Forgive me, but I’m an addict; An addict for justice, peace, freedom, nature, and creative expression. How’d I get this way? Not like Bernie Sanders who was born into a family of progressives, I was born in a generation who thought we could change the world for the better. Always curious and desiring to be where the action is, I attended UC Berkeley in the early Seventies and earned my radical bona fides on the front-line of political protest. In those days I saw many of the leaders of what we called the ‘revolution’; Mark Rudd, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, and even Tim Leary. So, I’ve got a long memory and at this elder stage of life take time for reflection on the past and idealism for the future. It’s like a trip of almost fifty years is finally ending politically this year.
Back in the Sixties many impressionable college kids (including yours truly) believed our elders and expected political revolution—soon. A major break-through came when George McGovern was nominated by the Democratic Party for president. He campaigned on the most progressive platform ever and lost in the most overwhelming landslide ever. After that defeat politically everything changed. Within a few years the Black Panther party was decimated by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, terrorists posing as political radicals (Weatherman and Symbionese Liberation Army) bombed ROTC and robbed banks, Jimmy Carter (a born again Christian, a non-progressive view) was elected, and many of our leaders recanted and got regular jobs or became entertainers (think Eldridge Cleaver and Tim Leary). To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron the revolution was NOT televised; it was co-opted and forgotten until 2016.
This year Bernie Sanders, a true blue radical and idealist who moved to Vermont during the seventies migration of hippies to the country, awakened the old ideals and hope for real change in his quixotic campaign for the presidency. In him the great majority of youth saw not just a free ticket to college, but a politician who has lived his principles all his life. But his candidacy came up against the Clinton machine (the Democratic establishment wasn’t going to allow another McGovern debacle) and the practical-minded older folks many of whom were idealists themselves back in the day.
After a surprisingly tough primary season, Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president capping her decades-long career within the system. Demonstrating the qualities of successful individuals in any field; intelligence, networking, preparation, and perseverance, HRC is poised to become the first female president. It hasn’t been an easy journey for her. She has fought sexism, scandal, and scatology. Although given a head start in politics being the wife of a president, she kept on. We can all learn something from her example; vision, adjustment, and perseverance. But her dogged pragmatism is not the only story of this election cycle; Bernie Sanders’ idealism, Donald Trump’s anger, and Obama’s optimism reveal different strains of the Boomer generation’s likely last hurrah in the presidency. Waiting in the wings are the next generation—Gen Xers; Cruz, Rubio, the Castro brothers from Texas, and others, who’ll in due time take bring different life experiences to leadership.
When Bernie Sanders finally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, he also declared victory for the movement he birthed fifteen months ago. Many of his proposals have been absorbed into the Democratic Party platform; health care as a right, fair treatment of all by the police, legalization of marijuana, breaking up the big banks, a 21st century Glass-Steagall for the financial industry, commitment halt global warming, free public university for middle and working class, and most significantly reducing the concentration of wealth. But that’s just the beginning of his political revolution according to Sanders. And this week opened his new movement, http://www.ourrevolution.com.
Although not a Boomer (born in 1941) Bernie Sanders resuscitated the ideals of the Baby Boomers in their youth, which resonated with the millennial youth of today. Now with Sanders out of the running, we’re looking at showdown of the Boomer generation for the presidency. Boomer presidents have been Bill Clinton, George W., and Barack Obama (born in 1961, so he’s on the cusp) and now Hillary Clinton (1947) or Donald Trump (1946). And in this final call to leadership, the Boomers’ youthful dreams and anger has boiled down to two super-pragmatic, super-successful, millionaire plus candidates (Hillary for her political career and Donald for his pursuit of fame and money).
A significant number of Boomers freed from career and family responsibilities resuscitate ideals and dreams, and cast caution aside and go for it both personally and for society. The post-career chapter of life can be a time of resignation or hope, off-the-track adventures or sanitized cruise ship ports, vision seeking or corporate consumerism, or even a political revolution or status quo pragmatism. One type stays with the known and comfortable; they keep the old home, continue decades old hobbies, and seek security more than excitement. And others strike out and explore the world on the ground not in a stateroom, move to fresh digs, and / or begin new, challenging hobbies and sports. Uncovering, developing, and living a dream takes curiosity, courage, and commitment but often energize an individual’s senior years.
Maybe Hillary’s wonky and moderate plans will work the same for the country. Although the ultimate insider now, she has shown the courage to change her positions and the perseverance to pursue her dream. As is said in the Bible, ‘a people without vision shall perish.’ Does she have clear goals and a vision? Do we as a people? Or are we on that decline as a nation that Trump rails about? Perhaps we’re on cusp of a new vision. Shifting direction of this cocky, behemoth of a nation would be slow and arduous. Is there the will? Just as it takes will, intention, and effort to live a meaningful and satisfying life, our country needs to summon up the same qualities.
In my social circle on the Westside of the Los Angeles megalopolis, 90% favored Bernie. That’s not too surprising since it is the land of the Hollywood dream factory and Bernie offered a hopeful dream. But the results are clear, the majority of Democratic primary voters selected Clinton, in spite of her record high disapproval rating. She is a known commodity and received the majority of the Boomer vote and who may prefer the status quo to the excitement of a Sanders (and Trump) who want to shake up the ‘system.’
Let’s not forget, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders represent the sometimes op-positional and contradictory political and social currents of their generation. I knew these types back at Berkeley in 1970; the sincere student government kid who supported the cause-of-the-moment with an eye on a career in politics (Hillary), the bombastic rich kid who grew his hair long so he could get girls but planned to go home and work in his father’s business (Donald), and the true radical from a working-class family who demonstrated against the war, yelled at the cops, and got arrested (Bernie).
As for Donald Trump, it is difficult to predict his policies since they seem to change daily. But it is clear that if elected, anger wins. His working-class supporters like the bellicosity and finger-pointing at the system, but his actions in business do not demonstrate interest in anyone other than himself. If he is elected, it may be back to the future switching out the smiling optimism and smugness of Ronald Reagan to snarling, name-calling Trump. And we now see the consequences of Reagan’s Pollyanna theories —disappearing middle-class, environmental degradation, failed drug war, and record-setting incarceration rates. But a significant minority of the country pines for that fantasy time of white privilege, USA hegemony, and simplistic solutions. Donald Trump’s free-floating anger taps into that and attacks the Establishment.
A generations’ last hurrah in the presidency offers more than a choice between two unpopular candidates, but a call to vision and true leadership. Will the next and probably last Boomer president contribute to progress for We the People or revert to the values of a time before the cultural revolution of the Sixties.
Sanders’ call to political revolution echoes the Sixties’ dream of living Elysium Fields-style in communion with each other, with the natural world, and in peace and justice with other countries. It is an almost inconceivable vision, but in the eighties the end of the cold war was unimaginable until it happened. Whether it is possible or not is less important than making the effort to live the Founders’ dream for our country and us individually. Although slow, our society and nation can be turned around. Like personal change it takes intention, will, and work. The reward is not only in the achievement, but in the effort. Individually we don’t not take golf lessons or paint or exercise, even though we know we’ll never be experts. We do it because it is better than not. And that’s reward enough.
For the next two months, our national dreams, needs, fears, and resentments will be center stage. As noted above, I’ve been a political junkie since my days as a student radical at Berkeley, but tempered by the ‘real’ world over the decades I’ve learned that positive change for the country and for me is usually incremental. The show-down of Boomer presidential types offers a clear choice between anger and idealism tempered by pragmatism—The last battle of the Sixties Generation! And that is an example we can all use as we design our personal next chapters.