Is the Biden Presidency The Final Triumph Of The Silent Generation?, Econospeak, Barkley Rosser
The who? Never heard of them? Or never heard from them? More like the latter. After all they have not been called “Silent” for nothing.
Yes, it seems that we alternate generations between large noisy ones and smaller quieter ones. The Greatest Generation survived the Great Depression and won World War II, and they certainly let everybody hear about all that a whole lot. Two generations has been mine, with me a front end boomer, and we have certainly boomed plenty, much to the annoyance of many other generations. Two generations after that we have the noisily whiney millennials, although I grant that they have had some unpleasant things happen to them so not totally without grounds for some of their whining.
In between the Greatests and boomers came the Silents, with poor ironic Gen X stuck between the boomers and the millennials, although I think the Gen Xers have been noisier than the Silents. And now we have Gen Z coming up, who do not seem all that silent, alhough maybe not quite as self-righteously noisy as the millennials.
So what about those silent Silents? Well indeed Joe Biden is one of them, and I think our first president to be one. Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, and Trump were all boomers, although Trump just barely. Prior to Clinton they were all Greatests after Eisenhower. The Silents never got a chance. And so far Biden is not doing too badly.
Curiously I had a prominent Silent give a seminar virtually at my university this past week, Mr. Social Capital, Robert Putnam, who turned 80 in January. He spoke on his new book, The Upswing: How the Progressives Worked Together and Maybe We Can Too. He shows on a variety of categories, political, economic, social, cultural a pattern that he labels the “I-we-I” pattern, whereby there was an increase in solidarity and “we orientation,” cooperation, social capital, equality, and so on from the 1890s to roughly the 1960s, some variables peaking in the 50s and economic equality peaking in the 70s, but most peaking in the 60s. Since then we have basically gone down hill to an “I” orientation of greater inequality and polarization and unhappiness and low social capital, and on and on and on.
In the discussion he pinpointed cultural shifts as crucial and noted especially shifts in the mid-60s, even noting the contrast in themes of the early folkish Bob Dylan with his civil rights songs to the later electronic Dylan with his more personalistic emphasis, and supposedly a similar shift with the Beatles, especially when they broke up. This peak of “we” and the move towards “I” coincided with the rise of the boomers.
I had heard him once before specifically highlight the virtues of the Silent generation, his generation. So the Greatests had lots of “we” orientation with all their achievements. But they had this dark side of being racists and otherwise highly prejudiced. By the time you get to the boomers and later, the levels of prejudice are much lower, but one gets this alienating emphasis on the “I.”
Which makes the Silents the golden mean, still following the “we” focus of the Greatests, but the first generation to see a substantial reduction in racism and prejudice. So maybe this is why Biden is doing so well, and maybe he is the president to set off the upswing back to more of a less polarized “we” orientation.