Let it be known that I am a Boomer. It is not something I have to advertise. Most folks can judge it from my appearance. That said, it is not something I say with a great deal of pride, either. Now, it seems, the negative view of the Boomers has occasioned another book. Helen Andrews, an Eastern Orthodox writer serving as senior editor at The American Conservative, is the author of a brand new book Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster (January 2021). She has a worthy biography, including a B.A. in religious studies from Yale University, a stint as managing editor of the Washington Examiner magazine, one as an associate editor at National Review, and time as a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow in 2017-2018. While she credits Boomers for the restoration of folk music, she condemns them for the loss of everything else, from high culture to folk culture. Most of all, she characterizes Boomers as the destroyers of institutions. Her book is not a tirade against ideas but the chronicle of six prominent and famous American Boomers -- names most of us would recognize.
Steve Jobs she sees as a capitalist of genius proportions but he is responsible for our worst vice -- our addition to those screens that have all but destroyed any other form of communication and made us slaves to this technology. I cannot quite digest her view of Aaron Sorkin whose legacy is largely forgotten by most. But she credits him for the modern version of The West Wing practiced by the Biden White House. Honestly, I had to Google Jeffrey Sachs to figure out her charge against him. Sachs is considered by many to be one of the world's leading experts on sustainable development, economic development, and the fight to eliminate poverty. Like too many, he has great gifts but the ultimate hubris to presume to know better than Jesus who said the poor you will always have with you. Not a few lines of ink and not a few billions have been spent in pursuit of his promised goal.
Camille Paglia, someone who described herself as a “Catholic pagan,” is one person I did not know that much about but Andrews holds her responsible for many wrongs including the rape culture and how it is understood in America. Strangely enough, she views Al Sharpton positively. She believes Al Sharpton is doing something that needs doing. Though he is polarizing and a scoundrel, his voice is one that needs hearing. If we don't like him, Andrews says, find somebody better to do the same thing. Odd, and shocking for me, having lived in NY and seen how Sharpton has promoted himself by following everything he can turn into a scandal. She considers U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic who dissents from church teaching on life issues, a victim who does not know she is a victim.
She finds Millenials both living in the shadow of their Boomer parents and yet with the possibility to finally turn back the Boomer curse. In the end, she hopes that Boomers will retire into obscurity and die and with them all that they learned from the 1960s and all their anger toward the institutions we need -- even with their flaws. Andrews sees as the essence of Boomerness: they tried to liberate us but instead of freedom they left behind only chaos.
As one of those who regrets much of what Boomers are known for, I found her critique engaging and witty but not as helpful as it might be. Boomers have taught the world to find fault with, protest against, and tear down what other generations bequeathed to us and, it is true, they have not repaired the institutions they love to hate. But the bigger failing is that we produced a generation endowed with all of our failings. We taught them to be skeptical and they are. They trust technology more than history, their feelings more than truth, preferences more than morality, and religion almost not at all. For this we Boomers ought to pray mea culpa. Maybe I hoped for too much but she did not deliver what I had hoped.