Somewhere amidst the past few days' coverage of events leading up to tomorrow's inauguration, I read an article postulating that boomers, a cohort to which I belong, are responsible for the divisive nature of political discourse of the past 16-20 years. In pushing society's boundaries, not trusting anyone over 30 and protesting wars and social ills, we framed up the rancor that has prevailed throughout two boomer presidencies, but is about to be replaced by a new generation of leadership.
I'd never thought about things that way, and while I happen to believe my generation accomplished a few worthy things, I've got to admit this point of view has merit. I hate the thought that divisiveness will define the boomers' legacy. But I'm tired enough of partisan squabbling --Rush Limbaugh's bombast and Nancy Pelosi's sniping sound equally stale -- that I'm ready for my generation to get out of the way.
I won't try to articulate what tomorrow's events mean for our nation and our society. There are plenty of others pontificating on that, and there's nothing I can add that hasn't been said 100 times already, or seen on the faces of people who are gathering for this moment in history.
What I will do, however, is put forth some words by Jonathan Alter, writing in his book about the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency at the lowest point of the Great Depression. Those days were worse than what we've thus far experienced in this downturn, and Alter's telling reveals plenty of political divisiveness in that time as well, but there are notable, and hopeful, similarities, to the change I pray we are about to experience.
A week after his 1932 election, FDR gave an interview to the New York Times. The presidency, he said, is "predominantly a place of moral leadership." He reviewed the work of great earlier presidents... and concluded that each of them were "leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified." Now, seven months later, the new president had shown moral leadership, proven himself a leader of thought and clarified important ideas about the country. The results were spectacular... the change was almost spiritual. Times were tough and almost certainly would remain so, but help was on the way.
By itself, no single quality possessed by FDR was exceptional. It was a magical alloy of attributes: his ebullience after the dour Hoover, his theatricality upon entering the big stage, and his pragmatism in a time of destructive dogma. Those combined into a new vision of security for the American republic - the ideal of a more benevolent state no longer "trapped," as he later put it, "in the ice of its own indifference."
And finally, this, from a speech he died before he was able to deliver: "If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live and work together in the same world at peace."
Seems like something our new guy might say. In any case, we boomers have had our chance. It's time for us to move along, or better yet, follow the leader and help make better things happen.
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