I find it endlessly fascinating which posts strike a nerve in people, because they are generally not the ones I think will be controversial when I am writing them. I guess it comes from my experience working in finance and government, but I tend to get worked up over small details that seem outrageous or unfair – the things I would get into sparring matches over when drafting legislation in the past, or whatever. But my most popular posts are about what I would call dispositions toward unfairness or corruption: the series parsing the financials of California utilities and showing how the companies were run in ways that would directly contribute to wildfires and rolling blackouts (enjoying their time in Google search results once again); how the performative disdain over being forced to homeschool shows education is no longer a bourgeois value in the United States; and our family’s need to switch coasts in Florida to get away from retired New Yorkers.
The last one has been a tremendous source of cognitive dissonance for me personally. I was raised in a conservative family with a solid sense of filial piety. We revered older generations and were taught to associate age with wisdom.
Throughout high school, I had adopted an elderly Black woman at a nursing home walking distance from our house. I originally signed up to volunteer at the nursing home to get credit toward joining the National Merit Society. But I kept going to visit her long after that. She had gone blind and thus needed assistance with a host of everyday tasks. We’d spend hours reading the Bible and talking about what passages meant. She would dictate letters to her children and other relatives for me to write. Eventually, I had to move along to college a thousand miles away.
When my family lived in Southern California, we would drive out to the Arizona – Mexico border, where my grandfather lived, every few weeks. It took several hours to get there and involved passing through some brutal wasteland (where you definitely did not want to experience car trouble in the pre-smartphone era) but we made the trek all the time. All my father had in his truck were cassette tapes of the Doors, CCR, and the Hollies. I can honestly say I have every note of their songs memorized. I can feel the warm desert wind passing over my skin whenever their music comes on.
I loved talking to my grandfather. He had done so many extraordinary things in his lifetime. Survived the Great Depression. Stormed Normandy. Returned home from war and built a large family full of triumphs and tragedies. He was also a stubborn and spirited person overall, which was endearing. We knew there would be no shortage of treats when we went to visit him – not because he liked to spoil us, but because the old man pretty much lived on those fruit pies you get at gas station markets and Gamesa Mexican cookies. You couldn’t get him to eat a legitimate meal to save his life. He taught us to catch crawdads in the canals, which seemed like some death-defying stunt because my mother was always chirping about how if we fell in, we could never get back out because of the steep channelized sides. I probably sound like that to our daughter, carrying on about alligators.
Anyway, the whole point is that going to see our grandfather was this amazing experience that we always looked forward to. This is why seeing how wealthy Baby Boomer retirees live is so strange and horrifying to me.
This is a population that never raised their own children. They passed them on to nannies from the moment they were born, because their entire identity was wrapped up in having a certain prestigious career (something no one cares about when you are old). Guess how many times their children come to visit them now? Guess how close they live to their children and grandchildren now? Guess how many hours their grandchildren – when their parents do occasionally drag them here – log staring into an electronic void?
For all practical purposes, these folks do not have families. They don’t even have young people who want to come by to help them out from the goodness of their heart. They live in a world where all of their human vulnerabilities are something for a service industry to address. When you ponder why they want to be locked up in 55+ communities, with no children and not even symbols of children (like playgrounds) around them, consider that this is maybe not a new phenomenon. Paying for kids to be seen and not heard and attend elite private schools was simply another line on their resume. Parenthood was not an invitation to relationship.
When I say they stack local government so they can determine who benefits from new development and micromanage institutions that don’t even affect them, consider that is not a new phenomenon either. This behavior is why everyone associates New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut with widespread corruption and dysfunction. There has never been a concept of public service with this population – the direct opposite of the generation before them, the people like my grandfather, who stormed Normandy. You go into government to loot and control, not serve and protect.
Baby Boomers from New York are the most materialistic and health-obsessed people I have ever met in my life. If you talk to them, they are going to complain about how they just had the flooring redone in their house because they got bored of the stuff they put in three years ago. Then they will bitch about a small tax increase to fund a new water treatment plant. And when their grandkids are six figures in debt for a simple undergraduate degree, that’s about the kid’s failures, not their greed. Sure, they just spent twice that turning their house into a shrine to themselves, but that’s their money.
When I say, they are health-obsessed, I do not mean to say they are healthy. A more accurate description would be they are terrified of their own mortality. If you talk to them for five minutes, you understand why Medicare is headed toward bankruptcy. They will decide they need a new medical procedure every day of the week if their doctors let them. Their idea of small talk is discussing their latest mammogram or their (probably totally imaginary) gut problems. The coronavirus was the perfect political controversy to foist upon this population. “Let’s try to swing an election by getting everyone over the age of 65 in a swing state freaking out about catching a fucking cold.” They live for this shit. They love their masks so much they wear them when they are driving alone in the car. They don’t even want to separated from their mask to eat.
I think my experience dealing with New York retirees is bizarre in the context of the entire country. My Baby Boomer parents in Colorado are nothing like the people I am surrounded with in Florida. The kids in my parents’ neighborhood think of my mother as the crazy book lady, because if you are a child in my mother’s orbit, she is going to be constantly gifting you new reading material. She did this to me growing up, and she can’t stop, won’t stop.
But I have the impression that my sense of generational strife completely saturates the northeast. Not just politically, but that it defines everything. And no one personifies that conflict more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and her instant popularity. She is generational rage with a nice (rented) outfit.
All of my family and friends out west think AOC is nothing but a crank. “Socialism? People are seriously proud to be socialists? Have public schools gotten that bad?” I tend to talk this way too.
All of my friends up north think AOC is the reckoning of reckonings. She is the anti-Christ who has arrived to destroy the American way. But beyond that, they believe she is an effective politician.
People outside of the northeast dismiss her. If they follow her rants and flirtations at all, it is only as hate-followers. They do not fear her political success, because they think her brand of politics won’t sell in their backyard. And they are probably right about that.
But what AOC has to say resonates with people in the northeast, especially younger generations. I am nowhere near a socialist politically, but after two years of living around asshole Boomers from New York, I think I would probably be AOC if I grew up there. When AOC talks about people rigging the system, she’s absolutely correct about what is happening where she lives. That is what this demographic does. They organize entire communities to gratify their every selfish whim, to keep people they don’t like (younger people, Black and Brown people) down.
It is no longer a mystery to me, mechanically or morally, how NYC came to have the level of economic inequality that it has. I have watched an exported version of that population construct it. Everything about these folks is so alien to my communitarian instincts, to how I was taught families should operate (i.e. previous generations lift up future generations, you want your kids to be more successful than you were – and that’s not something that happens only after you die and can no longer spend your dough anymore). I’d actually guess this behavior is alien to how NYC used to operate in the past.
So, I am going to confess my unpopular opinion here: Socialists are not the northeast’s problem. They are the predictable consequence of a single greedy generation that upended social order and now sits on a disproportionate amount of private and public wealth that they are using in ways that are distinctly unproductive for society. They are also creating superfluous costs that are legitimately unbearable for future generations. That community was unhealthy long before AOC came around, and her continuing to point it out is only going to make her a stronger politician as the facts of these situations are laid bare in ever more extreme circumstances.