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.
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…