A columnist for the Washington Post, Dana Milbank, has recently posted a pre-election op-ed with the headline: “Baby boomers, you’ve done enough; it’s Generation X’s turn.”
The columnist’s invective is strong and spot on. While much of his fire is aimed at Donald Trump, much the same could be said of fellow baby boomer Hilary Clinton. As Milbank says: “Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides. Though Vietnam War-protesting boomers got the attention, their peers on the right were just as ideological, creating the religious right.”
Beyond the harsh condemnation of the baby boom generation, Milbank offers a an insightful categorization of generational patterns that “repeat over time.” And jesustheheresy.com asks the question: could there have been a similar patterns of intra- and inter-generational conflict much earlier – for example, dating to the time of Jesus’ sojourn two millennia back?
Consider first the four generational descriptions offered up by Milbank:
- The Civics – most recently epitomized by those termed as the Greatest Generation, born in the first 2-3 decades of the 1900s, serving on the front lines in World War II and building the post-war America of Leave it to Beaver.
- The Adaptives – a much smaller cohort coming of age during the Depression and World War II, also known as the Silent Generation.
- The Idealists – aka today’s Baby Boomers born amid the great population explosion of 1946-64.
Note: Donald Trump was born in 1946; Hilary Clinton in 1947.
- The Reactives – today comprising the group known as Generation X, a much smaller cohort in numbers but now with the task to “clean up idealists’ messes.”
Milbank observes that idealists are responsible for previous messes throughout American history. Idealistic generations led us into the U.S. Civil war, followed by a similar generation leading into the Great Depression, and with the latest incarnation of idealists giving us everything from civil disobedience in the 1960s to the financial collapse of 2008 and ensuing Great Recession.
But our columnist also offers hope via the next up-and-coming generation of Millennials. If history repeats itself, it will be today’s twenty-somethings who will take the helm as the next installment of Civics, building on the clean-up by Gen X of the now fractured American polity.
What Generation Jesus?
Can the American experience be translated back into the era of 1st century Palestine? Consider the evidence that Jesus’ generation may serve as a remarkable forerunner of today’s baby boomer set:
- Start with The Civics – some of the greatest builders and power players the world has ever known – Caesar Augustus, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Herod the Great – all born between about 63 and 83 BC. Just as the Civics of the last century produced leaders of great good (Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Marshall), so this generation also produced those of great evil (as with Hitler and Stalin). Much the same could be said of the Civics that preceded Christ.
- Then look for the Adaptives – a relatively silent generation then as well as more recently. Examples of persons born from the 50s to 20s BC include the conservative Jewish philosophical leaders Shammai (a counterpoint to the older and more liberal Hillel), Johanan ben Zakai (a primary contributor to the core text of Rabbinical Judaism after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD), and Philo (Jewish Hellenistic philosopher). Another born with this generation was the man who would become Emperor Tiberius during Jesus adulthood (and who retreated from the rigors of imperial governance for the isle of Capri after his own mid-life crisis).
- Now we come to the Idealists – persons born from about 20 BC to the first decade of the common era – including Jesus, Jesus’ mother Mary (at the older end of the same generation), the disciples, Paul the apostle, and the birth of the Jewish zealot movement.
- Finally, there are the Reactives – those born up to about 30 AD including King Herod Agrippa II (respected by Paul) and the Roman General and future Emperor Vespasian (who initially led the fight to suppress the Jewish insurrection against Rome starting 66-67 AD).
As is potentially the case with today’s Millennials who follow in the footsteps of America’s Greatest Generaion, so there was a new round of Civics born in the Mediterranean region in the decade of the 30s (about or just after the time of the crucifixion of Jesus). Examples are Luke (the writer of a gospel and the Acts of the Apostles), Josephus (Jewish general turned historian), and Emperor Titus (son of Vespasian, conquerer of Jerusalem and acclaimed final builder of the Roman Coliseum).
The Road Ahead
Despite strong condemnation of today’s baby boom generation, columnist Milbank concludes as bullish on prospects for a better world – as the reins of leadership and power are inevitably transferred from “narcissitic” boomers to Generation X and then the Millennials.
But just how rosy is that future? Yes, America patched up the wounds of the Civil War over the decades that followed. And, after another generation of idealists led us into the Great Depression, a world war pulled us out – establishing American preeminence that only now is beginning to fade. In both instances, the case can be made that the U.S. ended up better than before – despite the pain and suffering in-between.
But there is a darker scenario to consider – the experience of the 1st century AD. Rome fared well but first century Judea did not survive its spell of what Milbank terms as “hyper-partisanship and polarization and gridlock.” Rather than solving their own problems, the cities of Judea and Galilee were destroyed and the population dispersed – waiting nearly 1,900 years for the long awaited re-establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. Two millennia earlier, the ultimate idealist – Jesus of Nazareth – saw it all coming in advance but stepped aside for history to take its own course.
As an American nation and as a global community, we may get lucky again – survive, heal and rebuild from the nasty divides engendered by the Clinton-Trump campaigns – not to mention all the rocky battles ahead. A positive outcome is by no means assured. The downside risk is that this American experiment fails; that democracy is proven as not sustainable. The Gen X’ers may start but not finish their clean-up of Boomer inflicted wounds on each other and the nations. Millennials will never get their chance to rebuild anew. And the world will be the worse for it.
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