As a charter member of the Baby Boomers, born in 1947, I feel like I should start the New Year by apologizing to the generations who are succeeding me — Gen Xers, Millennials, etc.

We Boomers have left them quite a mess to clean up — climate change, which threatens human existence; economic inequality, political corruption and disinformation, which threaten democracy; and the deterioration of America’s international leadership, which threatens world peace and stability.

By the time my generation saw the light of day, our parents had persevered through the Great Depression and fought to victory in World War II, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As a result, we inherited the blessings of a country that was enjoying unprecedented peace and prosperity, international prestige, stable democracy, respect for the institutions of government, education and science, and boundless optimism. It was billed as the “American century.”

As a generation, we were brimming with self-confidence and reforming spirit. We felt we could change anything, and, indeed, we changed much. But in many ways, we’re leaving our country and our world far worse than we found it.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, between 1980 and 2020 combined ocean and land temperatures increased at an average rate of .32% Fahrenheit per decade for a total of about 1.3 degrees. Climate scientists almost universally agree that this warming trend is the result of human activity, primarily due to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels since the mid-20th century, creating a heat-trapping “greenhouse effect.”

If we continue at the present rate — emitting about 11 billion tons of metric carbon into the atmosphere per year — global temperatures by the end of this century are predicted to be 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average for 1901 to 1960.


The impact of the greenhouse effect is already evident. It’s increasing temperature extremes, reducing snow cover and glacial ice, intensifying rainfall and drought, changing plant and animal habitat ranges, and raising sea levels. TV weather forecasters no longer just predict whether tomorrow will be sunny or rainy but whether meteorological disasters will devastate whole regions.

Little has been done nationally or internationally to stem, let alone reverse, this trend. Successive UN climate conferences have set targets to reduce carbon emissions. Yet the targets have been too low to solve the problem and, in any event, have never been met. Even with increasingly sophisticated technologies available to replace fossil fuels and recapture carbon already in the atmosphere, the political will has been lacking in the U.S. to take action. Consider, for example, former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords of 2015 and Congress’ failure to pass the green-energy programs contained in President Biden’s 2020 Build Back Better Plan.

Instead, the climate change banner is being held aloft by young people who, recognize their own survival is at stake. Shame on my generation for not having taken the lead a long time ago.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, when I was of school age, it was largely accepted that our democratic institutions were bedrock solid. There were, of course, flaws. Corrupt big city machines, like those in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago, controlled voting blocs and political appointments in major urban areas. In the South, segregation excluded Blacks from the ballot. In Congress powerful, long-tenured committee chairmen controlled legislative agendas. Yet there was still a seemingly unshakeable faith in the institutions of government and the efficacy of government to conduct the people’s business and solve their most pressing problems.

When the Pew Research Center began asking about public trust in government in 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time. Since 2007, that number has not exceeded 30%. Currently 36% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they can trust government, while only 9% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents do.

Not only has trust in government eroded, but many Americans actually see their own government as the enemy. A 2016 Pew survey found that over one in four registered voters felt government was the “enemy of the people.” Small wonder that Capitol Hill, the physical and symbolic heart of our democracy, was the scene of an insurrection Jan. 6, 2021.


To be sure, the federal government has done much to fritter away trust. Long futile wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the Watergate and Iran-gate scandals, 9/11, the War on Drugs, and secret government electronic surveillance of Americans are just a few examples.

But the prime mover has been big money interests that have spent decades and billions of dollars propagating the myth that government is bad in order to diminish its influence, reduce taxes and eviscerate regulations that protect public health and safety. And, yes, we Boomers let that happen too.

Finally, the elaborate multilateral relationships established after World War II to maintain global peace and stability and to prevent a wholesale return of the aggressive dictatorships that had plunged the world into world war have been fraying on our watch — along with America’s leadership.

The international scene is probably as dangerous as at any time since the 1930s and ’40s, when Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy employed massive military force to expand their power and territory. Today the resurgent autocratic superpowers of China and Russia have become increasingly menacing on the world stage

The U.S., still the world’s most powerful democracy, should be leading the pack to check their ambitions. But under former President Trump, according to a 2018 Pew Survey, 70% of the 25 countries canvassed had no confidence in the American president to do the right thing. Foreign policy experience used to be a routine part of a presidential candidate’s resume. Trump’s never extended beyond the Miss Universe contest, and he demonstrated a dangerously unstable personality to boot. Yet my generational cohort voted for Trump in 2016 by a margin of 53 to 44 percent. Again, our bad!

I doubt that apologies from my generation would count for much at this point, even if we knew who to apologize to. What we can do, however, is to resolve to use our numbers, experience and influence to work to improve things for the generations that are inheriting this country and this planet.

Elliott Epstein is a trial lawyer with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 15 years, analyzes current events in an historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child,” a book about the notorious 1984 child murder of Angela Palmer. He may be contacted at

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