The Wall Street Journal - 13.08.2019

(Ann) #1

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 |A


Defying the


Boomer Bashers


Stop Mugging Grandma
By Jennie Bristow
(Yale, 258 pages, $25)

BOOKSHELF| By Daniel Akst


M


y fellow baby boomers, it’s time for a generational
reckoning. Can we feel pride in the richer, fairer,
more peaceful America we’ll bequeath to our
descendants? Or are we condemned beyond redemption for
the rising seas and Himalayas of debt that now beset not
just our country but the world?
Fear not, former yuppies. Every generation has its
champion, and Jennie Bristow gallops forth as ours with
“Stop Mugging Grandma,” in which she tilts gamely at the
many scolds and crybabies who have appointed themselves
persecutors of our weary cohort.
“Throughout the Western world,” Ms. Bristow writes,
“there are some powerful voices agitating for a new
generation war—a bitter and ugly confrontation that would
pitch anyone under 35
against their parents, grand-
parents, teachers, colleagues
and political representatives.”
At the center of the attack
on those of us born between
1946 and 1964, days when the
U.S. birth rate was
extraordinarily high, is our
supposed radical individualism.
Its roots are said to be found in
the excesses of the 1960s, a
decade for which “boomers
have become fall guys.”
Ms. Bristow, to her
everlasting credit, isn’t buying
it. “What about the two
catastrophic world wars that had
dominated the first half of the century; the
cynical hedonism of the ‘Roaring Twenties’; the
parasitism of colonialism and racial segregation?”
Attacking the boomers, in other words, implies that some
earlier cohort must have done things better, and history
suggests otherwise. What’s more, the author says, “while the
Sixties had its excesses of consumerism and self-indulgence,
it also mobilised people to fight for freedom and equality,
against war and prejudice. But this is conveniently forgotten
in the attempts to depict the people who grew up and came
of age in this period as Svengali-like villains, on a mission to
destroy their children’s future.”
Ms. Bristow, a sociology professor in England, shrewdly
situates this new resentment in the context of today’s
vogue for collective responsibility and the transmission of
guilt across many generations. “Generationalism,” as she
calls it, “has come to find its most comfortable home
within identity politics, that shrill sentiment of
victimisation and grievance that has become an
increasingly powerful cultural force.”
Of course, youth and age have always resented each
other, and sometimes (as with postwar Germans and their
Nazi parents or grandparents) there have been profound
reasons for blame. But young and old have always needed
each other too, as Ms. Bristow recognizes in emphasizing
that we’re all in this together. “My argument is that
generations do not have competing interests,” she writes,
“and that it is very dangerous to pretend that they do.”

Fomenting intergenerational conflict can create a sense
of crisis where none exists, undermining democracy in the
process. Partly in reaction to the electoral victories of
Brexit and Donald Trump, the author reports, academics
and advocates in Britain, New Zealand and Germany have
suggested lowering the voting age to 16 or even allowing
parents to vote on behalf of their toddlers. Anti-boomerism
is also, in the author’s view, a pretext for advocating
harmful cuts in pensions and health care for the elderly.
Boomers swaddled in Medicare, transit discounts and all
the other emoluments of seniority—or younger boomers
anticipating such goodies—will naturally embrace the
author’s case and vote to acquit on all counts. Readers of
all ages, meanwhile, will be inclined to convict the author
on charges of meandering and repeating herself while
ignoring good material on all sides.
There is no real attempt at any kind of moral
accounting, for example, which might be useful if only to
draw lessons for later generations. The credit side of the
ledger could include the collapse of communism, the
advent of statins, and Bruce Springsteen. On the debit side,
there is global warming, the democratization of narcissism,
the death of newspapers, political correctness, and the rise
of big data in baseball. Surely there is something to be
learned from all this.
One also wishes the author had grappled more
vigorously with the worrisome social and political changes
that could affect how the generations relate to one another.
Massive and growing indebtedness, sluggish economic
growth, low fertility and mounting resistance to
immigration in Europe, North America and other developed
lands mean that the likelihood of growing friction between
old and young cannot be waved away.
Will the world’s affluent societies be able to uphold their
social-welfare promises when the number of workers
supporting each retiree has plummeted? Will it matter that
younger voters and taxpayers will be of different ethnic
backgrounds from the army of burdensome old folks? How
best can social peace be maintained if real sacrifices, such
as Social Security cuts and higher middle-class taxes, are
required? Acquitting baby boomers of culpability won’t
make these possibilities go away, nor will Ms. Bristow’s
breezy dismissal of “doomography.”
Fortunately, generational grievance-mongers are not an
accurate reflection of family reality, a context in which
“most people experience the relations between the
generations as something rather more precious and
harmonious.” There arealready signs that families,
motivated as usual by love and obligation, are making their
own arrangements to cope with aging and economic woes.
According to most indicators, the author writes, “young
people today are generally emotionally close to their
parents, often financially dependent on them, and see their
families as a source of stability and support in a world
where other commitments seem increasingly difficult to
make.” Perhaps the baby boomers are good for something
after all.

Mr. Akst writes the Journal’s weekly news quiz.

Attacks on baby boomers by the younger
generation imply that some earlier cohort did
things better. History suggests otherwise.

A Peaceful Death, Far From Home


E


verything about the hos-
pital scares my grand-
mother. The strange
chemical odors, the uniforms
people wear, the machines
that beep around her, even the
ones on her legs that squeeze-
relax-squeeze throughout the
night.
She longs for home, many
hundreds of miles away. Per-
haps thousands. Her children
came to this country for a bet-
ter life. Now she comes to be
with them in the twilight of
her years.
She speaks broken English.
The doctors come in every day
to see her. Sometimes they
call someone on the phone to
translate, sometimes they
don’t.
“Idiopathic pulmonary fi-
brosis.” It sounds important.
Almost royal. She is too unim-
portant for such big words!
All she knows is it hurts to
breathe. Sometimes she wakes
up in a panic, coughing and
gasping. Her ribs ache. Deep
in her heart, she knows she is
sicker than everyone tells her.
Above all else, she doesn’t
want to impose. Her nature is
to nurture, not be nurtured.


The food is so bland. Her
tongue was raised on cumin
and coriander, saffron and pa-
prika. Now it strains to taste
anything. Her nurse smuggles
her a samosa one day, and she
is delighted.
Her room makes her claus-
trophobic. The same four
walls. The same TV. She is be-
coming increasingly confused,
and losing track of time. Her

mind wanders more fre-
quently now. She finds that
her memories are vivid, real.
Sometimes she can’t tell if
she’s awake or asleep. This
frightens her.
They move her to a new
room, less drab than the old
one, and larger. She has her
own nurse now. There is a
couch, and her children are
spending every moment with
her. She cherishes them but is
also embarrassed at being
such a bother.

Her confusion is getting
worse.
She is mortified to realize
she is having bouts of inconti-
nence. Her daughters help her
because she is too ashamed to
ask a stranger, even one as
kind as her nurse. Sometimes
she lies in bed and rambles in
her mother tongue.
She sees the house where
she grew up. It is real to her.
She runs through every room.
The smell of breakfast in the
morning greets her. She sees
her parents and her siblings.
But the vision slowly fades,
and she realizes she’s back in
her bed, tethered with tubes.
She is tired, so tired. She
resents what they won’t tell
her. She knows the unspoken
truth.
Once, when she was a
young mother, she almost lost
her son in a busy market. The
memory comes flooding back
to her, and becomes her real-
ity. She screams her son’s
name, thrashing in her hospi-
tal bed. Her son is there and
tries to reassure her as tears
stream down his cheeks. The
nurses give her medicine and
her panic subsides.
She is becoming less and
less responsive, and only

dimly aware. One day, without
fanfare or ceremony, she real-
izes that Death is in the room
with her. He sits in the corner
of the room, pensively observ-
ing her. He doesn’t scare her,
but she knows who he is. She
begs him for more time. What
will her children do without
her?
The nurse sitting at the sta-
tion outside notes an alarm on
the cardiac monitor. The pa-
tient’s son notices that his
mother’s breathing has become
shallower. She is sweating. He
moves to her bedside and ten-
derly wipes her brow.
Death walks to her bedside
and gently takes her hand.
She feels the old panic of los-
ing her son in the market, but
he reassures her. Our loved
ones shall be returned to us.
Her eyes close.
Several nurses run into the
room, but her son gently
shakes his head. “Let her go in
peace,” he says. He gently
brushes her white hair from
her brow and remembers how
she would do the same for
him when he would get sick.
And he weeps.

Dr. Tabatabai practices
nephrology in San Antonio.

By Sayed Tabatabai


My grandmother’s
kids came to America
for a better life. She
followed them here.

OPINION


D


emocratic presidential
candidates decry Presi-
dent Trump’s abrupt,
unilateral approach to foreign
policy—what he calls “America
First.” Yet their own approach
to military intervention, trade
and even climate change is not
so different.
Leading candidates have
pledged to withdraw U.S.
forces from Afghanistan in as
little as one year. Joe Biden, in
last month’s debate, even
pointed with pride to his role
in the 2011 pullout of U.S.
forces from Iraq. That with-
drawal was so complete and
abrupt that it resulted in estab-
lishment of the Islamic State
caliphate, which reached to the
outskirts of Baghdad. The U.S.
had to return to Iraq and de-
ploy forces to Syria as well.
The U.S. stations troops in
Western Europe, Japan, South
Korea and elsewhere because
it recognizes they are neces-
sary there to strengthen mu-
tual defense with allies and
serve American interests. The
U.S. involvement in Afghani-
stan has been painful but is
still necessary to maintain sta-
bility there and prevent a ter-
rorist resurgence. Withdrawals
should be carefully planned.
Abrupt and unilateral doesn’t
do it.
Or take trade. Mr. Trump


Are We All Unilateralists Now?


has been properly faulted for
undertaking trade negotiations
outside the global World Trade
Organization framework. U.S.
leverage against China would
be far stronger within the
WTO than outside it. Other na-
tions could be rallied to resist
clear Chinese violations of in-
ternational trading rules. Yet
the U.S. has drifted far from
the principles of global free

trade, which underlay Presi-
dent John F. Kennedy’s 1962
Trade Expansion Act. The
Doha negotiations, which
would have expanded open
trade among WTO members,
began in 2001 and collapsed in
2006 because of U.S. and Euro-
pean intransigence over farm
subsidies.
Most recent trade negotia-
tions have been bilateral or re-
gional, and Democrats want to
continue that approach. Mr. Bi-
den said he would not immedi-
ately rejoin the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, which the Obama
administration signed and Mr.
Trump abandoned. “I would
insist that we renegotiate

pieces of that,” he said, and he
would make sure “environmen-
talists are there and labor is
there.”
Climate change is one area
in which the Democrats appear
to be seeking cooperation with
other nations, notably by
promising to rejoin the Paris
accord, from which Mr. Trump
also withdrew. But many of the
candidates champion the
Green New Deal, which would
unilaterally set a technologi-
cally and economically impos-
sible timeline for jettisoning
fossil fuels while also promis-
ing a laundry list of social pro-
grams, from paid family leave
to affordable housing, with no
obvious connection to climate.
“It wasn’t originally a cli-
mate thing at all,” Saikat
Chakrabarti, then chief of staff
to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cor-
tez, said last month. “We really
think of it as a how-do-you-
change-the-entire-economy
thing.” But what if the Demo-
crats start thinking of it as a
how-do-you-change-the-entire-
world -economy thing? Sen.
Cory Booker hinted at that
possibility in last month’s de-
bate:“Wehaveto...make
sure that everything from our
trade deals, everything from
the billions of dollars we spend
to foreign aid, everything must
be sublimated [sic] to the chal-
lenge and the crisis that is ex-
istential, which is dealing with

the climate threat.”
Mr. Trump was elected be-
cause of a populist reaction
against both international and
domestic policies perceived as
elitist and disconnected from
majority opinion. But the
American people, over the long
run, have proved themselves
large-minded and aware of the
need to engage the rest of the
world. The U.S. had it right in
committing to post-World War
II international institutions
that have prevented war and
enhanced global prosperity.
Both parties once recognized
this. Today it appears neither
one does.
When the U.S. supplanted
Britain as underwriter of
global stability after two world
wars, the country enjoyed both
military and economic domi-
nance. Thanks in part to that
commitment and cooperation,
other nations have gained in
prosperity and strength as
well. A my-way-or-the-high-
way approach is no longer
even a viable option.

Mr. Van Dyk was active in
Democratic national policy and
politics for 40 years. He is au-
thor of “Heroes, Hacks and
Fools” (University of Washing-
ton Press, 2007).

On war, trade and
climate, Democrats
sound remarkably
similar to Trump.

By Ted Van Dyk


Walter Russell Mead is
away.

“Do some-
thing!” some-
one shouted
at Ohio Gov.
Mike DeWine.
The shout
came during a
candlelight
vigil in down-
town Dayton,
where a dis-
turbed young
man just hours before had
shot to death nine innocent
people, including his own sis-
ter. Others in the crowd
quickly chimed in, until “what
started as just a smattering of
voices had morphed into a
deafening chant,” according
to the Washington Post.
The deafening chant has
now moved to Washington,
where Congress is feeling
pushed to “do something”
about mass shootings. In the
standard Beltway narrative,
were it not for the Second
Amendment “absolutists” in
thrall to the National Rifle
Association, Democrats and
Republicans would happily
come together on common-
sense measures to halt the
bloodshed. Even President
Trump is now saying, “I think
we could get something really
good done”—meaning ex-
panded background checks,
which the NRA opposes.
This ought to be Mr.
Trump’s moment. After all, he
ascended to the Oval Office
not by abiding by conven-
tional wisdom but by defying
it. Right now we could use
some of that defiance, be-
cause missing from the de-
bate over mass shootings is a
national leader willing to en-


Guns and the Do-Something Fallacy


dure the opprobrium that
comes with speaking a hard
truth: There’s only so much
the federal government can
do here.
The American people, we
are told, have grown cynical
because we know the solu-
tions but can’t implement
them because of that pesky
Second Amendment. But one
driver of public cynicism
surely has to be that little of
what has been put in place so
far has worked as promised.
If America is serious about
dealing with homicidal young
men, the answer won’t be to
dump the problem on local
cops, the FBI or some federal
database—especially when no
crime has been committed.
“Everything’s on the ta-
ble,” Mr. DeWine told report-
ers after the Dayton killings.
But that really isn’t true. Like
so many other pols, the gov-
ernor means he’s willing to
consider legislation control-
ling guns or access to them.
What’s almost certainly not
on the table? A critical look
at whether more extensive
background checks or red-flag
laws or bans on “assault
weapons” will in fact solve
this problem.
The same goes at the fed-
eral level. Take the Bipartisan
Background Checks Act re-
cently passed by the Demo-
cratic House and now being
urged on the Republican Sen-
ate. David Harsanyi, a senior
editor at the Federalist and
author of “First Freedom: A
Ride Through America’s En-
during History With the Gun,”
notes that “the type of uni-
versal background checks

now being proposed by Wash-
ington would have done noth-
ing to deter any of the mass
shootings we’ve seen.” The El
Paso and Dayton shooters
each apparently passed back-
ground checks and acquired
their guns legally.
Skepticism is also in order
for so-called red flag laws,
which allow police or family
members to petition a state
court to confiscate firearms
temporarily from a person

deemed dangerous. In an op-
ed for the New York Times,
psychiatrist Richard A. Fried-
man admitted that even “ex-
perienced psychiatrists fare
no better than a roll of the
dice at predicting violence.”
The evidence suggests that
while red-flag laws do stop
suicides, it isn’t clear they
prevent mass shootings.
So what might be an an-
swer? Hillary Clinton pointed
the way in her book “It Takes
a Village.” Of course, once you
move past her title, Mrs. Clin-
ton’s village turns out to de-
pend on federal bureaucrats.
But the principle is worth
rescuing. There will never be
any federal agency or watch
list that can match the real-
time collective intelligence
that communities have about
a young man in their midst
who is steeped in toxic ideolo-

gies, indulging in fantasies of
violence and getting hold of
firearms. Alas, far from em-
powering these local leaders
to act when they spot trou-
ble—teachers, scoutmasters,
pastors, police chiefs, shop-
keepers, coaches—we have
spent the past half century
undermining their authority.
A little modesty could go a
long way. On the left, few
trust the ordinary American
as much as they do the fed-
eral government, especially
with guns. But on the right,
Republican congressmen, sen-
ators and presidents calling
for federal gun control ought
to be pressed whether they
really believe what they offer
is a solution—or merely
enough to quiet the “do some-
thing” chorus.
Perhaps before Congress
“does something,” we ought
to let states and localities ex-
periment with giving commu-
nity leaders the ability to
act—while also protecting due
process and other constitu-
tional rights. At the least
those who insist the solutions
are primarily federal ought to
answer the most obvious
question: Can you show us ex-
actly how your measure
would have prevented earlier
shootings if it had been in
place?
Some will take this as a
counsel of despair. That, too,
is an unfortunate consequence
of today’s narrative. Because
acknowledging the limits of
the federal government’s abil-
ity to stop mass shootings
isn’t the end of the debate.
It’s the start of an honest one.
Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

An honest debate on
mass shootings starts
by admitting limits
to federal solutions.

MAIN
STREET

By William
McGurn

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