another score and a half. You are one of the only generations in any country in any era that had fundamental control over your destinies, and it’s never happened again for any American generation who came after you, and you simply can’t understand why. Every danger you have ever met turned out to not be as dangerous as people told you it would be: whether it was Communism, or marijuana, or selling out to ‘the man,’ or the Republican Party. And so when you hear your children complain that making their way in the world is too hard, you clearly don’t believe them. The world always just sort of cleared a way for you, and even if you had to put the hours in, you always got enough time, money, and opportunity to have more fun than you ever knew what to do with. Sure, you worked hard to pursue your happiness, it’s not like you wanted to make all those compromises, and you even had some real tragedies along the way, but those cataclysms your parents always warned you about: they never happened. There was no nuclear Armageddon, there was no price for running up massive debts, East Asia never fell like dominoes, Republicans never actually overturned Roe v. Wade. Your kids generation is so whiny, so sensitive, so spoiled, ‘and it’s our fault really….’
You laxened educational requirements so that nobody would have to fail, and so the inevitable byproduct is, in your opinion, that your kids never really learned to write, they never really learned math and science, they never learned art and culture because of the programs you gutted for your tax cuts, but what really worries you is that they never really learned history. And a couple years ago, when they came home for a college break, they start parroting this leftist bullshit that sounds like an extreme version of the hippy crap that would spew from your mouth while trying to impress the guitarist rolling a joint. Sometimes they call it ‘social justice’, sometimes they call it ‘social democracy,’ sometimes they call it ‘intersectionality’ or ‘intentionality,’ and when you ask them what they mean by these terms, they can barely string a sentence together, and the sentences they do string together are just eruptions of rage and personalized accusations about all these things that your generation, and particularly you, “didn’t do.” And that frightens you. It doesn’t frighten you because of anything you’ve experienced, it makes you fearful because of things your parents told you which never came to pass. Fifty years ago you guys got mad in exactly the same way about all the things your parents didn’t do, at some point you probably called your parents fascists, and your parents called you fascists right back. And looking at things from the vantage point of age and wisdom, you now see that they, not you, were correct. In objective terms, your parents had all kinds of attitudes which were racist, and sexist, and homophobic, and warmongering. And yet on their most bigoted day they did more to make the world equal and peaceful than you ever did on your most ‘with-it’ or ‘woke.’
And now your kids are parroting caricatures of everything you believed at your most naive. For decades after you changed your mind, your parents still viewed you as a backstabber, and yelled at you as though your brief rebellion was personally responsible for the destruction of an American society that, from where you were sitting, still looked as though it worked pretty well. But with your kids generation, their beliefs seem so universally held that there is no rebellion inherent in them.
You now see very clearly that the panic inherent in the population from the immediate changes you demanded from the world caused all social progress to cease from the moment you occupied your first administrative building to the moment Obama took office, and even after Obama took office, you wonder along with your children if there was any progress at all. After all that evolution and revolution in the decades following World War I and the Spanish Flu, America was so paralyzed by your demands for still more change that it ground all possibility for change to halt, and you learned your lesson so well that you made a religion out of never demanding anything for others so long as other people let you demand for yourself.
But Trump winning, that was something you never banked on. You put the illusion to bed by 1974 that America is a dictatorship, and you resented the hell out of your children for resurrecting such a ludicrous notion right after the privilege of a childhood, an adolescence, a college, and a grad school you spent fifty times as much money on as your parents ever would to give them the best possible advantages ever bequeathed to a generation in the best possible era of the best possible country.
But the endless litany of things Trump has done with that victory fills your mind changes the contours of your mind every day, another brick certainty about what our country is and isn’t crumbles every day, and all the while, he’s clearly doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin’s every whim. And yet your parents eat up his every word, the very people who warned you to take the threat from Russia seriously!
So you retreat to your peers, constantly bemoaning the lack of education and historical knowledge among your kids, who blame you for things that aren’t your fault and they could easily change if they decided to change them just as you so often did because, in your mind, the world is relatively easy to change. And your peers with you bemoan the lack of flexibility in your parents, who are so determined to see the world stay the way they remember it that they’re not even conscious that they have turned into the spiritual opposites, the evil side within everything good they once were.
The childrearing books always told you that when your kids are throwing a tantrum, what they’re really mad about is something other than what they say they’re mad about. When their own lives seem so close to perfect, just as yours once were, what meaning can they find from life as they’ve lived it just as you couldn’t? They go through their lives with an unconscious, un-nameable dread that maybe these perfect lives of theirs and yours are just mirages whose solid appearance can vanish instantaneously. So they become soft, and they take up the suffering of others as though they’ve suffered themselves, and by championing others’ suffering, they amplify it.
And just as your parents were terrified by your rebellion, they’re terrified by their rebellion even more so. Your grandparents are too old to see life as it really is anymore, but relative to you or their grandchildren, they genuinely lived hard lives, and for all their best intentions and the good they did, life made them hard and capable of brutality in ways that if you ever recounted those moments to your children, her sainted meemaw would seem a devil. But even in their declined state, it’s not hard for your parents to see that your children mean everything they say about revolution a lot more sincerely than you ever did. They still vote in numbers well past your own generation, and they will fight with every ballot and social-security dollar they have to keep this country exactly the way they want to leave it.
And so life now in the country you perpetually seem to own is a fight between your parents who by all rights should be a memory by now, and your children who should be fully adult. And what you start to realize is that everybody in this country is pretending to be younger than they really are, and by now there’s only one generation who’s fault that is.
The times, they are a-changin’ as no American era has ever changed, more quickly, more decisively, more apocalyptically. You thought the twenty-first century arrived with 9/11, but that was just a bit of leftover baggage from the 20th. We now have a pandemic in a country where a President you (and not your children) elected, a pandemic that could kill anywhere from 200,000 to 1.7 million Americans in the span of 18 months. This President born just after The War seems like a demonic manifestation of every secret fear you have that maybe, just maybe, you were a little too selfish: that you steamrolled the people around you, that your achievements are just an act, that you couldn’t talk about or focus on anybody but yourself, that maybe, just maybe, you could have been a little more empathic or sympathetic to other people.
And here comes a virus which you’re told is dangerous not just to your parents, but to you, and of course, you don’t really believe it. ‘Look at them, and then look at me.’ Your kids are yelling at you to stay the fuck inside as though you’re wheezing in a walker like your parents, but you’re still going to the work from which you haven’t retired, you’re still stopping at the store with impunity to pick up whatever, you’re still looking for a way to see the family members you might not see for months, and if states didn’t order restaurants to be closed you’d still be meeting with friends at them.
And every one of your kids are absolutely terrified. One day, you were strong and vigorous, and the next, your children will not even be able to bury you. You will be carted off to a crematorium for your corpse to be burned while your children can only mourn you in private with no one for company, and they can’t even hug each other, let alone hug their grieving other parent who may shortly follow you.
It will feel like an eternity, but sooner than we know, this plague which has barely begun will be over. For those of you who survive, and it will be most, this economy which you were always told will thrive in any condition has come to a halt. The only way to compensate everything lost of this is to print so much money that money itself means almost nothing, and nothing is what you will be able to buy with your savings. Almost all of you will be working for the rest of your lives, and your children will be working for you until companies have no use for their advancement, and their own children are promoted over them. And that’s only if their children survive global warming and all of the global conflicts rising temperatures ignite.
The thousands of you about to die are going to get the ultimate Boomer sendoff – it will be entirely about you and not us. It will be entirely about the irony of having lived a life of blessings so complete that you were even spared the agony of a months-long demise. It took all of you in the span of an instant, while your families will live with the ramifications of your premature deaths for a century.
Also, I feel a chill….