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


If you want a detailed, data-driven, vivid story of how baby boomers changed America and a little preview of what might come next, Philip Bump’s “The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power. America” ​​is so. Generational analyzes can often be tepid and reductive, with cherry-picked numbers propped up to support a clean narrative (rich and venal boomers mock us (all; avocado-toast-eating millennial snowflakes have woken up). Bump, a national columnist for The Washington Post, offers the opposite: the deep and complex questions of his subject, often challenged his ideas, with clear predictions of what could happen – all shown in charts and visualizations to drive the huge amount of data home.

No one can accuse Bump of keeping track (and he hasn’t kept up with the charts, which appear in abundance and which I found to be very useful – in true millennial fashion, I I took pictures of a few of them, and plan to upload them to Instagram once this review is published). As baby boomers enter the last few decades of their lives, an influential generation like theirs deserves a closer look.

To give readers a clear sense of how influential the boomers have been, Bump borrows an analogy from some of America’s most infamous generations chroniclers: When the boomers entered on earth, it was like a “python swallowing a pig.” From tip to tail, the boomers changed everything: When they were born, “America shut its jaw, for the better,” Bump writes, “‘ and the pig began to move through the system.”

Baby boomers caused a huge increase in diaper sales. America’s school systems had to rapidly expand classrooms and hire large numbers of new teachers to make room for the influx of new boomer students. Although baby boomers spent most of their lives benefiting from a stable economy, Bump notes that their presence helped generate that prosperity: They were a group of unprecedented size. in existence, whose basic need to be clothed, fed, sheltered and educated has been for decades. -a long-term job creator and economic stimulator. And it was a group whose size and time spanned – not just after World War II, but decades into the era of industrialization, government investment, and a growing middle class. power – which meant cultural and economic control for most of their lives. As teenagers, boomers saw their desires satisfied by retailers who had just discovered that young people with fewer obligations and less disposable income were a large consumer group. . Now, as adults and retirees with less responsibility and a a lot of disposable income, boomers continue to hold a large share of America’s wealth and the consumer power that goes with it – and in turn, boomers’ products and services are prevalent, the trend no doubt he will continue as they enter their sunset years.

The government also prepared the boomers’ entry into the world with significant investments in infrastructure and education, and now it has prepared their exit with huge entitlement costs.

This is a book about generations – especially one generation, the generation that created the concept of “generations” – but it’s also a book about race, with Bump at the center of generational discord.

Most of the champions born in the United States were White, and that created the politics of that generation. They have become the Browner generation due to migration, but they remain Whiter than millennials and Gen Zers (and yes, Whiter than the comparatively younger Gen X, the oft-overlooked Jan Brady of generational wars). Generational differences are a big part of the racial divide, Bump argues, with White boomers clinging to past cultural hegemony where, their music and movies and tastes dominated, but where they saw people who look, live and believe like them. almost everywhere in that music, those movies and theaters.

This is not all boomers, of course. But there are many of them. When looking at the data on boomers, conservatism and race, Bump writes: “No matter where the arrow is pointing, it’s usually that boomers are white and whites are Republicans and Republicans mostly boomers. None of these statements are equally true, but the Venn diagram of the three has many connections.”

It is White’s concerns, he argues, that animate boomer conservatism. And it is these white anxieties and the conservatism they fuel that often turn boomers against the younger, more racially diverse and better educated generations, causing young people – including whites among ‘them – more liberal and forward-looking.

Now, as the years of boomer rule wan, one question Bump wants to answer is: What’s next?

The short answer is that no one really knows. The list of uncertainties includes, according to Bump: “How long will the baby bomb last?” “How will climate change improve the country?” and “How can American democracy itself be threatened?”

This lack of overconfident forecasting is a relief. Throughout the book, Bump is an honest, reliable narrator who relies on complexity and refuses simple or singular explanations (this influence does not make “The Aftermath” on the beach well, but it does make it instructive); to conclude by telling us that he can predict how all this will turn out would be to violate the trust he has established along the way.

Instead, Bump tells us what he is certain of – that the boomers’ aftermath will be a historic event that shakes society, like the fall of Rome – but emphasizes that it could take several different paths. that the boomers themselves are going. end up being more responsible for their legacy.

He writes: “The American economy after the baby boom, after all, will be greatly influenced by the choices that the boomers make until then. “It will be affected by the choices that the boomers make. about how they spend their retirement and how they pass their wealth on to younger Americans. But it will also be a function of the political decisions that are being made, decisions that will still have boomer fingerprints.

For boomers, the future is a mixed bag, but it doesn’t look too bleak. “As the baby grows, we can expect to see several patterns emerge,” Bump writes. He says those trends will include increased income inequality, more consumer debt problems, Social Security resources and health care problems.

However, for those born after the baby is born, it is more difficult. Bump rightly identifies “one of the central conflicts” as the fact that “young Americans see rightly and accurately how America’s political structure is defined by a class, which is still largely made up of baby boomers, who don’t look like them or show them. worries.”

What will the country look like with the boomers, who have dominated American politics for nearly 40 years on this earth, out of power? What happens when the largest generation of adults – millennials – takes over? Millennials are very different from boomers in several big ways, including our ethnic identity, 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 well aware of the task ahead. “What we can say with great confidence is that the America the babies were born into is gone and that the America they built is collapsing,” Bump writes. “The uncertainty is whether America is replaced by ashes or, again, a phoenix.”

In other words: What happens to a python after a pig walks through its system? Out of curiosity, I used Google. Unfortunately, the search results for “What happens when a python swallows a pig” come from questionable sources, especially YouTube videos with titles like “THE SNAKE IS EATING OUR SKIN!” and “I FEED MY SNAKE A BARGAIN!!!!! But another story appeared in the only critical source (Daily Mail) which, despite the headline (“Reptile DEATH match”), seemed to be instructive: X- the ray of a Burmese python eating an alligator shows that the snake’s body is developing rapidly. very good adaptations to receive prey in its stomach. “Each meal causes a significant increase in metabolism, an increase in cell activity and cell growth,” one scientist wrote summarizing the Burmese python’s digestive physiology. “After digestion is completed, these postprandial responses are thrown back; joint function is reduced and the cells develop osteoporosis.”

In short, the snake goes back to normal – unless it is attacked by a predator when it sits very still because of its gluttony. But, most of the time, he ends up doing just fine.

Jill Filipovic is a journalist, lawyer and author of “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.”

The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America

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