The “new” generation gap continues to seethe

When I first saw it last week, I thought I had misread parts of it. “It” was a blog post by a columnist for Canada’s National Press titled “Watching boomers in turmoil is worth a recession.” Unfortunately, my eyes hadn’t tricked me.

In the post, Colby Cosh found “a special delight” in the crumbling world economy because of its impact on baby boomers. “I’m willing to watch my meagre savings suffer from market turmoil in exchange for contemplating the dilemma of those who are now between 55 and 65,” he wrote. He is so overjoyed by the potential impact that “[t]he first time I see [a Baby Boomer] shopping for dog food, I doubt I’ll be able to suppress a laugh.”

Now perhaps I could pass this off as Cosh being an equal opportunity hater. After all, a bit later in the post he said, “As for the younger crowd, it is a quite distinct pleasure to watch their panic and uncertainty.” But Cosh’s view of boomers isn’t anything new. The April 2000 issue of Esquire magazine contained a piece by Paul Begala called “The Worst Generation.” It doesn’t take long to get the drift: “I believe it’s time someone stated the simple truth: The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history.”

Last August, a staffer on the excellent Wisconsin Public Radio program To The Best of Our Knowledge let go with a rant against the boomers. Charles Kane, a Gen Xer, was blunt: “Quit living in the past and get the hell out of our way.” Like Begala, he essentially contended that, contrary to what they’d like others to believe, boomers didn’t accomplish anything. His bottom line:

You compromised. And then you romanticized your contributions to society. You celebrate your youth when you should be ashamed of your adulthood. You’ve left us with a legacy of materialism and cynicism. And you know what, we don’t appreciate it one bit. Enjoy your retirement. You failed.

The reaction to Kane’s piece was so strong that TTBOOK later devoted an entire show to “Boomer Backlash.” And while Kane was glad baby boomers are retiring, Cosh is now thrilled it may be an uncomfortable retirement.

While I’m slightly younger the Cosh’s targets, I am a boomer and will freely admit the promise and potential weren’t fulfilled. Hippies became yuppies. Peace and love turned into greed and cocaine. Social justice morphed into “trickle down” economics. Another significant generational sin is represented by one word: disco. Still, as Abbie Hoffman said in his last public appearance before his death in April 1989, boomers may not have ended racism, but they helped end legal segregation. Likewise, the ERA may not have passed but women’s rights and status have advanced far more in the last 40 years than the prior century and a half.

Maybe I’m just seeing the extreme end of antipathy toward boomers. Still, the level of hatred surprises me. Boomers also experienced a generation gap. We heartily disagreed with “The Greatest Generation” on plenty of issues: Vietnam, the draft, politics and religion, to name a few. Yet I don’t believe anyone wanted harm, economic or otherwise, to befall that generation. I just wonder how and why “don’t trust anyone over 30” became “let them eat dog food.”

We were young, we were reckless, we were arrogant, silly, headstrong. And we were right. I regret nothing.

Abbie Hoffman, April 4, 1989

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