Exit an American century.
The 20th century, that is. In 1900, the United States was an emerging world power; by 2000, we were the world’s only superpower. Some historians have dubbed it “The American Century” and, indeed, it was.
A critical assessment of this 21st century, however, suggests that this one probably won’t be ours. China’s, maybe, but not ours.
Perhaps it was inevitable. That “greatest generation” of Americans who grew up in the Great Depression and won World War II created great power and wealth for this nation, and gave birth to a big, fat generation of kids who didn’t have it nearly as tough as their parents did. We baby boomers have been acting like a bunch of spoiled rich kids ever since.
I’ve been down on my generation for a while now, and not just because the very personification of a spoiled rich kid got elected president, but because of the way we lost our idealism.
Remember when we sang about how “peace will guide the planet, and love will steer the stars”? For a brief moment in our formative years, it really did look like the dawning of a new age, but such sentiments quickly gave way to the harder lessons of Vietnam and Watergate. Seems all that wealth and power our parents handed over to us wasn’t enough to shut out a cold war and political misbehavior. A lot of us became cynical and, instead of trying to change the game, simply learned how to play the game.
Somewhere along the way, our generation became divided in our world perspectives. Some boomers clung to their youthful idealism and grew into activists, while others simply rejected such hippy-dippy notions and did what their parents did, focusing on the acquisition of more power and wealth. And the schism between these such “liberals” and “conservatives” has only grown wider through the years.
Our generation has given rise to unprecedented “liberation” movements. The civil rights movement was born from our parents’ generation but it reshaped us more than them, and it gave rise to the Chicano movement, women’s lib, gay and lesbian rights and much more. Visit with a liberal grandma these days and she might tell you the ‘60s were a time when America came face to face with its true self, while a conservative grandpa might tell you that decade marked the beginning of identity politics. Both would be right.
We’re such a contradictory generation. We gave birth to the environmental movement but now we’re the most outspoken deniers of global warming out there. We’re the first generation to accept and embrace equal rights literally, not just rhetorically, and yet we still cling to the idea that some people (the rich) are more equal than the rest of us.
And while we created some of the best and most diverse and liberating music ever, we’ve now become the old geezers who sit around and complain about that new-fangled rap music, as if it’s only noise — just like the old geezers of our parents’ generation, only for them it was that devil music rock ‘n roll.
Age changes one’s perspective, but it certainly doesn’t assure wisdom. Sometimes we older folks are clueless to the reality of the here and now, even if it is of our own creation.
I think we were a transitional generation. We ushered in the digital age. We’re the last generation to remember unlocked doors and home-cooked meals and the first to experience virtual reality. We lived through exciting times that got the best, and the worst, of us.
I’ve been noticing more and more the rise of the coming generations. Generations X and Y and maybe a little Z have given birth of the Millennials, and slowly but surely they’re taking over. Donald Trump will almost certainly be the last baby boomer president — a sad, sad commentary on our generation, don’t you think?
But that’s just the old liberal geezer in me coming out. I realize a lot of people in my generation approve of the “great again” theme to his rise to power, but that’s because we, as a generation, were never consistently great. We were too divided, and still are.
Maybe the young-uns out there will do better. After all, what our children and grandchildren do in their time says more about us than anything we can say about ourselves. Let’s hope we at least raised ‘em to be better than we were.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He also owns and operates The Communicator, a weekly newspaper in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at [email protected]