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By Robert A. Vella

In a thoughtfully expressive post titled Mad as Hell!! Really? fellow blogger DesertAbba lamented over Baby Boomers’ lost passion as America decays into a dystopian nightmare similar to the one famously envisioned by George Orwell:

“A really big problem is that those of us who are getting by are not angry. We have just enough that the problem of joblessness is not our problem, our student loans are behind us and weren’t all that heavy in any event. We are not among the 1-2% but we aren’t all that uncomfortable. Our SS checks get automatically deposited and our pensions and IRA drawdowns are enough. We still spend more at Starbucks in a couple of weeks than some families have for a starch-laden month’s supply of groceries. We feel the left side of our minds engage and the left side of our hearts speed up when people like Elizabeth Warren speak, but there are simply not enough of the likes of us who are willing to sacrifice even a little of our comfort to make changes. We are stirred by videos, assiduously avoid Faux News, tune in Madow and let PBS lull us to sleep, but we are not going to do anything that really costs us. Hence little will change no matter who is elected.”

My response acknowledged that frustration while adding a couple of other salient points:

“It is sadly true that we who fought so actively and so passionately against the Vietnam War, against corporate polluters, and against racial and sexual injustice, have become uninspiring in our old age. But, I would submit that the revolutionary fervor of civil disobedience is no longer our generation’s responsibility. That duty – fairly or unfairly – always falls upon the young.

We performed that duty in the 60s to early 70s, and some of us paid the ultimate price (e.g. Kent State massacre). We forced an end to the Vietnam War. We raised the environmental consciousness of the nation. We marched alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. We supported our sisters in their struggle for choice and equality. No, we weren’t perfect. Far from it. But, we did our duty.

Forty years later, I marched again with Occupy Wall Street joined by other aging Boomers. It was a commendable effort, but it could not be sustained. Millennials provided the energetic fuel, but the spigots quickly ran dry. When push came to shove, they retreated from real society and lost themselves in a virtual world of commercial bliss.”

I wasn’t trying to shift the blame onto Millennials.  All Americans bear some responsibility for their nation’s demise, and none more so than the wealthiest and most powerful among us.  It is rather stunning, however, to see the hopeful activism of the 1960s and early 1970s be replaced with defeatism and despair in just two generations.  Even during the darkest days of Civil War, Americans didn’t give up hope.  They kept on fighting.

What’s occurring now in the U.S. is unprecedented.  When the people lose their will to win, a nation rots from the inside-out and will eventually crumble.  It happened to Rome, and it’s happening to us.  The only questions which remain are:  How long will it take?  – and –  Can it be turned around in time?

The Boomers are getting old and tired.  Generation X never became a social force of any significance.  Millennials are moving in to that mainstream age group where career and family concerns take priority.  Generation Z is still too young to be an agent of change.  Perhaps they will in the years ahead as they discover who they are and wish to be.

I’ll conclude with these two recollections of the Baby Boomers.  For better or worse, they made an indelible mark on America.  The torch is now passed.  What will the future bring?

When Hippies Roamed the Earth

The Two Boomers: Myths and Misperceptions about My Generation

13 thoughts on “Passing the Torch: Going from Hope to Despair in two Generations

  1. BV- Together we make a consistent, if not irenic, team of bloggers. I’ll be 75 on Father’s Day (I told my kids they needn ‘t send two gifts), so I’m a bit beyond being an ageing Boomer; I think I’m a young ‘silent generation.’ With my incessant complaining about the mess we are in, the ‘silent’ seems not to apply either. Whatever I’m called I’m damned unhappy with the Torch about to flicker out.

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    • I’m 34 (born in 1981), so I’m on the border of the Millennial generation and Generation X. I really value what you have to say because you can look at today’s events with context and knowledge that I don’t have. I think it’s a good idea for concerned citizens of different generations to “compare notes” and ideas about what’s wrong with this country and what can be done about it. I think people my age could learn a lot from your’s and Robert’s generation if we’d just put down our iPhones and listen!

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  2. Your reporting is proof of your will to continue the tradition of rare voices, in any human era, calling out the mendacity of the times and a necessity to generations who follow. They will find strength in learning the experiences of caring elders. This is the least opportune time for our generation to stand down. The youngest need our continued love and compassion to guide them through the usual human foibles.

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  3. Bob, this is not different from what I observe at home. Sad thing though is that those who were at the forefront for change have become the dons. They are corrupt, they grab land and they buy would be revolutionaries before they start to raise their voices.

    The union leaders are in bed with the govt and big companies. All they worry about is their next paycheck. I hope the situation should become so bad in my lifetime that everyone shall wake up and say enough is enough. I am tired of it.

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    • We are all tired of it, hence the growing disillusionment and despair particularly among young people.

      I can’t speak to Kenya, but in America those who were at the forefront of change during the 1960s-70s did not become the “dons” of our modern socioeconomic establishment. Conversely, they largely “dropped-out” of that society. Also, America’s labor unions were once “in bed” with government (not corporations) but that is most definitely no longer the case. Organized labor has lost four-fifths of its former strength in the U.S. due to systematic attacks from conservative legislators and neoliberal economic policies over the last four decades. Today, unions have been reduced to scattered regional entities which are no longer politically relevant at the national level. The current battle within the Democratic Party over the TPP trade deal provides an illustrative case-in-point.

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