Happily for folks like me, the social media ripple behind “Boomer-Remover” did not turn into a groundswell. Of course, we would not expect our Tweeter-in-Chief to embrace the term. Although he has been at pains to minimize the significance of the pandemic, his age does put him on the margin of the post-war generation and therefore in the most vulnerable category. It’s not certain, after all, that his “incredibly good genes” will effectively shield him from infection, even in his own mind. But the emergence of this “mean nickname” for the disease elicited a sophisticated online critique and gentle chiding. Newsweek informed us that “all generational narratives assign stereotyped attributes and flatten massive demographics into loose age categories.” OK, sometimes we need reminding.
On the other hand, the data are pretty clear and unsettling to Boomers even younger than the President. This virus has now been added to Nature’s armory against human immortality, and in particular it has been running rampant in long-term care facilities. In early reporting from across this country and in Europe, at least 20% and often over 50% of Covid-related deaths occur in these places. It’s arguable that prisons, jails, homeless shelters, and public housing also fall under the rubric of congregate living, but a majority of Boomers will avoid doing time in any of these institutions. Nursing homes, however, are another matter. While conditions vary widely within custodial facilities–and responses to disaster range from comforting to tragic–none are secure from this virus. In my own State, where the daily death poll reached a new peak yesterday at 21, 20 of the fatalities occurred in long-term care. On current trends, a lot of us will enter such a setting eventually, and the prospect of crossing that threshold should now be even less attractive than ever.
For some sensitive Boomers, of course, the eagerness of elected officials to speak–but not die–on our behalf came as a shock. Fortunately, we are able to look out for ourselves. The cohort of which I am part, white and college-educated, has seen its net worth climb pretty steadily over the past 30 years. Our disproportionate share of national wealth means that we are still a target audience, having more money to donate and more leisure to volunteer. Oldsters seem highly motivated to vote. Even in 2018, when the Millennials woke up and, together with GenX, recorded 47% of the ballots, they were still out-polled by the Boomer and Silent voters, who accounted for nearly half the total. If the response to this virus is just one more sign of a looming political battle over opportunity and fairness, then, contrary to every other indication of ‘fitness,’ the Boomers look well-equipped to prevail.
In the midst of the current upheaval, many of us are enjoying a prosperous retirement, effectively ‘isolated’ from the experience of younger people, especially those who must work in public spaces. Like him or not, Bernie did us all a favor. Thanks to–or in spite of–his image as ‘everybody’s favorite grandfather,’ Millennials have postponed the day of reckoning with their selfish elders. His prescriptions for American society suddenly sound pretty good: guarantee medical care, provide free college, save the environment, all the while cracking down on corporate “corruption” (the newly unemployed may recall that all this happened to them before, about 12 years ago). If the government can spend $3 trillion at the drop of a hat, Bernie’s ideas look cheap by comparison. In the end, he was unable to mobilize the youth vote as he had hoped, while his promises bought us some time, maybe as much as some of us will need.
In fact, no one, whether right-wing pol or ardent young socialist, should be wishing for Boomers to be “removed,” at least not right now. It’s possible the Texas Lt-Gov. is right–that there are “more important things than living”–but not for the economy. Instead, the imperative is not only to stay off a ventilator but also to get out and spend. It’s great that online sales have risen 30% since all this started, but there is a limit to the ability to deliver all that stuff. When it comes to supporting the travel and restaurant industries, which do require a physical presence, Boomers and elders had already been doing their bit. For the courageous, it’s time to book your next cruise. If necessary, you should seek medical attention first, but only for that long-postponed joint replacement. Finally, for the confirmed home-bodies among us–and there are a few–there is always online charity. Just watch yourself.