Check Your Assumptions

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Numbers are floating in mid-air right now. I can see them, almost touch them, certainly acknowledge that they exist. Some days I start out this way, trying to make sense of the nature of reality, and using numbers to do it.

That's how I ended up thinking that today is the 34th anniversary of a big moment. It's not, but I like to think about it. Just a little.

It was just the numbers. Wherever I started, I ended up ruminating on parents and children and realized that my daughter must have been conceived right around now, in terms of the calendar, 34 years ago.

I mean, I don't want to be gross about it, plop images in your brains you can't unsee. Just something I thought about, wondering about that particular spring. I was in rehearsals, I think, for my first Seattle acting job, although the details are fuzzy; it may already have happened, although I suspect it was the rehearsal stage. I was working all day at a local hospital, and then spending evenings in my director's apartment (in the building next door). Our marriage had been gestating for less than a full term at that point, just under 8 months, and it was shaky what with the move north and lack of family near, etc. But we apparently managed to make a human.

I say apparently. She's real and all.

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Also? BIG snowflakes outside my window at the moment, March 23rd, just before 9AM PDT. It's a day for making notes about numbers, then, maybe.

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The Five-Thirty-Eight crunchers unpacked a recent Pew poll on political party affiliation today, and pointed out the obvious and not so much.

I think I'd argue that political party picking is far more of a sorting phenomenon than it used to be, and I'm talking easily in my lifetime. Probably the last quarter of my lifetime.

It was the Democratic Party's mythic, now misty icon himself, John Kennedy, who mused aloud on the traditional aspects of party affiliation. He noted once that, if the world made perfect sense, he would have been a Republican and, as an example, Nelson Rockefeller would have been a Democrat. He made a good case. People tended to stick to their family when it came to this sort of thing, with plenty of exceptions but just in general.

And the parties were filled with bizarre figures by today's standards, at least in the GOP. The Republican Party, even by 1976, when I cast my first vote, had plenty of liberals, maybe slightly less wide-eyed and radicalized as some of their Democratic counterparts but still easily identified.

The Democrats have always had conservatives, of course. The Blue Dog coalition has been around for over 20 years now, and they seem well if diminishing. It's not hard to see the current realignment in real time, and to see the intellectual homogeneity that's coming if it's not already here.

But numbers don't lie. There are too many of us to ever be divided into homogeneous groups, and that's where the ass part of assumption comes in.

Over 50% of Democrats describe themselves as moderate or conservative. Nearly a quarter of Republicans are also attached to the moderate label. I have no idea what that term means to them, or to anyone, but we get the gist. Not them, and not them.

Majorities of both parties call themselves Christian, which also makes sense: Over 70% of the country refer to themselves that way. The nonaffiliated chunk is certainly growing, both in the parties and in the nation, but the ranks of believers are still sizeable and not particularly telling when it comes to politics.

This isn't hypocrisy, just a flattening out of our vision into nice, neat boxes of beliefs. There's plenty of ideological hypocrisy, of course (e.g., the "fiscal conservatives" have just gone on a massive spending spree at the exact time when most economists are raising eyebrows and vigorously shaking their heads at the timing). That's nothing new.

And, as the quants point out, it's still not that hard to tell the difference. Go to a Republican event and it might look an awful lot like a convention of the Aryan Brotherhood, while the Democratic one might resemble a politically-correct, comically diverse cable TV drama. You can pick them apart.

And while Democratic politicians often seem to me as though they've lost their way, and the Republicans their collective mind, those are politicians. Voters are real people, with real thoughts and opinions, and they don't always neatly line up.

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One snippet jumped out, although it was barely noted and seemed to be accepted as obvious. Not really, I think.

That fertilized egg is now 33, married, a business owner, a fierce mother of a diabetic 4-year-old, and the owner of a constantly-engaged mind that knows all about what's going on in this country, and is mad about it. She's rightly horrified by Trump and Trumpism, and what it means for the future, specifically her son's future.

And she blames old people, at least partly. She's right about that, too.

But she seems focused on Baby Boomers, and for good reason. Trump is literally a Boomer, if barely. So was George W. Bush. So was Bill Clinton. And bringing up the rear, but with Boomer bona fides, was Barack Obama, class of 1961, 15 years younger than his predecessors (and successor).

Kennedy was the first President born in the 20th century, the first of the GI Generation, followed by six of his cohorts (the next five of whom were actually older than JFK) before Clinton changed the guard.

And as I've noted before in this space, we're missing a generation when it comes to the executive branch. Eisenhower was born in 1890; the next in line was LBJ, born in 1908, followed by Reagan, Nixon, Ford, Kennedy, Bush and Carter, all (with some squinting) of the same "generation" (acknowledging the total bullshit that generational theory really is). Followed by the string of boomers, which may not be over yet.

It's an easy mistake to see the GIs begatting the Boomers. A lot of them did, actually. That's kind of the thing about Baby Boomers; they were born following the war, when the GIs came home and got busy procreating.

And, again with the big caveat that this is all fluffy nonsense, and hopefully sparing us the horror show of a Biden presidency (less of a horror than Trump, of course, but still; I love Joe, but his time has passed), the presidency is missing a cohort.

That would be the Silent Generation, of course, born roughly between 1927 and 1945. John McCain is a member, as is Uncle Joe. My mom is one, too. The youngest are scooting into their 70s and the oldest are nonagenarians now, and not one has been president. Missing in action, the Silents.

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But these are presidents we're talking about. Not real people. Not ordinary, anyway. Listen to Five-thirty-Eight:

Pew found a lot of trends that are unsurprising if you follow politics closely: Whites without college degrees and whites in the “Silent Generation” (ages 72-90) are strongly identified with the GOP, while whites with college degrees and millennials of all races are aligning with the Democrats.

As they say, no surprise. But it pleased me to see the obvious spelled out so...obviously. And in such a pleasant, self-serving way, too.

Because this is what I'd say to millennials who look to the Boomer generation as the cause of their political angst: Look harder. It's not really Mom and Dad. It's Grandma and Grandpa. Probably especially Grandpa.

You can't argue with demographics, as John Adams (sort of) noted. Once again, this is silliness, an artificial construct, but the numbers don't lie. The Democrats are definitely the party of young people, but nearly half of them were born before 1968. And the Republicans, as we all can see, are home base for the elderly, however you define that.

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Not that it matters. And not that I blame my daughter for pointing fingers at old people: So do I, so do I.

And old people are going to be, soon enough, Boomers. And Gen-Xers, the first of whom will turn 60 in six short years. By 2030, over 20% of the population will be over 65, including me and Barack Obama.

But until then, assuming we survive that long, it's helpful to know the numbers. And to remember that your mother is probably the most liberal person you know. So blame Grandma, not us. She's the one who voted for him.

Not your grandma. She's cool. The others.

 

Chuck SigarsComment