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BONNIE GREER: Baby Boomers must get out of the way

Bernie Sanders. Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images. - Credit: Getty Images

It is time for the Baby Boomers to step aside and allow the young to take control, argues Bonnie Greer.

In conversation with a much younger friend recently I started to see more clearly than ever before why those of us of the Baby Boomer generation must step aside and allow the young to go forward.

Our talking together was about social media and my friend’s ‘sleeping on someone else’s couch’ theory. This applies to anyone who does not understand that you need your own digital space. As she explained, you cannot rely on conveying your message, your idea of who you are, on just Twitter alone, for example – that medium that many Boomers use but which is foreign to her demographic. My friend explained how so many young people have their own website, their own digital home and space from which to share news with the world; state opinions; curate what they consider important and show about themselves.

Life now is about all of the gender identities that exist online; the space that women of colour are forging, and so much more that is far and away from most political definitions.

What she was telling me, quite simply, was that something was in the air that our leaders are not catching; something about shaping space and human lives; seeing and living everything in a new way. And this conversation led me to think about leaders; to think about Boomers. Because we are the leaders

In the US, the Democratic Party now has several front runners for the 2020 presidential nomination, many of whom – among them Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden – are in their 70s.

The current president will be in his mid 70s when he runs again. Seventy is a lovely number. There is something benign and settled about it. But now it is alarming, too.

Bernie Sanders, who will be 79 in 2020, has created his own universe, one that he earned by dint of his earlier presidential bid. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, is a Bernie Sanders supporter. So the party is being re-shaped around the Sanders agenda – despite the fact that Sanders himself is not even a member of the Democrats. He is an independent. Which I suppose is a kind of hip-hop approach to leadership and may be one of the reasons he appeals to Millennials. He is on/off the grid. Now this could be considered impolite at the very least; cynical at the very worst; or something new. That new thing: pick a party that you want to lead; join it and run for leader. He will be doing this again in 2020.

Elizabeth Warren, who will be in her early 70s in 2020, has already signalled that she is running. But her chance may have gone. The senator took the Trumpian bait and now she is trouble with some indigenous people in the US. By producing a video and a DNA sample that shows that she has some genetic traits similar to indigenous people, she has raised the old trope: that racial identity is a matter of a sample given to a geneticist; that somehow Warren understands the life of an Ojibway or a Cherokee; that she knows, understands, what it is like to live on a reservation without a house address, just a post code.

The argument that some indigenous people make is that a DNA sample does not put a person in the space where a people live; where they suffer; where they die. Warren’s insistence is an identity thing – a Boomer act. It is how we grew up in the battles of the 1960s and 1970s. But it is more than that now.

Elizabeth Warren is a good person and maybe she will come understand that she walked into a Trump trap. But who will she be in 2020?

Biden, who will be 78 by then, is now being reminded of his time in the 1990s when he was involved in the Clarence Thomas controversy. Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, during Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings, when sexual harassment allegations were made against the nominee by Anita Hall, a former colleague.

Biden allowed committee members to savage her during questioning and refused to call witnesses who were prepared to back up Hill’s testimony.

The former vice president has gone on to be a great champion of women as has Hillary Clinton, herself still the subject of scrutiny over her husband’s past behaviour. But the past is prologue. And we have the tape. Neither of them look good in relation to women and sexual allegations back in the day. Neither of them quite understands that it is not simply a matter of going forward. It is not the past. Young people know that everything is now.

I have written here before about the rise and rise of the ‘Senex’, the Latin term which has come to signify a wise elder. So many Millennials have been surrounded and have learned from us ‘Wise Elders’. Perhaps that is their attraction to many of us. But they have to move on. For their own sakes.

The older person is assumed to be full of wisdom and somehow safe. But the issue comes, with us Baby Boomers, that there are old wars being fought; old scores being settled. The Republicans have given themselves over to a cultural warrior with scores to settle that stretch back into the 1970s.

This is not about ageism. Baby Boomers and those a few years older than us are blessed to have been born and grown up in relatively prosperous times. We were listened to in our childhoods and obeyed in our teens. I can remember, back at the end of the 1960s, a coat that the Queen wore. It was above her knees, something that my generation dictated, and a style she had not worn before. She was, after all, the age of our mothers. And yet she had surrendered to us ‘youthquakers’, succumbed to what we wore and felt. This happened everywhere, leaving us feeling flattered and invaded and raided. For us there was always a battle. It was what we were born to do.

Brexit is the latest offshoot of a rump of Conservative MPs and their Labour ‘Lexit’ counterparts. Bill Cash and Frank Field are at the end of their 70s, both ardent and passionate in their zeal to separate the nation from the EU. The Olde Enemy.

There was a sign at last weekend’s People’s Vote march, held up by a young man, which read: ‘You are robbing me of my future’. And he is correct. It is crucial that in politics we move to a new generation. Not because we Boomers and our slightly older brothers and sisters are surplus to requirements. But because the requirement we represent has changed. It is now something else.

This is what the United States now looks like: Donald J. Trump, the oldest person ever elected president, is 72. The collective age of Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn – the possible leadership of the House if the Democrats take over after next month’s mid-term elections – is 235. The United States is only 242 years old. Even Sanders and Biden themselves admit that their ages are a problem. And while Bernie does draw a young crowd, the reality of him beating Trump – master of the soundbite, the put-down and the devastating nickname – is low.

Yet he persists. As does Trump himself. As does Pelosi. As do they all.

The situation, the calamity awaiting 
the US under Trump and here under Brexit, needs the young to lead the way. We need fresh thinking; fresh people. The young have no ‘back in the day’ to return to. The world is changing. The world 
has to change.

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