Fear comes in vintages. Each generation has its gut-check moment that defines all that comes after.
The global pandemic of 2020 will work that way on everyone under 50, but my bet is that it is particularly haunting for those approaching the winter of their lives.
Many of today’s decision makers in America are of the Vietnam protest era, including President Donald Trump, born in 1946; Anthony Fauci and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both born in 1940, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former vice president Joe Biden, who would take the controls from Trump, both born in 1942. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is the child among them, born in 1950.
Most don’t remember World War II, but they all heard a lot about it and the Great Depression, and they can recall the Cold War, with its duck-and-cover drills in full. Being scared a lot no doubt scarred them all at least a little.
Just a few years, but an entire cultural era behind, come Vice President Mike Pence, born in 1959, and Deborah Birx, born in 1956 (the “blessed year,” I call it, “the best year ever to have been born,” which I can defend at length some other time). Not for the mid- to late-boomers any of the anxiety-laden years of the Cuban missile crisis or worrying about the draft and being dispatched to southeast Asia. The cut-off from anxiety after age 18 comes for those born around 1953. Arrive in that year or later, and you or your friends weren’t going to be drafted.
Other fears clobbered the younger set. AIDS and its deep pall hit all the boomers hard as friends and family grew sick and many died.
But the politically powerful people named above hail from a generation that was reared in fear. Most of that age cohort are connoisseurs of dread.
They did not live this long to die before their time and in a random way, struck down by a mysterious viral enemy they cannot see. Much older now than in their heyday years, they are again playing roulette with an invisible enemy.
As young people, old people menaced them. As old people, young people do. Their parents voted in presidents who sent them or their friends to southeast Asia. Their kids have children who are asymptomatic balls of kryptonite.
By and large, they are not warriors. They are not a “greatest generation,” though some among it are heroes. They are most definitely of a piece. The date stamps on our entrance tickets are a mix: 1956 was a good year to step on stage; 1941, not so much.
Print Headline: Connoisseurs of dread