It looks as if the Baby Boomers, the rebellious youth of the 1960’s who were going to change the world in favor of peace, pot and microdot, the politicized generation that shut Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War down, have in their old age joined another revolution. But not the one that you might have expected. Once upon a time, “revolution” belonged to John Lennon. Today it’s the opening motif for the Sean Hannity Show.
An NBC News/ WSJ Poll from last week said that 52 percent of Baby Boomers approved of the job President Trump is doing, while 58 percent of Millennials disapproved. Regarding Trump’s temporary travel ban, 54 percent of Boomers said it is a necessary safeguard against terrorism, while 59 percent of Millennials said that it’s not. On the Affordable Care Act, 47 percent of Boomers said that it is a bad idea, while 48 percent of Millennials said that it’s good.
Now, if only Millennials voted in the same proportions as Boomers, Trump might right now be but a footnote to American history. But they don’t. An early estimate says that about 55% of eligible Millennials voted in November, 2016, versus around 70% for Boomers.
Still, Millennials can be a paradoxical lot, just as much so as the Boomers turned out to be. Trump won White Millennials by 48% to 43% for Clinton, with 9% voting for third party candidates — but of course, whites have become a declining percentage of the populace with each succeeding generation. Overall, Clinton won the Millennials by 55% to 37%.
Will Millennials stand in the vanguard of opposition if Trump dilutes democracy and advances autocracy in America? You would think that they would, given their feelings thus far about Trump; but don’t be so sure. Another poll from 2014 indicates that about 30% of people born in in the 1980s rate living in a democracy as an “essential priority”, versus around 57-62% for people from the 40s and 50s (i.e., the Boomers). If Trump convinces them that he will take care of their student loans and get them work, then prepare to be underwhelmed by the political idealism of the Millennials.
Our 230+ year experiment with American Democracy is certainly facing some extraordinary challenges. It has proved amazing resilient thus far, surviving even a civil war and a nuclear cold war. But there are a lot of interesting discussions going on right now as to whether it can survive the rise of master neo-populist in an age of division, disorientation and discontent fueled by increasing economic disparity and accelerating technological change.
America has been looking more and more like a land of classes and castes over the past decade or so, which creates a political vacuum that someone had to come along to exploit, sooner or later. The trends in other parts of the western world right now aren’t all that promising either, given the rise of semi-authoritarian regimes in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Venezuela and the Philippines (and perhaps France is next). The Baby Boomers are supposedly the most politically aware generation, while the Millennials have the most to lose. Will either group stand up to keep our country from wandering from its core ideal of balanced self-government? I’m still assuming that the American Constitutional system can survive Trump. But given the underlying trends that continue to tear apart our sense of national unity, Trump may be just a foreshadowing of something worse to come over the next 20 or 30 years. Being a Boomer, I may not live to see whatever that is. But given what Vladimir Putin has been able to do with Russia since 2008, I’m sure that it won’t be pretty.