In the spirit of the holidays, I’m re-gifting a piece I wrote in late November of the blighted year 2020. Post-election, pre-vaccine, it has nothing to do with the holidays, or even with good spirits. Nor is it especially topical. I’m recycling it mostly because I still like it. It still feels more-or-less true. It isn’t too dated. And I know some of my newer readers haven’t read it. For those of you who have — you know who you are — I invite you to take a second look. No pressure.
I had a zoom call the other day with an old friend I’d neither seen nor communicated with in about five years. We schmoozed and caught up and trashed Republicans and shared our amazement over this whole pandemic thing, and then he said something I had to think about:
“It’s not a bad time to be old.”
Hmm. To be sure, it’s a great time to not struggle in the job market. It’s an excellent time to not worry where your next meal is coming from. It’s a sensational time to not be raising small children.
More than that, being old puts us in Covid’s high-risk category. Which, besides sending us to the head of the line of any vaccine that comes calling, has given us about a year of staying home doing nothing. If you’re prone that way to begin with, it can indeed be a brilliant time to be old.
But for a lot of my generation, it’s not a good time at all. Covid aside, the economics of the past twenty years has been devastating. The Dotcom Bust of 2001, followed by the Great Recession of 2009, was a one-two punch that knocked a lot of us out of the job market, and a lot of us never got back in.
Many people were simply discarded at the peak of their skills and experience, only to find that those things were no longer marketable. For many of them, it has meant the difference between a reasonable retirement and a nonstop scramble to survive the rest of their lives.
Old white guys get a bad rap these days, and I’m sure we deserve it. The world we’re passing on looks, in many ways, a lot worse than the one we inherited, and I’m both dismayed and embarrassed by that.
And nobody’s madder at my age group than I am. I’m furious that my generation contains a disproportionate number of Trump voters. It revolts me to think I share any demographic with so many racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic fools.
But when I think about it, it shouldn’t be such a surprise. Because we’re not just old. We’re white. And we’re guys. Let’s take those one at a time.
We’re one of the few generations that had it better growing up than we did as adults. Economically speaking, we watched the country create spectacular wealth, then squander it all on the wealthy. My spoiled age group was brought up to expect the best of everything, so the subsequent disappointments were many and hard.
Too many of us lost our entire livelihoods, in no small part through the failure of government to be good faith stewards of our economy. We can talk about self-reliance all we want, but the truth is most of us got our identities from our jobs, and when those jobs were gone, our identities rapidly followed. And since those identities weren’t readily replaceable, too many of us looked for someone to blame for their loss. Responsible government could’ve helped, could’ve offered a better safety net. But it was sabotaged.
The Great Recession didn’t need to be as bad as it was. But all that deregulation under Bush set the stage for disaster, and Republican obstruction of the Obama rescue agenda led to a weaker than necessary recovery. Many of my fellow boomers have not eaten well since, and they’ve completely misread the reasons for that. Their resentment turned them to Trump, which is like treating snakebite with rat poison.
Of all the specious claims to any sort of supremacy — a stupid notion to start with — skin pigmentation must surely be the lamest. It’s also the one most likely to lose relevance as society grows more diverse.
But in my age group, there are any number of people — most of them with weak minds and poor educations — who can look at the world and somehow decide that white people are the underdogs.
And in their case, it might even be true. Having lost so much — or having been doomed from the start by the zip code they were born into — they feel they’re being looked down on. Being white might just be their only remaining identifier, their only source of self-esteem. Which means that when they themselves need someone to look down on, all they can see is people of color.
And that’s where demagogues come in. That’s where scapegoating comes in. That’s where the demonization of the “other” — Black, Muslim, Jew, anyone — leads to a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is ethnic cleansing.
Trump isn’t the first demagogue to take advantage of such resentment. And he surely will not be the last.
While I will stipulate, with reluctance, that male dominance may have served some useful purpose in past societies, it is clearly past its sell-by date. One need look no further than the Republican caucus to feel the sheer dead weight of toxic masculinity.
For some reason that defies logic, it’s still a man’s world. In most of nature, the female of the species is dominant, and there is no reason to believe homo sapiens is any different. While overcoming ten thousand years of suppression is not something that happens overnight, female ascendancy has — in what is historically the blink of an eye — taken on a certain inevitability.
Women are demanding, and getting elected to, leadership roles all over the world. Their organizational skills, emotional attunement, outraged empathy, and innate sense of responsibility are the exact opposite of toxic masculinity. These assets are finally being recognized for the value they convey, and women are now actively reshaping the political and economic landscape. Better late than never.
A lot of these women are young. A lot of them are anything but white. And while a lot of men — and some women, for that matter — will resist their rise, I expect them to be kicking ass and taking names well into the future.
And if white guys my age can’t handle that, they should just get out of the way.