MY MIND IS SET–For Now At Least

by Tom McBride

This is the official Mindset List® Blog: Accept no substitutions! 


Every now and then I hear complaints that Baby Boomers have sold out because they support Donald J. Trump. How can the generation of peace and love (and sex and drugs and rock n’ roll) be in favor of such an authoritarian figure, an American Mussolini? Well, one answer is that not all Boomers were into sex and drugs back then. Another is that people grow more crusty when they get older. But here’s another answer: Among the elderly, Trump’s core support doesn’t come from Boomers but from the generation just before them: THE SILENT GENERATION.

“Silents” were born from the 30s to the mid-40s. They grew up mostly during the Eisenhower era (I’m technically a late Silent, though I like to call myself an early Boomer). And this was a great time in America, especially if you were white, male, and heterosexual. Jobs were plentiful. The US produced one third of the world’s economic output. It was a time of income equality, too–taxes on the rich remained high, going back to New Deal times. It was an obviously majority white, majority Christian nation. I look back on my time in a small Texas town as golden (except of course that we did have an apartheid: a black section of town and segregated schools).

This time was great in its way, but it isn’t coming back. It’s what the Silent Generation of Trump voters are yearning for. You can see some evidence here  If you’re 72 years or older, I hope I’ve not offended you!


It’s not clear whether or not this will ever happen, but let’s suppose it does. Let’s assume that Congress passes, and the president signs, a mean-tested bill that makes public higher education free for all students whose parents make less than $125,000 a year. This has actually been discussed.

Well, $124,999 dollars is not chicken feed even in today’s economy. From a statistical standpoint, students from backgrounds as affluent as that are likely to be very promising students, with good grades and test scores. This would seem to be a boon for public universities, who can now have their pick of well-prepped students and be able to get paid by the government for taking them in.

But there’s a problem. What if our public universities become the almost exclusive enclave of relatively well-off young people? If you come from a family that makes only 50 thousand dollars a year, you might not have the same higher test scores or grades, even though you’re still qualified to attend a good college. Of course you can go for free, too, but won’t universities just take the free-tuition students who have the better grades and scores?

One would hope not. One would hope that public universities would instead be able to say, “We didn’t accept you because you’re a person of color. We accepted you because you were qualified and your family made only 50 grand a year, and we think students are better educated if they mix with students from economically different backgrounds and we think state universities ought to serve a wide array of citizens.”

Thus might family income, not race or gender, become the new affirmative action.


There’s little point in trying to answer this question with abstractions, such as, “They hate young people because they’re young” or “They envy their freedom.” Of course both of those things are true, but it doesn’t get us very far. Old people have always disliked young people because they have energy and looks that oldsters have lost. It’s more useful if we focus on why people hate Millennials politically.

On the left the answer is that Millennials, until recently at least, have been saying that their idealism prevents them from voting for Hillary Clinton. These Millennials say that they’ve heard the siren call of the Piped Piper of Burlington, Vermont (Senator Sanders) and simply cannot cast their ballot for the corrupt status quo. When 25 year olds talk about non-support for Clinton–in a year when Americans might elect the first woman president and turn away a manifestly unqualified opponent–people on the left start to hate these moralizing young rebels. For them, HIllary is not a pioneering feminist but just another sell-out politician.

On the right it’s different. Conservatives hate Millennials because they’re liberal, and they also dislike them because of their high tech habits–surfing and selfies–which conservatives regard as shallow and trivial. Conservatives like standards, and Millennials don’t seem to have any. Well, so that’s why millions of older people hate Millennials. And what do the Millennials think about all this enmity? Who cares? They have youth on their side!


A few years ago I attended my son’s graduation from law school and was startled at how many of the graduates were women. I noticed the easy manner that my son and other male grads had with their female compatriots and had a sudden insight: “These young Millennial males are quite used to working with women.” And then I thought something else: “The ability to work well with women is almost a prerequisite of professional male success in the future.”

At Donald Trump rallies “Lock Her Up” is an ever recurring chant, and “Trump The Bitch” t-shirts sell quite well outside. This brings us to a delicate point. Trump voters are overwhelmingly male, and we might presume that they neither work with women much nor want to do so. This might also mean that they are not in our increasingly globalized, multi-cultural professions, such as law or medicine or accounting or programming or media, where women are becoming an increasingly larger percentage of workers. It might also mean that Trump voters aren’t as successful as the men–and women–in these fields of endeavor. I’m making some jumps here, but I will leave you wondering aloud if “capacity to work with women, and an interest in doing so” is not one index to how males are voting in this election. I don’t think most Millennials are interested in locking her up. They’re more interested in working with her.


A recurrent tension in our annual Mindset Lists is triggered by what the younger generation doesn’t know and doesn’t care about. In fact, due to popular demand we even wrote a book called The Mindset List of the Obscure, which celebrated all those Boomer touchstones that today’s Millennials have no interest in. This is also a parental woe. Parents have long looked down at their offspring and said, “You have no idea how much I’ve sacrificed for you.” And the child shrugs its shoulders and carries on in its usual preoccupied, disloyal way.

Millennials are disloyal. That’s because they’re young and awash in the latest information. They have little interest in how Ernic Kovacs (who?) was once a radical comedian or even how Hillary Clinton was a pioneering second wave feminist. Only a small minority of of them are Trump voters, angry that the country is disloyal to good hard-working white Americans. Yet this Millennial disloyalty is a good thing. Millennials are about our evolving future, not the grudges and sentimentalities of the past. Yes, they should know some history. But we don’t change and adapt by dwelling on the past. Millennials are disloyal–good for them and probably good for us. As Darwin would have said, “change, or die.”


Years ago at my college a couple of senior anthropologists asked a junior anthropologist what he thought about Wilbur Smith (not his real name) joining the Anthropology Department. The junior colleague thought for a moment and said, “Well, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Wilbur’s a psychologist.” This seemed obvious, but his friends the senior anthropologists were trying to save Wilbur’s job.

Bob Dylan didn’t need to have his job saved. But the Nobel Prize Committee gave a s ongwriter and singer one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards. What is literature? Let’s start with the obvious fact that literature is mostly read–not listened to or sung along with. After Dylan won the prize for literature, journalists hastily began to speak of his “challenging and intricate” lyrics, but they were unable to follow up. Go to Amazon or Google. How many books of interpretation do you find on Bob Dylan’s words as poems? Poetry is akin to music, but Shakespeare’s linguistic genius is evident even if he isn’t set to music. It’s spoken music. Dylan’s words need music. If there had been a Nobel Prize for “most influential songwriter,” and it had gone to Dylan, the award wouldn’t have been a fraud.


Older generations think the Internet ruins young people. Don’t they sit around all day fiddling with their smart phones? Aren’t they lazy surfers? Well, perhaps. But remember this: All that “on screen” time means that they are NOT doing other things, such as having illicit sex, stealing automobile hood ornaments (do they still make those), and sniffing super glue.

Of course they might get information about how to do these things, but I look at it this way: When I was a kid my parents were eager for me to sit quietly in my room and read books. That way, they said, I wouldn’t get into trouble. Well, the Internet is the greatest book of them all–nothing is better at inducing hormonal kids to sit quietly–somewhere–and stay out of mischief. You can spell “Morality” I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T!

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