Book review of The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America by Philip Bump

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If you’re looking for a very detailed, data-driven, definitive story of how the baby boom changed America, and a little foreshadowing of what might happen next, check out Philip Bump’s “The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America.” That’s it. Generational analyzes are often a bit sparse and reductive, with cherry-picked numbers leveraged to support a neat narrative (wealthy and veiny boomers screw the rest of us; avocado-toast-eating millennial snowflakes woke up). .A national columnist for The Washington Post, Bump offers the opposite: deep and complex interrogations of his subject, often challenging his own assumptions, along with detailed predictions of what’s to come—all illustrated to the max with charts and visuals. There is data house.

No one could accuse Bump of leaving no details behind (and he certainly didn’t dwell on the charts, which are abundantly displayed and which I found quite useful – in true millennial fashion, I took photos of several of them, and I plan to publish this review. Upload them to Instagram as soon as done). As baby boomers enter their final decades of life, a generation as influential as they are deserves this comprehensive revisit.

To give readers a visual sense of how influential boomers have become, Bump draws on an analogy from one of the most notorious chroniclers of this American generation: When boomers enter the world, it’s like “a snake devouring a pig.” From tip to tail, the Boomers changed everything: When they were born, “America dropped its jaws, for better or worse,” Bump writes, “and the pig started moving through the system.”

Baby boomers caused a huge increase in diaper sales. The American school system had to rapidly expand classrooms and hire large numbers of new teachers to accommodate the influx of young boomer students. Having spent most of their lives benefiting from a strong economy, Bump observes, their existence helped create that prosperity: they were a group of historically unprecedented size, whose basic needs were clothed, fed, housed, and educated. Decades passed. Long job creator and economic stimulus. And they were a group whose massive size and timing – not just in the immediate aftermath of World War II, but decades of growth into a post-industrial era, government investment and a strong middle class – meant cultural and economic dominance for most of their lives. As teenagers, boomers saw their desires catered to by marketers, only to discover that teenagers with few responsibilities and little disposable cash were a large potential customer group. Now, as we age and retire, responsibilities dwindle and so on so many With disposable money, boomers continue to hold a significant portion of American wealth and the consumer power that goes with it—in turn, products and services for boomers have proliferated, which will no doubt continue as they enter their sunset years. .

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Governments have smoothed the boomers’ entry into the world with significant investment in infrastructure and education, and are now smoothing their exit with significant entitlement spending.

This is a book about generations — and one mega-generation in particular, the generation that invented the concept of “generation” — but it’s at heart a book about race, where the bump lies at the core of generational discord.

The vast majority of U.S.-born boomers were white, and that shaped the generation’s politics. They have become a Browner generation due to immigration, but they remain much whiter than Millennials and Gen Sirs (yes, the relatively small Gen X is whiter than John Brady, who is often overlooked in the generation wars). Bump argues that the generation gap is largely a racial one, with white boomers moving past cultural hegemony where, sure, their music and movies and tastes dominated, but they also saw people who saw, looked, lived and believed like them. . Universally in that music, those movies and powerhouses.

Of course this is not all boomers. But that’s a lot of them. When you look at the data on boomers, conservatism and race, Bump writes: “No matter which way the arrow points, what usually happens is that boomers are white, whites are more likely to be Republican, and Republicans are more likely to be boomers. None of these statements are uniformly true, of course, but the Venn diagram of the three overlaps.

He argues that it is white anxiety that animates Boomer conservatism. And this white anxiety and the conservatism it fosters pits boomers against younger generations that are often more racially diverse and better educated, making young people — including whites among them — more liberal and forward-looking.

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Now, as the era of boomer dominance fades, one of the questions Bump is trying to answer is: What’s next?

The short answer is, no one really knows. The list of uncertainties, according to Bump, includes: “How long will the baby boom last?” “How Climate Change Will Turn the Country Upside Down?” and “How might American democracy be threatened?”

It’s honestly a bit of a relief not to have an overly confident forecast. Throughout the book, Bump is a confident, honest narrator who leans into complexity and rejects simplistic or singular explanations (this impulse doesn’t exactly make “The Aftermath” a beachy read, but it makes for an informative one); To conclude by saying that he could predict how this would all turn out would be to violate the trust he built up along the way.

Instead, Bump tells us that he’s sure the outcome of the Boomers will be a historic event that shakes the nation, akin to the fall of Rome — but he emphasizes that it could take several different paths, and that the Boomers themselves. that are largely responsible for their legacy.

“The American economy will continue to be heavily shaped by the choices made by boomers until after the baby boom,” he writes. “That will be influenced in part by the choices boomers make about how they spend their retirement and how and when they pass their wealth on to younger Americans. But that will be a function of the political decisions that are made, decisions that still bear the boomers’ fingerprints. “

For boomers, the future is a mixed bag, but it doesn’t look so bleak. “As baby boomers age, we can expect to see several patterns emerge,” Bump writes. Those patterns, he says, will include rising income inequality, greater struggles with consumer debt, faltering Social Security reserves and health care stress.

However, for those born after childbirth, it is weaker. Bump rightly identifies as “one of the central tensions at play” that “young Americans constantly and accurately see how the political structure of the United States is still heavily weighted towards a group made up of chicks that neither look like them nor reflect theirs. cares.”

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What would the country look like with the Boomers, largely out of power, having a grip on American politics for my nearly 40 years on this planet? Now what will happen when the largest generation of adults – the millennials – take control? Millennials differ demographically from Boomers in several key ways, including our ethnic identities, our religious views (or lack thereof), and where we live; At what point will American politics, policies, and institutions change to reflect this new normal?

Bump is cautiously optimistic but clear-eyed about the weight of the work ahead. “What we can say with certainty is that the America that gave birth to the baby boomers is long gone and the America that they built is crumbling,” Bump writes. “The uncertainty is whether that America will be replaced by ashes or a phoenix once again.”

In other words: what happens to the python once the pig has passed through its system? Out of curiosity, I Googled it. Disappointingly, search results for “what happens when a snake eats a pig” come from dubious sources, mostly “SNAKE ATE OUR PIG!” YouTube videos with titles like and “I fed my snake a pig!!!!!!” But one story emerged from a moderately discredited source (the Daily Mail) that, despite the tabloid headline (“Reptile Deathmatch”), seemed informative: X-rays of a Burmese python mauling an alligator show the snake’s body moving fast. Very radical changes to accommodate the prey in its stomach. “Each meal leads to increased metabolism, tissue function, and tissue growth,” one scientist wrote in a summary of Burmese python digestive physiology. “Once digestion is complete, these postprandial responses are reversed; Tissue function is collectively reduced and the tissue undergoes atrophy.

In short, the snake is normal—unless it is attacked by a predator while it is largely immobilized by its gluttony. But, most of the time, he does well.

Jill Filipovic is a journalist, attorney and author.OK Boomer, let’s talk: How my generation fared.”

The last days of the baby boom and the future of power in America

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