Most of us are familiar with a grandpa, uncle, or father who eventually turns into a cranky old man during late middle age or in his dotage. (Why is it a mostly male phenomenon?) In the last three decades, Clint Eastwood typecast himself as a cranky old man, building on lone-wolf characters (mostly cops, criminals, and cowboys) established earlier in his career. In real life, these guys spout talking points absorbed from mainstream media and narrative managers, or if they are truly lazy and/or can’t articulate anything coherently on their own, merely forward agitprop via e-mail like chain mail of yore. They also demonstrate remarkably forgivable racism, sexism, and bigotry, such as Eastwood’s rather enjoyable and ultimately redeemed character in the film Gran Torino. If interaction with such a fellow is limited to Thanksgiving gatherings once per year, crankiness can be tolerated fairly easily. If interactions are ongoing, then a typical reaction is simply to delete e-mail messages unread, or in the case of unavoidable face-to-face interaction, to chalk it up: Well, that’s just Grandpa Joe or Uncle Bill or Dad. Let him rant; he’s basically harmless now that he’s so old he creaks.

Except that not all of them are so harmless. Only a handful of the so-called Greatest Generation (I tire of the term but it’s solidly established) remain in positions of influence. However, lots of Boomers still wield considerable power despite their advancing age, looming retirement (and death), and basic out-of-touchness with a culture that has left them behind. Nor are their rants and bluster necessarily wrong. See, for instance, this rant by Tom Engelhardt, which begins with these two paragraphs:

Let me rant for a moment. I don’t do it often, maybe ever. I’m not Donald Trump. Though I’m only two years older than him, I don’t even know how to tweet and that tells you everything you really need to know about Tom Engelhardt in a world clearly passing me by. Still, after years in which America’s streets were essentially empty, they’ve suddenly filled, day after day, with youthful protesters, bringing back a version of a moment I remember from my youth and that’s a hopeful (if also, given Covid-19, a scary) thing, even if I’m an old man in isolation in this never-ending pandemic moment of ours.

In such isolation, no wonder I have the urge to rant. Our present American world, after all, was both deeply unimaginable — before 2016, no one could have conjured up President Donald Trump as anything but a joke — and yet in some sense, all too imaginable …

If my own father (who doesn’t read this blog) could articulate ideas as well as Engelhardt, maybe I would stop deleting unread the idiocy he forwards via e-mail. Admittedly, I could well be following in my father’s footsteps, as the tag rants on this blog indicates, but at least I write my own screed. I’m far less accomplished at it than, say, Engelhardt, Andy Rooney (in his day), Ralph Nader, or Dave Barry, but then, I’m only a curmudgeon-in-training, not having fully aged (or elevated?) yet to cranky old manhood.

As the fall presidential election draws near (assuming that it goes forward), the choice in the limited U.S. two-party system is between one of two cranky old men, neither of which is remotely capable of guiding the country through this rough patch at the doomer-anticipated end of human history. Oh, and BTW, echoing Engelhardt’s remark above, 45 has been a joke all of my life — a dark parody of success — and remains so despite occupying the Oval Office. Their primary opponent up to only a couple months ago was Bernie Sanders, himself a cranky old man but far more endearing at it. This is what passes for the best leadership on offer?

Many Americans are ready to move on to someone younger and more vibrant, able to articulate a vision for something, well, different from the past. Let’s skip right on past candidates (names withheld) who parrot the same worn-out ideas as our fathers and grandfathers. Indeed, a meme emerged recently to the effect that the Greatest Generation saved us from various early 20th-century scourges (e.g., Nazis and Reds) only for the Boomers to proceed in their turn to mess up the planet so badly nothing will survive new scourges already appearing. It may not be fair to hang such labels uniformly around the necks of either generation (or subsequent ones); each possesses unique characteristics and opportunities (some achieved, others squandered) borne out of their particular moment in history. But this much is clear: whatever happens with the election and whichever generational cohort assumes power, the future is gonna be remarkably different.

Comments
  1. Corkywk says:

    The odds of a Precedential savior emerging out of today’s well embedded corrupt and self-serving American political system is… well, don’t hold your breath. Protected by a biased electoral system molded over years of fine detailing the two dominant major parties have colluded in making an independent Candidacy almost an impossibility. The result — Out of a population of 300 or so Million Americans, last election was a choice between either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. This is not democratic free choice!

    So no wonder it’s the same old, same old cranky, and nothing will drastically change until this system is torn down and voters get to choose from an expanded unbiased list of (younger?), more intelligently up-to-date, and freer thinking candidates. The two party powers that be, do not want change, are not interested in what’s best or fair for the American people.

    Government “Of the people, by the people and for the people” has long been cast aside in favor of government of self-interest, political party agenda and subservience’s to wealthy corporate greed. And wrestling these powers from the powerful, will not come easy. They will not go quietly — into the night.

    “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it” — Mark Twain

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree entirely with your assessment. However, this is not especially a political blog. So when I stray into electoral politics, it’s basically with my nose pinched shut for the stink of it.

      • Corkywk says:

        Well said and I totally agree. Other than my one time anti-Trump post, I too usually avoid political discussion like the plague. Speaking of the plague — stay well and stay safe my friend.

  2. Greg Knepp says:

    “…able to articulate a vision”. Are you shittin’ me? – what vision? My daughter, a card-carrying Millennial, grew up watching airplanes crashing into buildings, hard-working families going broke in the 07-08 depression, cell phones replacing human interaction, and an American President defending himself against accusations regarding blow jobs in the Oval Office…Young people have no vision, only what I would call a floating, unspecified contempt for society in general. Therefore they have no common rallying point – no shared ideation from which to launch any productive action.

    Two weeks ago I was pepper-sprayed at a downtown protest rally by a young Nazi masquerading as a police officer. There was no apparent reason for his action. But, as a veteran of several antiwar rallies during the Viet Nam War era, I was not surprised – saddened but not surprised. What DID surprise me though was that the crowds were completely without visible leadership. This seemed true of the mayhem I witnessed on TV from other cities as well.

    Back in my day (my god, did I just say that?) we had the likes of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Angela Davis, William Kunstler, Eldridge Cleaver, Jesse Jackson, MLK, Malcolm X…Christ the list goes on. These were leaders able to harness the vision and purpose of a young population that still cherished the belief that things could change – that wrongs could be made right. That belief is absent from the hopeless hoards of today’s young rebels. Despondency and aimlessness mark the tenor the day.

    The type and extent of disfunction that characterizes today’s America has historically set the stage for the emergence of leaders such as Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and…

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. Just to be clear, I’m painfully aware that merely citing a thing (i.e., a well-articulated political vision around which to rally) does not automatically call it into being. Lots of folks have mentioned that high-minded, Kennedyesque service to country has fallen far out of favor, leaving the field of play open to other less public-oriented opportunists. Indeed, the entire cultural milleu has tilted heavily in favor of merely grubbing for money. Folks still pursue all manner of creative endeavor for their own purposes, but participation in local politics, community, and service to others has taken a steep fall over the past few decades. I can think of a numerous people (all famous, since that’s a de facto prerequisite) who might be pressed into service, but they don’t want it.

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