Baby Boomers: Unfit to Govern

The latest standoff in Congress over the failure of the Trump Healthcare Bill is the latest in a many year saga of Baby Boomers’ legacy in governance. Although it might be tempting to blame this on Republicans who are fractured and used to being the opposition, the cause is much bigger than that. Baby Boomers, as a generation, are individualistic and dogmatic. This is very much in line with their generational archetype, “The Prophet“. Like the Missionary generation before them (FDR, Churchill, MacArthur and Stalin) they are individualists who are also staunch moralists for their cause. They still make up a majority of the Congress (about 58% for the 2015-16 Congress) and have been the majority since around 1997.

But unlike the Missionary Generation, Baby Boomers seem to thrive on conflict and tearing things down, rather than arguing and then building things up. Thomas Friedman and Kurt Anderson called them “A Swarm of Locusts” for how they consumed society and left nothing in its place. The starkest example of this is in their choice to completely ignore any responsibility to govern in Congress. This has been true for both the Democrats and Republicans under Bush, Obama and now, Trump. Baby Boomer Senators and Representatives have consistently put their own idealistic and moralistic views ahead of any practical goals of improving the world through collaboration or consensus.

In many ways this is no surprise given the vigor with which they tore down the society they inherited from the GI Generation. But most generations actually mature with age, while the Boomers seem to remain as uncompromising in their elder years as they were in their youth.

The failure of the Trump Healthcare Bill is just another example of governance by ultimatum favored by the Boomers. Rather than seek a compromise with the Democrats, or even fellow Republicans, the Congress instead decided that sticking to their guns was more important than actually getting anything done. The sad reality is that this pattern will likely continue until the Boomers are no longer dominant in Congress, which might happen in 2-4 years if we are lucky.

As a Gen X’er, Paul Ryan seemed to believe that his colleagues could look past their dogmatism, but he was sadly disappointed by his Boomer peers.

Once the Boomers are eclipsed by Generation X in the legislature, we will start to see a lot more progress in Congress. This is not because Gen X likes to collaborate, as they are just as individualist as Boomers, but because above all else they want to survive and GET THINGS DONE! Because we will likely be in the deepest part of the Crisis by this time, they will finally have the backing of the popular will to take action and get results. Of course, those results will not necessarily be wholly desirable and we can expect a fairly Machiavellian view from Generation X, given their history.

So when will Congress actually get back to deliberating with pragmatism and collegiality? We will probably have to wait at least another 20 years or so until the Millennials are running the show. But the votes will probably be cast using virtual reality headsets or cyber-implants by that point…

3 thoughts on “Baby Boomers: Unfit to Govern”

  1. Hmm, not sure where you’re directing the generational finger in this latest dust up, unless it’s congress as a whole. Ryan is an X’er, but his primary opponents were the Freedom Caucus, which is a pretty even mix of, primarily, late stage Boomers and cross spectrum X’ers. Ryan’s strategy, which seems to have been photocopied from Boehner’s playbook, seems to have been to avoid consensus building at any cost by developing the plan in secret (remember the ridiculous scenes of Rand Paul stalking through the halls of Congress trying to find a draft?) and then, when people object, use high pressure tactics to try to force it through. I’m really beginning to wonder if Ryan isn’t trying to maximize conflict in his own party.

    On a side track, this write up caused me to go back and do something I last did several years ago: pull up a list of the House by birth year and party and look at the current generational spread. Here is what I found:

    Silent: Mostly Democrat, building to a +15 advantage out of 23 members

    Boomer: Starts off heavily democrat, building to a high of a +22 advantage by the 1952 birth year, after that Republicans slowly gain strength with a turn over in the 1958 birth year and ending with a Republican advantage of +16

    Gen X: Heavily Republican dominated with the generation ending at a +40 advantage for the Republicans out of 177 members.

    Millennials: Too small a cohort in the House to be statistically significant, but 4 out of the 5 are Republican.

    You can very plainly see the generational lines politically at play with an obvious tipping point in 1958.

    1. @StargazerA5, yes, I meant congress as a whole. Ryan is an interesting piece of the puzzle. I think he has gotten pretty sick-and-tired of dealing with all the ideologues in Congress and his weariness is starting to show in the form of impatience. I think the same thing happened pretty quickly during Obama’s first term when it came to his (mostly Boomer) Democrats in Congress. I think that Ryan will give up soon if he hasn’t already done so mentally.

      And thanks for the generational breakdown of the current House. Based on that analysis we will probably be moving in the next 2-4 years towards a tipping point between GenX/Boomer on the Democrat/Republican scales. Am I reading that right?

  2. Given that both parties have well oiled machines for Congressional seats that can interfere with generational trends, and that the Crisis could result in a rapid shift as a nation-wide consensus forms, I’m not ready to hazard a guess on when the Boomer/Xer tip will happen. Given that there are 226 Boomers to 177 Xers in the House, 4-years for rough parity in the House doesn’t sound unreasonable, but I suspect Boomers won’t release their hold on power so easily. As you’ll see below, the Senate shows a lagging trend and will likely take longer.

    Given that I already did the House, I did the same for the Senate and added some general conclusions on the trends:

    Senate:

    Silent: Mostly Republican, building to a +5 advantage out of 13 Senators

    Boomer: Starts off heavily Democrat, building to a high of a +11 advantage by the 1950 birth year, after that Republicans pare back the advantage but never gain a turn-over. The generation ends with a Democrat advantage of +6 out of 56 Senators

    Gen X: Splits evenly between the parties until the 1969 birth year, then swings to a Republican advantage of +5 out of 31 Senators.

    Millennials: N/A.

    The generational trends here are fascinating. The Republicans have a strong lock on the Silents with an abrupt swing to the Democrats as soon as you start the Boomer generation. The Democrats then hold the advantage until the 1950 birth year, after which the Republicans gain enough strength to bring the generational representation into rough parity until 1969. After that, Republicans gain a small advantage in the late stage Gen-X.

    Conclusions:

    Both houses seem to show clear swings from one extreme in representation to another along generational lines. In the House, this is strikingly clear with a move from extreme Democrat membership in the eldest members, a cross over in 1958 leading to a strong Republican position in the younger generations. In the Senate, this process seems to be offset from the House, with an extreme Republican representation in the silents, leading to an abrupt shift to Democrats in the 1943 birth year, culminating in a Democrat peak in 1950. Afterwards Republican balance Democrat strength until the 1969 birth year, after which we see another swing to Republican strength.

    In each houses, the Silents and Gen X are showing clear preferences generationally, though the split between the House and Senate Silents on which party they prefer is fascinating. The largest cohort in both houses, the Boomers, seems to display a lack of consensus with relatively small representational advantages compared to their size. In both houses, the Boomers lean to the Democrats, though Republicans seem to check this with the 1950-1952 cohorts. I suspect this lack of consensus among the Boomers is reflecting the fact that the country has not yet developed the consensus on the new model predicted in Generations and the Fourth Turning.

    The 10 year difference in turn over dates from Democrat strength to Republican strength (House: 1958, Senate 1969) is another interesting difference which provokes speculation.

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