Baby Boomers like me must get out of the way

The New European - - Agenda - Bon­nie Greer

In con­ver­sa­tion with a much younger friend re­cently I started to see more clearly than ever be­fore why those of us of the Baby Boomer gen­er­a­tion must step aside and al­low the young to go for­ward.

Our talk­ing to­gether was about so­cial me­dia and my friend’s ‘sleep­ing on some­one else’s couch’ the­ory. This ap­plies to any­one who does not un­der­stand that you need your own dig­i­tal space. As she ex­plained, you can­not rely on con­vey­ing your mes­sage, your idea of who you are, on just Twit­ter alone, for ex­am­ple – that medium that many Boomers use but which is for­eign to her de­mo­graphic. My friend ex­plained how so many young peo­ple have their own web­site, their own dig­i­tal home and space from which to share news with the world; state opin­ions; cu­rate what they con­sider im­por­tant and show about them­selves.

Life now is about all of the gen­der iden­ti­ties that ex­ist on­line; the space that women of colour are forg­ing, and so much more that is far and away from most po­lit­i­cal def­i­ni­tions.

What she was telling me, quite sim­ply, was that some­thing was in the air that our lead­ers are not catch­ing; some­thing about shap­ing space and hu­man lives; see­ing and liv­ing ev­ery­thing in a new way. And this con­ver­sa­tion led me to think about lead­ers; to think about Boomers. Be­cause we are the lead­ers

In the US, the Demo­cratic Party now has sev­eral front run­ners for the 2020 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, many of whom – among them Bernie San­ders and Joe

Bi­den – are in their 70s.

The cur­rent pres­i­dent will be in his mid 70s when he runs again. Seventy is a lovely num­ber. There is some­thing be­nign and set­tled about it. But now it is alarm­ing, too.

Bernie San­ders, who will be 79 in 2020, has cre­ated his own uni­verse, one that he earned by dint of his ear­lier pres­i­den­tial bid. The chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, Tom Perez, is a Bernie San­ders sup­porter. So the party is be­ing re-shaped around the San­ders agenda – de­spite the fact that San­ders him­self is not even a mem­ber of the Democrats. He is an in­de­pen­dent. Which I sup­pose is a kind of hip-hop ap­proach to lead­er­ship and may be one of the rea­sons he ap­peals to Mil­len­ni­als. He is on/off the grid. Now this could be con­sid­ered im­po­lite at the very least; cyn­i­cal at the very worst; or some­thing new. That new thing: pick a party that you want to lead; join it and run for leader. He will be do­ing this again in 2020.

El­iz­a­beth Warren, who will be in her early 70s in 2020, has al­ready sig­nalled that she is run­ning. But her chance may have gone. The sen­a­tor took the Trumpian bait and now she is trou­ble with some in­dige­nous peo­ple in the US. By pro­duc­ing a video and a DNA sam­ple that shows that she has some ge­netic traits sim­i­lar to in­dige­nous peo­ple, she has raised the old trope: that racial iden­tity is a mat­ter of a sam­ple given to a ge­neti­cist; that some­how Warren un­der­stands the life of an Ojib­way or a Chero­kee; that she knows, un­der­stands, what it is like to live on a reser­va­tion with­out a house ad­dress, just a post code.

The ar­gu­ment that some in­dige­nous peo­ple make is that a DNA sam­ple does not put a per­son in the space where a peo­ple live; where they suf­fer; where they die. Warren’s in­sis­tence is an iden­tity thing – a Boomer act. It is how we grew up in the bat­tles of the 1960s and 1970s. But it is more than that now.

El­iz­a­beth Warren is a good per­son and maybe she will come un­der­stand that she walked into a Trump trap. But who will she be in 2020?

Bi­den, who will be 78 by then, is now be­ing re­minded of his time in the 1990s when he was in­volved in the Clarence Thomas con­tro­versy. Bi­den was chair­man of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, dur­ing Thomas’ Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, when sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions were made against the nom­i­nee by Anita Hall, a for­mer col­league.

Bi­den al­lowed com­mit­tee mem­bers to sav­age her dur­ing ques­tion­ing and re­fused to call wit­nesses who were pre­pared to back up Hill’s tes­ti­mony.

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent has gone on to be a great cham­pion of women as has Hil­lary Clin­ton, her­self still the sub­ject of scru­tiny over her hus­band’s past be­hav­iour. But the past is pro­logue. And we have the tape. Nei­ther of them look good in re­la­tion to women and sex­ual al­le­ga­tions back in the day. Nei­ther of them quite un­der­stands that it is not sim­ply a mat­ter of go­ing for­ward. It is not the past. Young peo­ple know that ev­ery­thing is now.

I have writ­ten here be­fore about the rise and rise of the ‘Senex’, the Latin term which has come to sig­nify a wise elder. So many Mil­len­ni­als have been sur­rounded and have learned from us ‘Wise El­ders’. Per­haps that is their at­trac­tion to many of us. But they have to move on. For their own sakes.

The older per­son is as­sumed to be full of wis­dom and some­how safe. But the is­sue comes, with us Baby Boomers, that there are old wars be­ing fought; old scores be­ing set­tled. The Repub­li­cans have given them­selves over to a cul­tural war­rior with scores to set­tle that stretch back into the 1970s.

This is not about ageism. Baby Boomers and those a few years older than us are blessed to have been born and grown up in rel­a­tively pros­per­ous times. We were lis­tened to in our child­hoods and obeyed in our teens. I can re­mem­ber, back at the end of the 1960s, a coat that the Queen wore. It was above her knees, some­thing that my gen­er­a­tion dic­tated, and a style she had not worn be­fore. She was, af­ter all, the age of our moth­ers. And yet she had sur­ren­dered to us ‘youthquak­ers’, suc­cumbed to what we wore and felt. This hap­pened ev­ery­where, leav­ing us feel­ing flat­tered and in­vaded and raided. For us there was al­ways a bat­tle. It was what we were born to do.

Brexit is the lat­est off­shoot of a rump of Con­ser­va­tive MPS and their Labour ‘Lexit’ coun­ter­parts. Bill Cash and Frank Field are at the end of their 70s, both ar­dent and pas­sion­ate in their zeal to sep­a­rate the na­tion from the EU. The Olde En­emy.

There was a sign at last week­end’s Peo­ple’s Vote march, held up by a young man, which read: “You are rob­bing me of my fu­ture”. And he is cor­rect. It is cru­cial that in pol­i­tics we move to a new gen­er­a­tion. Not be­cause we Boomers and our slightly older broth­ers and sis­ters are sur­plus to re­quire­ments. But be­cause the re­quire­ment we rep­re­sent has changed. It is now some­thing else.

This is what the United States now looks like: Don­ald J. Trump, the old­est per­son ever elected pres­i­dent, is 72. The col­lec­tive age of Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Cly­burn – the pos­si­ble lead­er­ship of the House if the Democrats take over af­ter next month’s mid-term elec­tions – is 235. The United States is only 242 years old. Even San­ders and Bi­den them­selves ad­mit that their ages are a prob­lem. And while Bernie does draw a young crowd, the re­al­ity of him beat­ing Trump – mas­ter of the sound­bite, the put-down and the dev­as­tat­ing nick­name – is low.

Yet he per­sists. As does Trump him­self. As does Pelosi. As do they all.

The sit­u­a­tion, the calamity await­ing the US un­der Trump and here un­der Brexit, needs the young to lead the way. We need fresh think­ing; fresh peo­ple. The young have no ‘back in the day’ to re­turn to. The world is chang­ing. The world has to change.

Photo: Getty Images

TIME TO MOVE ON: From left, Bernie San­ders, El­iz­a­beth Warren, Nancy Pelosi and Don­ald Trump

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