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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Future success means giving the younger generations room to lead

Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her farewell speech spoke more truth than she may have intended. “The hour has come for a new generation to lead.” She was referring to stepping down from leading the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives, but the sentiment applies to the entire culture, including the 2024 field of presidential candidates.

Pelosi is part of the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945. So is President Biden. So are 11 U.S. senators and 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s way past time for the octogenarians to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

But it’s the Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 who dominate, accounting for 68 Senators and 229 Representatives. The 117th U.S. Congress was the oldest , with a median age of 60 at a time when the country has a median age of 38.

It’s a classic setup for a succession failure. The surest way to compromise a multigenerational farm is for Grandpa to keep on making all the decisions, while his adult children and grandchildren grow increasingly discouraged and drift away. A smart farmer starts handing over the reins while he’s still around to advise and knows when it’s time to play more golf.

That was the image that came to mind when the New York Post trolled Donald Trump last week with a front page below the fold banner “Florida Man Makes Announcement – Pg 26” and referred to him as an “avid golfer.” Trump is only 6 months shy of being part of Biden’s Silent Generation, just barely making it into Boomer ranks with a June 1946 birthday. And it’s time for him to play more golf.

Trump’s presidential campaign announcement fell flat across a lot of media last week, but he still has fans. One boomer on Facebook responded to the suggestion it was time to hand over the reins by scoffing at the abilities of the next generations to pick them up. Gen X? Still flitting through life. Millennials? They get their news from TikTok. Gen Z? What the heck are they even doing? Well, they aren’t discussing politics with the Boomers still hanging out on Facebook.

If they aren’t ready, whose fault is that? Looking at us, boomers.

Every election in this century, pundits write pieces bemoaning a lack of enthusiastic participation by young people in elections. It shouldn’t be a surprise. They haven’t been brought into the process.

There’s a growing movement (OK, full disclosure here, I’m trying to start a movement) to pledge never to vote for anyone over 70. In the age where expressing an opinion makes you some kind of an “ist,” I’ve been called “ageist.” I’m not quite 70 yet, but I can see it from here, so that attempt at a slur is in itself ageist. I’m definitely an “opinionist,” and in my humble opinion we have a problem coming if we don’t make room for the next generation to start picking up responsibility.

It’s not just a political problem, it’s a problem in every civic institution we rely on for a healthy community. It’s often easier for the old hands to keep making out the schedule or taking care of business at the neighborhood council or the fire district or any local community organization, but we really do need to wake up all hands and get them on deck. Too often an older generation doesn’t realize the only way for the next generation to step up is for them to step back.

The tension can break out in a hostile takeover of the Thanksgiving turkey preparation by a frustrated millennial, or a dismissive eye-roll from a boomer over a pie that’s just wasn’t as good as Grandma could bake. Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving Day experience embraced both long-standing tradition and the beginning of new ones. That beginning piemaker will get better with practice, given space and support to try.

Boomers need to start making room, like the old farmer finally letting the “kids” start making decisions. Pelosi stepping down sets a good precedent for the 2024 presidential field of candidates. And to the avid golfer from Florida who made an announcement last week – sit down, boomer.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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