Chris, So many of your points are well taken and quite thoughtful. And I agree with much of what you say. I have read Pinker’s book, and, as a former cabinet-level and Capitol Hill speechwriter (who had the opportunity to add a few lines here and there to Mr. Reagan’s and GHW Bush’s speeches as part of my job description), I am also a hard-over Lincoln scholar and a student of the Federalist Papers. You would be hard-pressed to find a book on American history and leadership biographies I have not read. That is not a brag, it’s just what good speechwriters do in this town.
I too, had a very high draft number and did not have to go to Vietnam, while my college roommate drew #3 and chose to enlist rather than ask for a deferment he wasn’t going to get. He made it home, but many of our mutual friends did not. That is one reason why most of my political career was spent on the House and Senate Veterans’ Committees, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and as the speechwriter for four Secretaries of Veterans Affairs (both parties). As a military dependent (my father was a West Pointer, class of January ’43, and served as a combat fighter pilot in WW II, and then as an intel and bomber pilot during the Cold War), I do have a deep appreciation for the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, and their families.
I am neither a capitalist or a socialist; I don’t espouse or decry one form of democratic government over another as long as there is no harm to the little guy, and no clear advantage to the big guy. I was not in favor of the Citizens United ruling, and I do believe it did tremendous damage to the fabric of the election process. I am in awe of the durability of the Founder’s basic concept, but I also believe our system has yet to be perfected; we are all works in progress as citizens of this country, which is, itself, a work in progress.
I agree with most of your statement about the ups and downs of the grand scheme of history — though I do take a bit of umbrage at your assumption that I wouldn’t know about those ups and down, or that I have any appreciation for history in general. You should take care to measure your critique until you know more about the subject of your criticism. Just a comment.
The point to my piece was that, from my singular perspective as a Boomer who lived in interesting times and witnessed, and wrote about and photographed events of those times, was that my generation had great dreams that were lifted higher because we did, in fact, stand on the shoulders of very great and selfless generation — our parents — which encouraged us to dream big and do big things.
I feel — not speaking for all of my generation — that what Pinker writes about the upward progress of peace and the decline of violence does not feel right to me. His statistics and charts are spot on — I don’t quibble with his work — but to me, the world has gotten harder on the little guy, has become a darker place, a place of increasing anxieties and insecurities. From my limited perspective of 70 years (about 55 of them spent in some degree of contemplation of the world around me), my generation missed a golden opportunity (many of them) to do a better job of being a caring, loving, kind, generous, selfless generation.
I know there are fine people in the U.S. and around the world who work hard every day to make a difference in the lives of those who have very little or nothing. Many of those fine people are Boomers who never let go of their passion to help, to believe, to do the right thing. But there should have been more of us like that to emerge from our pool of good luck and go out into the world with an unbroken spirit to change things for the better.
Instead, what I see of my generation are too many self-serving, greedy, dispassionate and, in some cases, dangerously powerful men and women who rose to leadership positions in government and corporations and who have so little moral and ethical guidance from within themselves.
Yes, my piece was shallow; by the nature of being here on Medium, I’m not going to write a 30,000 word article covering every base you wanted covered. You are not wrong about the lack of depth of my article. You are wrong that I somehow don’t get the bigger, more complex picture.
I wrote a simple opinion piece, limited in scope not because I am limited in scope, but because I just wanted to express one facet of my frustration with my own kind. Make no mistake; I lived in a time of lynchings (not far from my Louisiana home at the time), Jim Crow, meanness, extreme bigotry, inhumanity, and injustice that will not be wiped away for generations yet to come. I saw Watts burn, and I had family out there for whom I worried; I was in Washington DC as a reporter when it was aflame, and it is my hometown so I was fearful for it even more; friends died in Vietnam, friends contracted AIDS, friends were shunned for their sexuality, friends were shunned for their unwillingness to “go along” as young women in offices…the list goes on. So please do not think me an unsuspecting simpleton or an outlier who has no sense of the whirring and grinding of history.
A few presidents rose to their jobs; a few sank. None sank as low as the one we now have. I had the pleasure and privilege to meet and work with several presidents and their staffs, but I also felt the great disappointment when a man who takes that oath lets you down when the time is right for being a bigger person. I didn’t cover any of that in my article…why would I? The article was straightforward: Boomers could have done a much better job than we did. The presidents we elected — or voted against — were footnotes to the larger story of my generation’s contributions. You take the position I was too hard on my generation and neglected the overarching goodness and neglected the details; fair enough, you are entitled to call me on that from your perspective — or Pinker’s. Perhaps if the muse strikes me to knock out a few thousand words on the upside of the Boomers’ presence I will do so. But for now, I think my generation needs to look in the mirror before it boasts of greatness.
Thank you for your response.