So often we hear about the generational divide. This divide supposedly drives a good deal of the strife in our country, with older people blamed for Trump (older White people, to be accurate) and for standing in the way of progress. What forms might this divide take? That is, how does it work out in daily life?
I recall a time when my grandmother introduced me to the fine old Appalachian custom of wakes. She took me – I was five or so – to the wake of a friend of hers. I saw an elderly lady dressed up lying in a casket, lots of people around, boring…. that was about it. But my mother hit the ceiling when she found out. She saw it as a reversion to outdated and hopelessly backward customs and feared the effect it might have on me.
My grandmother was what we called a hill-billy, from West Virginia. My mom had moved with her to the shore of Lake Eire when my mom was nine. She lost her accent and eventually became a torch singer, i.e. a young female singer who fronted a small band and toured. That’s where she met my dad, in New Orleans, although he was from Ohio, too, but a big city (Youngstown), son of immigrants and, horror of horrors, Catholic! His adjustment to American life took him down the route of what we now call the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Peter Lawford. Three were Italian-Americans like my father and all epitomized the “cool” of the era.
So my mother aspired to that hip world, but after WW II and the divorce from my father, she struggled as a single mom, although she had a lot of help from her family and my dad. Nevertheless, her estrangement from that Appalachian culture was set and all I got from her on that score was some “deviant” pronunciations my students pointed out to me.
Imagine the estrangement from the immigrant culture of his family on my dad’s part. He left in 1947 or so and never looked back. He sent for us from Phoenix and we left Ohio with him driving us out to Phoenix in 1951, the month I turned 10. The feeling tone of that is perfectly replicated in the first Karate Kid movie when the Kid and his mom are driving into the California coast with its palm trees and sunshine.
My wife is in a situation similar to my mom’s. Her family came out from Texas to pick cotton and lived a while in a cotton camp. Her mother had joined a very strict Pentecostal church and the church they found in Phoenix became the center of my wife’s life, though not in a good way. Putting distance between herself and the church became a theme (my wife is writing her autobiography now with the help of a friend and all this will be covered in it). I had never been “churched”, part of my mother’s distancing or rebellion against the overheated worship style of my grandmother’s preferred denominations, so I fit right in with my wife’s attitude toward The Church.
But the work ethic of her parents transferred intact to my wife and she became educated, the first in her family as is so frequently the case when we are talking about people born in the 40s, esp Black people. Obviously, overcoming the barriers of segregation loomed large and, sadly, continue to loom large in the sequelae of that institution, surfaced so magnificently by Donald Trump and his minions. That work ethic passed on to her brother also and he wound up with an in-house engineering degree at Hewlett-Packard. Her other two siblings fared far below that level of achievement due to various circumstances.
Our political divide seems linked to our generational divide. While we all see, know, learn about young people who embrace all the cant of the Right, polling and surveys reveal a marked division between younger people (those under 50) and older people. Being an older person who sides mostly with the younger crowd, I am reading with fascination a catalog of all the crazy things that happened in my youth, the 40s, 50, 60s, and 70s. I find this in R. Marie Griffith’s Moral Combat, mentioned in my blog at https://barrett.lang-learn.org/author/pbarrett/ Letter to a Friend….. She sums up the period leading up to my mature years: “Reactions for and against sex education echoed and intensified the acrimonious feuds fueled by the birth control movement, attempts to control erotic themes in film and literature, and public reports of extramarital sexual behavior in earlier decades. The controversy gave rise in the 1960s and 1970s to fresh waves of resentment toward a seemingly liberalizing culture that made increasing room for sexual behavior deemed unorthodox by conservative Christians.” People then feared the U.S. was falling into anarchy and corruption. All trends I remember well, the reaction, the resentment, the fear. The 50s and 60s are what I remember best. Griffith is referring to events like the censoring of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, the Kinsey Reports, and the Pill. The only thing she left out was long hair as a signal of the decline and fall of practically everything. Oh, and miniskirts.
Reading a history of the early Christian church (Gnostic Gospels and Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels), what struck me was the perennial nature of the individual in society, alienation vs absorption, rebellion vs conformance, dissent vs consensus, free variation vs structure, randomness vs order. It is not enough to champion personal freedom or personal responsibility; we have to look at what that means in the whole context of our lives. The New York Review of Books printed an article on Ji’s consolidation of power. After decades of free-wheeling capitalistic growth alternating with acts of desperate repression, China is steadily moving toward political stasis in the form of one-man rule. Xi Jinping has gathered unto himself the three pillars of power: the Party, the state, and the military.
Not everyone appreciates the creativity and audacity of nonconformists and not everyone appreciates the order and stability of a repressive structure. One-man rule is especially problematic b/c, as the article points out in Xi’s case, the one man tends to make all the decisions. When an issue arises and no local person feels competent or safe in resolving it, he shoots it upward. It keeps going until it runs into someone willing to make a decision that resolves the issue. Too often, Xi that person. Within that structure resides the very elements of disequilibrium. Peripheral units like outlier production facilities, rogue military units, charismatic local leaders who aspire to more power, and naturally those dispossessed by the very success of the one man.
We can make a comparison of Xi with Trump. Xi works hard, is intent on accumulating power into his own hands, recruits the brightest and most ambitious into his orbit, and is very smart. Trump, OTOH, …….. oh, well.
But how did so many Americans get fooled into voting for Trump and why do so many, after all we’ve seen, still support him? Can the generational divide account for that? Not in any way that matters. If older Americans are less educated, maybe on that score, but overall the education divide seems more pertinent to understanding Trump’s appeal. Trump appeals to a number of younger people, no doubt. The polling I cited here https://barrett.lang-learn.org/2018/04/11/the-numbers-behind-the-blue-wave/
This appears to contradict my statement that age does not seem to be the dividing factor. The millennials go for Democrats and, one supposes, against Trump, by huge margins compared to other age cohorts. What distinguishes the Millennial generation from older Americans, esp those in their 70s and 80s? Being in my mid-70s might allow me to make some observations. For one thing, the better one’s education in my cohort, the less likely one is to be a Trump supporter. The more travelled one is, the less likely, the more urban one is….. wait a minute! Urban? How does that work?
What we seem to be talking about here is exposure. Education, travel, yes. But urbanity also exposes people to more and young people have been leaving less populous towns and states for decades now and populating cities and now, more than eve, urban centers and megalopolises. Radiating outward for miles, these interconnected centers of commerce, trade, entertainment, and culture feature not only office buildings and sports complexes but universities and countless community colleges. All of this offers exposure to not only other people but to information and, at a higher level, to world views, ideologies, theories, and so on.
What is the effect of this? One boy I’ve mentioned elsewhere serves as a good example. He was deep into the LDS religion and culture and was an excellent, inquisitive student. He was with me a couple of years and eventually went to the local university which has a center of Mormon religion on campus. He returned later to tell me that he often felt like running to that center to get away from the welter of ideas and customs and speech that conflicted with his upbringing. But he stayed in the mix and learned.
But imagine his return to the family’s older members as he tells them about a particular professor and they ask about the man’s kids and this boy casually says, “Oh, he’s gay,” and goes on about the topic at hand, leaving the oldsters aghast that he would be casual about that. That is what leaves so many older people marooned, that, and the frequent remonstrance against their casual bigotry, which they call political correctness. “Well, don’t take my head off. I’m just saying I am surprised they let a faggot teach young people.” Just the other day a neighbor referred to Michael Jackson, whose name had slipped his mind, as “that little faggot.” Very nice man, my age, but he did not graduate from high school and I did.
Ah! I forgot one: coastal. The coasts are notoriously free-wheeling, open, liberal. Why? Exposure, but how? Shipping. Ships coming in from all over bearing sailors, goods, foreign things and taking coastal people to other coasts. In addition, coasts tend to attract commerce due to shipping by which costs are lowered and so lots of people come and make huge metropolitan conglomerations.
So help me out here, people. I came up with the commonality of exposure this morning and while driving the characteristic “coastal” occurred to me. Immediately I saw the connection to shipping and sailors and so forth. It may be a combination of geography e.g. New England vs the Deep South like coastal California vs Inland California, and education level and wealth and travel and urban living and cultural elements like religion and literacy.
May 15 Here goes my foray into religion. On various networks, commentators are playing scenes from Mafia movies like The Godfather to highlight the features of Trump’s approach and his administration’s approach as similar to the Mafia’s. Even the suits and the lingo fits. However, I would like to draw a different comparison: television preachers. Universally reviled and condemned by the educated, the coastal, you know, that blue group, television preaches are revered by the Trump people. They send them money and enrich these con artists, bunko artists, frauds, and cheats. Despite multiple exposees, prison sentences, and outright vulgar displays of wealth derived from gullible worshipers, those worshipers keep on giving. Remember Jim Jones?
So in addition to the mob references, I’d like to see Trump juxtaposed on a split screen first to himself promising jobs to Americans and then pampering a Chinese company in trouble because it broke U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea and whose products cannot be sold on American military bases due to security risks of the company embedding devices in their cell phones which allow tracking of U.S. personnel…….. yeah, that company, and then getting a half billion dollar deal with Chinese investors for his project in Indonesia. And his “university” and his other dubious enterprises and many other betrayals of American voters including his b.s. Wall. Just show it, over and over, and then begin juxtaposing him with televangelists promising magical cures and a new life for sending just a “love offering” of $25, etc. etc. etc.