He Wrote the Book on Boomers, and He Thinks the Gen Z Rap Against Them Isn’t Quite OKHistorians in the News
tags: books, baby boomers, generations
note: Leonard Steinhorn is a member of the HNN Advisory Board.
When Leonard Steinhorn hosted Thanksgiving at his Logan Circle apartment in November, a friend and fellow baby boomer surprised the 20-somethings in attendance with special gifts: T-shirts printed with the viral put-down “OK boomer.” Generation Z’s mocking dismissal of out-of-touch old people had ricocheted across the Internet earlier that month, and playing it up in front of Steinhorn doubled as a good-natured inside joke: The longtime American University communication professor, and author of the 2006 tome “The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy,” is perhaps the nation’s biggest boomer booster.
Teens on TikTok may resent Americans born between 1946 and 1964 for failing to act on climate change and leaving behind economic inequality—Steinhorn acknowledges this “unfinished business” — but he still believes that his age cohort is unfairly maligned. “Boomers have been the villains ever since the 1980s,” the 63-year-old Steinhorn told me when I called him for an interview, “in large part because boomers changed an America their elders didn’t want to see changed.”
Starting in the 1960s, he explains, the generation ushered in a cultural revolution that brought about historic strides in racial justice, feminism and gay rights. Boomers “turbocharged the environmental movement” with the first Earth Day in 1970 and replaced the conservative “culture of conformity”—which had prevailed in the 1950s—with the liberal “live and let live” norms of “baby boomer individualism,” norms that have persisted and proliferated to the present. Steinhorn welcomes criticism from younger generations—“We can take it,” he says gamely—but argues that “millennials and Gen Z are living those social norms boomers made possible.”
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