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Donald Trump and His Boomer Base

Former U.S. President Donald Trump drives a golf cart at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, N.J., on Aug. 10, 2023.
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

When the obituary of the baby-boom generation is finally written, they’ll h…

Former US President and 2024 Presidential hopeful Donald Trump drives a golf cart during the Official Pro-Am Tournament ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 10, 2023. The LIV Golf Invitational Bedminster begins on August 11. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump drives a golf cart at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, N.J., on Aug. 10, 2023.

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

When the obituary of the baby-boom generation is finally written, they’ll have to mention Donald Trump in the very first paragraph to explain how a cohort that began with such idealism and promise turned so toxic.

The generation that took to the streets in anti-war protests and civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s and championed the environmental and women’s movements in the 1970s has now retreated to right-wing retirement enclaves in Florida, where Fox News is always on in the background. Boomers drove jam-packed VW vans in a haze of drugs to Woodstock; now they scoot around The Villages in golf carts festooned with Trump flags.

The boomer rallying cry of the 1960s was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Boomers today can’t stop whining about how young people are too “woke.”

I’m a baby boomer myself, and I no longer recognize my own generation. A big slice of white boomers are now living on hate. They hate nearly everything and everybody — even Disney and Taylor Swift! — because Trump and MAGA and Fox News have told them to. They hate books, vaccines, colleges, unions, corporations, cities, Hollywood, Broadway, the NBA and the NFL, Black people, brown people, and of course immigrants. They really hate immigrants. They are convinced that college professors and journalists secretly control America.

My generation has not aged well.

I blame Trump for the boomers’ weird transformation from a youthful progressive force into a tribe of right-wing conspiracy theorists. To be sure, there are plenty of boomers who haven’t succumbed to Trump-induced hate. But too many of us fell for him when he first emerged as a dangerous demagogue spewing racism and lies, and boomers have fueled his rise ever since.

White boomers have had a conservative streak since the Reagan era of “greed is good” in the 1980s. But Trump and his presidency sent the boomers’ rightward shift into overdrive, and many have gone all the way into the thrall of the MAGA cult. Trump brought far-right politics to the fore among his fellow boomers, playing on their fears of America’s growing racial diversity.

White boomers now make up a key segment of Trump’s base. He is a threat to democracy today mainly because so many in my generation are willing to hand him unlimited power. I find it depressing that people I grew up with have allowed their brains to curdle to the point that they are willing to abandon the democratic values that were central to the American society we boomers inherited.

From Huckster to Extremist

From the start, the extraordinary demographics of the boomer generation have set it apart. As American soldiers came home from World War II in 1945 after the defeat of Germany and Japan, they were eager to make up for lost time and start families. That created a sudden baby boom in 1946, a year after the war’s end. But the boom surprisingly continued for decades, as Americans, benefiting from sustained economic growth in the 1950s and ’60s, found they could afford to have larger families. Demographers have defined the boomer generation as the 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964, a period when the U.S. total fertility rate — an estimate of lifetime fertility — exploded from 2.49 children per woman in 1945 to a peak of 3.77 in 1957. (For comparison’s sake, the total fertility rate in 2022 was just 1.67.)

The millennial generation (those born roughly between 1981-1996) has now surpassed boomers as the largest living adult generation, but the boomers have certainly been one of the most politically dominant generations America has ever seen. There have now been four boomer presidents, including two from each major party: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump. (Joe Biden, born in 1942, belongs to the so-called Silent Generation, which includes those born between 1928 and 1946: the children of the Great Depression.)

Even with a Silent Generation president, boomers still hold sway over the American establishment. A generational power index, created in 2021 by the Visual Capitalist website, calculated the overall economic, political, and cultural power of each living generation, and found that boomers still ranked first with 43.4 percent of the nation’s economic power and 47.4 percent of political power. They only trailed in cultural power, where Generation X (1965-1980) led with 36 percent.

Donald Trump, born on June 14, 1946, was one of the first boomers. But unlike the fathers of millions of others born that year, Trump’s father, Fred Trump, did not fight in World War II. Instead, he profited from it by building and owning thousands of apartments that he rented out to war workers.

As the born-wealthy son of a New York real estate mogul, Donald Trump skipped the anti-war and the civil rights movements, and never shared the counter-cultural experiences of the 1960s and early 1970s that so defined the boomers’ coming of age. He was enamored instead of money and money-making and burnishing his own image, and his Scrooge-like tendencies would finally align him with the rest of his generation as boomers moved into their 30s and 40s in the Reagan era.

When Obama became the nation’s first Black president in 2008, boomer politics really began to warp into something ugly. By then, the oldest boomers were in their early 60s, and they proved susceptible to Trump when he began to transform himself from a corporate huckster into an extremist political figure who used conspiracy theories about the president’s birth certificate to gain right-wing notoriety.

White Backlash

Obama’s election was fueled by a diverse group of younger voters, while older white voters chose Republican nominee John McCain. In 2008, 51 percent of Americans over 60, a group that included the oldest boomers, voted for McCain; it was only the second election in 37 years in which older voters didn’t support the winner.

The growing racial and ethnic diversity that underscored Obama’s victory seemed to frighten these older boomers who had grown up in a much more homogeneous society. In 1980, when the oldest boomers were in their early to mid-30s and were coming into their own as adults, the U.S. was nearly 80 percent white; by 2023, white people made up less than 60 percent of the population.

The anti-Obama tea party movement in 2009 and 2010 claimed to be built around opposition to the president’s budget policies, but it was really a backlash by white boomers and other older white Americans against the rise of a more diverse and progressive society. By 2015, Gallup found that 44 percent of boomers identified as conservative, and only 21 percent as liberal.

The racial backlash grew and helped elect Trump president in 2016. The only age group that supported Trump that year were voters over 50. The oldest boomers turned 70 in 2016, and that year Trump had his biggest win among voters 65 and older. 

As president, Trump surrounded himself with other white boomers who had turned hard right: Roger Stone (born in 1952); Steve Bannon (born in 1953); and Michael Flynn (born in 1958), among many others. Despite Trump’s psychopathic and criminal behavior, despite the January 6 insurrection, two impeachments, and four criminal indictments, boomer voters have generally stuck with him.

I know that my parents’ generation, those who fought fascism overseas in World War II, would be ashamed that so many members of their children’s cohort are now willing to give in to fascism at home.

So many right-wing boomers today claim they want a return to the America we grew up in. If that’s true, they should remember that our parents and teachers also warned us about what the Nazis wrought in Europe just before we were born.  

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This content originally appeared on The Intercept and was authored by James Risen.

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