Guest columnist Rob Okun: An election letter to white male boomers

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Published: 10/9/2020 4:19:34 PM

Dear fellow white male boomers,

We need your help to end the presidency of Donald Trump. Even as he uses every dirty trick to cheat his way to a win, white male boomers must work to defeat him.

I went to college in the ’60s with a lot of guys who marched for peace and justice — like Craig and Lloyd, Herbie and Larry.  I know some of us stopped marching. Still, there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of us, ready today to vote Trump out of office.

This is more than New Left nostalgia talking; more than rosy memories of college peace buddies marching. I’m pulling a national fire alarm, fellow boomers; please hear its shrill cry. We are all needed on the justice bucket brigade now, every day between today and November — and likely beyond.

Consider: Trump won 62% of the white male vote in 2016, including 53% of white male college graduates. Many believe it is working-class white men who could make the difference in defeating Trump. A lot of commentators, myself included, wrote months ago about how those men chose Trump because he promised to revive the coal industry and jumpstart manufacturing. He lied; he didn’t.  

But today it is guys like my college buddies to whom I’m reaching out. Remember when we were marching against the Vietnam War 50 years ago? Those protests against the war — and for civil rights — were the soundtrack of our lives. (It would be a while before we recognized women’s rights, environmental protection and gay liberation as indispensable in our chorus of change.)

We were idealistic, railing against venal corporations like Dow Chemical, obscenely supplying the U.S. military with Agent Orange — the toxin U.S. forces used to defoliate that country’s jungles. They paid little regard to what it would do to both Vietnam and our soldiers. Cancer and painful deaths lay ahead for them; severe birth defects or worse for their children.

What happened, guys? If the fire of indignation at injustice didn’t go out, where did it go? If there was ever a time to feel the stirrings of our younger years, it is now. Our future is in too much peril to be more concerned with the stock market than the corner market.

Today, in the middle of a pandemic that Mr. Trump has so badly bungled — and hopes you’ll still overlook, despite his erratic behavior since contracting the coronavirus — we mustn’t turn away. More than 210,000 Americans dead cannot be forgotten. 

As the ’60s turned into the ’70s, a lot of boomers went for stability, seduced by the “American dream” — for many, often no more than a fantasy at best. Oblivious to our white male privilege — like fish not recognizing the water around them — we couldn’t see that what we described as a dream was frequently a nightmare for women and people of color at whose expense it was achieved.     

That was then, this is now. Guys, no matter where you come down politically (unless you are in the Proud Boys), this is the moment to stand with the multiracial coalition advancing the movement for Black lives that’s pierced the nation’s conscience — from Minneapolis to Louisville; Portland to New York. But if you’re not ready to stand with BLM, please stand in the voting booth to cast out Trump.

Craig, Lloyd, Herbie, Larry, I never doubted your conviction when we were marching. I’ll never forget our shared sense of purpose. It felt good to feel idealism coursing through our veins. We were stardust; we were golden. We believed our generation would usher in a new age and a communal, beloved community. Yes, the arc of the ’60s’ moral universe got a lot wrong, but we tried. Our arc always bent toward justice. Still does.

Now, as you think about the election, remember our time together and feel the sense of possibility again.

We are in a nationwide emergency. In solidarity with today’s astute, fire-in-the-belly younger generation — which seamlessly connects racial, climate, economic, immigrant and gender justice — they have improved on our vision. If we’re to make good on the promise of the ’60s’ best days, we have to step up now in these perilous ones.

Rob Okun writes about politics and culture. He is editor and publisher of Voice Male magazine. rob@voicemalemagazine.org.


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