May 30, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Problem No One Talks About

Whose interests stand in the way of a more perfect union? A majority of Americans over 50.

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The Washington Post followed up on President Trump’s so-called “zero-tolerance policy” regarding illegal border crossings. Nick Miroff reported this morning that the number of migrant children now in custody has risen to 10,773, a 21 percent surge from April that’s maxing out the government’s capacity to shelter them.

Miroff notes the figure does not tell us how many kids arrived by themselves compared to how many were taken from parents. Even so, it suggests an alarming number of children are being seized by agents of the state for no other reason than cruelty.

When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly ran the US Department of Homeland Security, he said that raising the cost of border crossing would act as a deterrent. By this way of thinking, the crueler the federal government is, the fewer will cross.

It’s not working. March saw a huge spike in border crossings, by children alone and by parents with children, some babes in arms. Given what we know about this president, we can expect him to demand that greater and crueler measures be taken.

Clearly, the president’s take-the-kids policy is morally wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate, and there’s the problem. Even after Trump’s gone, we’ll still have Americans who favor cruelty-as-policy. The future looks bright for Copy Cat Trumps in the Republican Party. The question is how to devise a political response to that.

But to answer that question we must ask: whose interests stand in the way of creating a fairer and more perfect union? There’s no avoiding it: It’s the boomers, those Americans born after 1946, the richest cohort to ever walk the face of the earth. A clear majority of Americans over the age of 50, a demographic that is more than two-thirds white, chose the candidate who said he’d get tough on “illegals,” ban Muslims and build a border wall. Boomers are the political problem no one is talking about, because those shaping the contours of national debate are themselves boomers.

Let’s change that. White Americans “who did not want to have immigrants or people of different races living next door to them were more likely to be supportive of authoritarianism,” according to a new study. Noah Berlatsky, who wrote about the research, said respondents were “more supportive of the idea of military rule, or of a strongman-type leader who could ignore legislatures and election results.”

It makes sense. It’s the story of America.

As the country grows more diverse, the political fight over who counts as an American, and who has a right to government action, intensifies. As tensions deepen and grow, those who most benefited from the expansion of democracy during the post-World War II years—boomers—are calling democracy into question, because the expansion now includes people who once had no claim to government action.

Obviously, “white American” includes me and every white person born after 1964, but anyone can do the math to surmise that wealthy aging white boomers represent the core of this drift away from democracy. And anyway, it’s important to identify whose interests are demanding that this president implement cruelty-as-policy if we are to devise a response to him and every wannabe strongman afterward.

Right now, the national debate presumes that polarization and hardening ideologies threaten democracy. Berlatsky offers a correction: it’s a particular kind of ideology threatening the American way of liberty and justice for all. I’m trying to put a face on that particular ideology at the risk of appearing to generalize all baby boomers.

(Image: courtesy of USA Today)

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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