Talkin’ ‘Bout Our G-G-Generation

According to such ancien regime media as The Washington Post and The New York Times, the latest catchphrase among the young folks is “OK, boomer.” Apparently that’s what the millennials or post-millennials or Generation Z or whatever you want to call these raw-boned and tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins are sarcastically saying whenever some old fogy dispenses his seasoned “baby boom generation” advice.
Although we’re technically “baby boomers” ourselves, we can hardly blame these young punks for their insolence. We arrived at the very end of the post-World War II “baby boom,” and were among the first of the self-proclaimed young “punks” who were just as cynical about the hippy-dippy counter-culture revolution as we were about the culture it was revolting against. The date of one’s birth somehow permanently affixes a certain worldview for the rest of one’s life, and we arrived at an unusually discombobulating moment of cataclysmic change.
We started reading the newspapers and watching the evening news and eavesdropping on adult conversations at an early age, and it was all full of a bloody war and bloody anti-war protests and civil right marches and church bombings, and women were burning bras outside the Miss America pageant and some people called homosexuals were rioting outside a New York City bar, among other daily outrages. Even for the most precocious child it was hard to make sense of, as was the decidedly different fare suddenly on offer at the local movie theater and on the FM radio dial.
There was a lot about it we liked. We wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, and still believe it could have been achieved and spared South Vietnam from communism if the Watergate scandal hadn’t emaciated the Republican party, but we shared the hippies’ desire for peace. The negroes, as they were once known, were quite right to demand their equal rights under the law and proper respect from the broader culture, no matter how contentious that has often been. The womenfolk also had some reasonable complaints, even according to our fiercely Church of Christ Mom, who insisted on a respectful code of conduct toward women. At the time we didn’t know much about homosexuals, but in retrospect we can understand why the queers in New York were rioting outside that bar. A lot of the rock ‘n’ roll music was irresistible to our youthful ears, and still sounds good after so many years of listening to the great jazz and country and popular artists of the 20th century, and a lot of those disturbing ’60s and ’70s movies still hold up well.
Even so, we want to keep our place in the old world we born into. The post World War II global order that the “greatest generation” imposed seemed to work well enough in the long run, and still strikes us as useful. So far as we can tell fairly regulated capitalism is the most productive economic scheme mankind has come up with so far, and makes more sense than what the self-described socialists of the current Democratic party are peddling. Our old-fashioned Church of Christ Mom’s notions of how a gentleman should treat a lady should should satisfy even the most feminist sensibility of the #MeToo moment. As far as we’re concerned race relations would go easier if people were only more polite to one another, and we miss the days when someone’s sexual predilections were nobody else’s business.
By happenstance we spent much of Thursday with some even older fogies than ourselves, though, and were reminded how the “Generation Gap” of our youth still persists. Our favorite aunt was in town to visit her sister and brother-in-law, along with her excellent husband and our beloved uncle, and naturally politics came up. While the wives were doing some woman thing or another our Dad and Uncle were both yearning for the good old days of President Harry Truman and expressing amazement that the Democrats were even considering nominating an admitted homosexual for president, not to mention all that high-tax socialism they were peddling, and over an excellent dinner at the folks’ retirement home both couples agreed that the damned Democrats were out to get President Donald Trump for no good reason.
Our dinner companions were among the very finest people know, each having been born in the Great Depression and raising themselves into prosperous and honorable and respectable lives, but with all due respect, having been born a few decades later we saw a lot of things differently. We’ll go along with the old-fashioned idea that marriage should ideally be between a man and a woman, no matter how that might annoy our gay and younger friends, but not the newfangled idea that marriage is between a man and three women and a a porn star and Playboy playmate, as Trump insists. We don’t want a socialist president, but only because we don’t want any president telling Harley-Davidson where to makes its motorcycles, as Trump has done. The greatest thing Truman ever did from our historical perspective was to lay the blueprint for the mostly peaceful and prosperous post-War world order, carried out so well by President Dwight Eisenhower and more or less maintained until recently.
The even older fogies and the far younger punks probably don’t share our perspective on this impeachment matter, either. Our parents and aunts and uncles were all preoccupied with making an honorable and respectable living when the Watergate scandal unfolded, but we were insolent young junior high punks with nothing better to do all summer than watching it play out on live television, and unlike our elders we weren’t at all surprised when the facts piled up so high even the most senior Republicans forced President Richard Nixon to resign. This time around the damning facts of presidential misconduct seem to be piling up just as high agains the sitting president, and even if a majority of Republicans and our most respected elders are fine with it we do not approve.
Which is not to say we want anything to do with these tattooed and nose-ringed ragamuffins we run into at the hipster dives and their outright socialist and open-borders and electronic music and free love poppycock. At this point in our postlapsarian and post-modern ives we put no faith in princes, only in the most time tried and true principles that have lasted over the centuries and millennia, and from our cynical seat on the sidelines between generations the old standards seem hard to maintain. Things have gone so far so good during our 60 years, though, and as lonely as we are we’ll hold out hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

The Young and Undecided

The very smart folks over at City Journal, which is about as high-brow a conservative publication as you’re likely to find, have been pondering the young folks. We are relieved to learn that they’re as flummoxed by the subject as we are, and that apparently so are both of America’s major political parties.
Our limited contact with the “Millennials,” as the 18-to-33-year-olds of the moment are fashionably known, is almost always desultory. We currently know some encouraging examples of young adulthood, including most of our friends’ newly grown children, but our typical attempts at conversation with this demographic cohort are discouraging. Perhaps it’s our penchant for such disreputable dives as The Vagabond and Kirby’s Beer Store, where the younger clientele tend to be of the hipster variety, but we’ve found that most of them are as stupid as that old friend’s dog that used to run headlong into closed doors.
They voted voted in overwhelming numbers for President Barack Obama, which should tell you something, but according to the very smart folks over at City Journal they have “already proven cagey about their political alliances.” Polling indicates they have liberal views regarding social issues, which corresponds with our own observation, but are more conservative regarding fiscal issues, which we find dubious. The same date indicate that “millenials” are distrustful of all institutions, from government bureaucracies to corporations to churches, which seems plausible enough, but at the same time they vote for more government and spend as much as their meager incomes will allow on the products on corporate America and trust that a certain Judeo-Christian standard of civil society will continue to prevail. This convoluted miss-mash of ideas leaves the “millenials” susceptible to the blandishments of either party, according to the conventional wisdom, but we suspect the Democrats will continue to enjoy an advantage.
Although the “millennials” comprise a frightening 25 percent of the voting age population, we expect they’ll play a less prominent role in the next few elections. Most of the youngsters we encounter are determinedly apolitical, and their higher-than-usual turn-out in the past two elections was mainly due a fad that is not likely to be replicated by Hillary Clinton or any of the other likely Democratic contenders. Those who do bother vote to vote for the un-hyped candidates in the mid-term elections are are more likely to be the disillusioned, which will diminish the Democrats’ advantage, but a majority are still likely to vote for the free stuff the Democrats are offering and be put off the the stuffy reputation the Republicans will always endure. Our experience of today’s young people suggests they are very keen to be thought cool, and until the Republicans jettison their stands on abortion and same-sex marriage and the rest of those Judeo-Christian standards they’ll be at a severe disadvantage in courting this cohort.
Most of these young people will never get an abortion or marry someone of the same sex or benefit in any way from the end of the Judeo-Christian epoch of western civilization, and they will be limited by the slow-growth economy and burdened by the nation’s swelling debt and diminished by the society’s decline, but we don’t expect they’ll ever figure it out. The youngest of the “millennials” was 12 years old when Obama was elected on a utopian platform of hope and change, and some were even recruited for those awful cult-of-personality videos of schoolchildren singing his praises, but we hope the dismal job market and over-priced educational opportunities that wait them as they enter adulthood will jar a certain common sense into their hairy heads. The older ones, alas, we expect to keep rushing headlong into that closed door.

— Bud Norman

Wising Up the Youngsters

Back in our younger days the old folks used to fret over the lack of trust we had for our national institutions. Now that we’ve reach old fogeyhood, we find ourselves slightly heartened to see that the current crop of young folks are at long last becoming mistrustful of government.
Although we have not noticed this trend in our own occasional encounters with the under-30 set, we are assured it is underway by a recent poll from Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The ivy-covered organization’s annual survey of “millennials,” as today’s 18- to 29-year-olds are often called, found that their trust of government has dropped below even last year’s “historically low levels.” Almost every institution has seen its numbers slip, with Wall Street and the United Nations being the unaccountable exceptions, and it’s gotten to the point that even President Barack Obama is trusted by only 32 percent of the respondents.
Given the youngsters’ overwhelming support for Obama in the past two elections, the polling results are potentially good news for Republicans. Other hopeful numbers in the poll are that 44 percent of those who voted for Romney say they will definitely vote in the mid-term elections, compared to only 35 percent of Obama who say the same thing, and those identifying themselves as Republicans have increased in number even if they remain a minority. More importantly, the broader finding that “millennials” are less trusting of the government suggests they might at long last be persuaded to stop voting for more and more of it.
The wising-up of the young folks is not surprising, as they were bound to notice sooner or later that the candidates they have embraced are eager to stick them with the old folks’ medical bills along with a $17 trillion national debt and a massive regulatory state and meager employment prospects, but it remains to be seen if the GOP can win their votes. Our experience of young folks suggests that the lure of hope and change and free stuff has a powerful effect on them, and the next Democratic candidate could still convince them that despite whatever disappointments they’ve experienced in the past the next time is going to be different. Republicans still suffer from a reputation as sexually repressed squares, too, and the only things young people seem to desire more than hope and change and free stuff are sexual license and being thought hip. Undoing the the damage done by the public schools and higher education and all those touchy-feely soccer leagues might require an ever greater catastrophe than the one they’ve been living all their adult lives.
The best the Republicans can likely hope for is that fewer young people will bother to vote all, but even that might be enough to swing a few elections their way. If the Democrats are obliged to make their promises at least somewhat more plausible, and have to campaign without the youthful idealism and energy of the whippersnappers, that would also represent a significant improvement in America’s politics. Youthful idealism and energy are the most destructive forces known to history, and the sooner they are blunted by the hard-earned cynicism and lethargy of old age the better.

— Bud Norman

Forever Young

Nothing escapes the attention of those eagle-eyed observers at the venerable Atlantic Monthly’s website, and they have lately noticed that young people are delaying adulthood.

Senior editor Derek Thompson discovered this phenomenon by examining data that show the “millennial generation” is staying in school longer, living at parents’ homes more often, marrying later, and putting off having children. He might have saved himself some rather dull research by simply looking around at all the fully grown people wearing backwards ball caps, oversized t-shirts, and baggy shorts as they ride their scooters to another marathon session of video game playing, or just eavesdropped on the inarticulate jabber that passes for youthful conversation, but a high-brow publication such as The Atlantic probably demands some data to go along with its observations.

Thompson attributes this extended adolescence to the recession, which has inflicted a 16 percent unemployment rate on 16- to 24-year-olds and cut their median earnings than more than any other age cohort, but we suspect it has more to do with the culture than the economy. America’s aversion to adulthood predates the economic downturn by many years, going back at least as far as the ‘60s era of “don’t trust anyone over 30,” and is common among all of the baby-boom-and-under generations. The average video game player is 37, people are dressing like 13-year-olds into their 40s, and we notice a good many gray pony-tails poking out of those backwards ball caps.

Popular music once celebrated the domesticated lifestyle with songs such as “Nice Work if You Can Get It” and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” but that has long since been supplanted by a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility that rebels against such mundane satisfactions. Bob Dylan warbled an admonition to his fellow baby-boomers to remain “Forever Young,” John Cougar Mellencamp urged a later generation to “hold on to 16 as long as you can,” the current batch of rockers seem to be ironically following their elders’ advice, and hip-hop seems to argue for parenthood without adulthood.

When the movies aren’t based on comic books, that staple of juvenile literature, they’re often comedies about handsome men refusing to grow up. Actors such as Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black seem to have made careers out of the role. Television is similarly full of Peter Pan characters, such as the aging hipster woman on that crime show and the t-shirted twenty-somethings on that sit-com about the young folks who hang out together, and the advertisements are largely populated by youthfully disheveled slackers. The popular novels, we’re told, are mostly about vampires.

The political class has long accommodated this trend. The Obamacare bill’s purportedly popular provision extending parents’ health insurance to 26-year-old children is one notable example, but there are also the government incentives to endlessly extend education through easily obtained student loans, subsidies for illegitimacy, and a host of other policies. All of modern liberalism indulges the youthful notions of entitlement, no responsibility, hostility to traditional institutions, and putting it all on the credit card, which is probably why it can always count on the youth vote even when the young unemployment rate is 16 percent.

Perhaps the recession has exacerbated this longtime trend, but we can’t help thinking back to the old-timers who once lamented that the Great Depression had forced them to grow up young, and we can’t help recalling that they did. A prolonged adolescence was formerly something that young people felt they could afford during the long and presumably eternal economic boom, and now they find that adulthood is something they can’t afford during the hard times. Either way, it seems they’ll stay forever young, like it or not.

— Bud Norman