In Wednesday’s Washington Post, there was a note from a baby boomer who will possibly hold his nose and vote for Donald Trump for president of the United States.
Here’s a taste of it:
“We are under no illusions about Trump. We know that this Man Who Would Be King is a classic bully and a world-class demagogue in his personal, professional and political lives. He will continue to demonize his perceived enemies and take the low road at every opportunity.
“And we know that if Trump makes it all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the view after that is murky at best. We’re confident that he will surround himself with smart and capable people from the business world, as well as some Capitol Hill veterans. But here’s the rub: Past business associates describe him as a micromanager who likes yes men at his side. How long this new Washington brain trust will last in a Trump administration is anybody’s guess.”
Yes, anyone’s guess. But the weird thing about this is that the writer is a former financial planner, so he knows how troubling uncertainty is. Our Josh Barro pointed out that Trump doesn’t just represent uncertainty, he’s the ultimate “tail risk candidate.”
And yet, with a view of Trump as “murky at best,” this writer is considering voting for a candidate he recognizes is a “classic bully and a world-class demagogue.”
The question is, why?
It’s because the writer – who is likely golfing somewhere while complaining about fiscal responsibility – is like a lot of the people in his generation. They have let go of a characteristic that made – and makes – America great. It’s called “future preference,” a term coined by Carroll Quigley, a Georgetown professor who inspired former President Bill Clinton when he was studying there.
Basically, “future preference” is the idea that, by sacrificing in the present, we can make the future better. In fact, it’s our responsibility to do so. Pretty simple.
Clinton wrote about Quigley’s influence in his autobiography, “My Life: The Early Years,” saying that it was one of the “lasting insights” that revealed the “key to the greatness of Western civilization.”
And it was an idea that Clinton peppered throughout his acceptance speech for the Democratic Party’s nomination in July 1992:
“…Carroll Quigley…said to us that America was the greatest Nation in history because our people had always believed in two things- that tomorrow can be better than today and that every one of us has a personal moral responsibility to make it so…
“Of all the things that George Bush has ever said that I disagree with, perhaps the thing that bothers me most is how he derides and degrades the American tradition of seeing and seeking a better future. He mocks it as the ‘vision thing.’
“But just remember what the Scripture says: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.'”
You see, the problem here is that baby boomers like our op-ed author have lost “the vision thing.” They think of only the present – what they see right now that angers them.
“Members of this new silent majority, many of us front-wave baby boomers, value hard work and love the United States the way it was. We long for a bygone era when you didn’t need ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses to shelter students from the atrocity of dissenting opinions, lest their sensibilities be offended. We have the reckless notion that college is the one place where sensibilities are supposed to be challenged and debated. Silly us.”
It’s unclear how electing Donald Trump will stop college students from seeking safe spaces unless he sends Biff Tannen over to Vassar to rough up some hipsters. But that’s in the future.
And thinking of the future is not something baby boomers have demonstrated a grasp of.
- Back To The Future
There are two things to look at when examining how baby boomers think about the future: what they say and how they act.
What they say is the same thing all parents say about their children – that they want to leave this world better than how they found it. They say that they want their kids to have better opportunities than they did.
Legendary journalist Tom Brokaw once hypothesized that this was what made baby boomers so selfish in the first place. Their post-war parents wanted to give them a wonderful world, so they invested in the future.
But baby boomers have never acted that way. Their spending habits have always focused primarily on their needs in the present. The result is crumbling American infrastructure, a breaking if not broken education system, and eye-popping student debt.
This has been a topic of discussion for some time. After reading a Third Way study about generations, Bill Keller, former editor of The New York Times, threw down this mighty paragraph summing it all up in 2012:
“In 1962, we were laying down the foundations of prosperity. About 32 cents of every federal dollar, excluding interest payments, was spent on investments, only 14 percent on entitlements. In the mid-70s the lines crossed. Today we spend less than 15 cents on investment and 46 cents on entitlements. And it gets worse. By 2030, when the last of us boomers have surged onto the Social Security rolls, entitlements will consume 61 cents of every federal dollar, starving our already neglected investment and leaving us, in the words of the study, with ‘a less-skilled work force, lower rates of job creation, and an infrastructure unfit for a 21st-century economy.'”
It’s no wonder that these are the people who are willing to vote for someone who puts the future at risk in order to nuke a present they hate.
It’s no wonder that young people on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly dislike this Present Preference candidate who has talked about cutting taxes while leaving Social Security – an entitlement his own party wishes to cut in order to preserve its existence for the future – just as it is.
It isn’t enough to just want the present to be better, though. Destructive, tantrum-throwing baby boomers like the dad-bro op-ed writer need the present to look like something they know. They want it to look like the past.
This is the dog whistle in all of Trump’s rhetoric: “Make America great again.” The America Trump is referring to was whiter, more Christian, more homogeneous.
This perplexes millennials, the most diverse generation in history, who also happened to come into adulthood during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
It perplexes the immigrants Trump derides, who come to this country with an innate future preference. A lot of them sacrificed everything they had to move here and seek out the American Dream.
It should perplex anyone who understands what actually makes America great. It’s not a desire to return to anything. It’s not a desire to feel good or comfortable right now. What has made America great is “semper anticus” – always forward.
And if this WaPo writer thinks that Donald Trump is going to stop America from becoming “a politically correct, free-milk-and-cookies, European-style social democracy where every kid (and adult, too) gets a trophy just for showing up,” then I have only one question for him.
Do I get my trophy before or after I pay off my student loans?