Riot of the Fiftysomethings
By Daniel Vollaro
When I watched the news footage of the Capitol insurrection in January, my first thought was “there are a lot of people around my age out there.”
I am 56 years old, born two weeks before the Baby Boom officially ended and Gen X began, right on the cusp of a new generation but unable to claim membership in either. Maybe because of this generational liminality, I could not help noticing that many of the insurrectionists who broke into the U.S. Capitol, stole stuff, took selfies, chased down and beat cops, built a noose outside, and trashed the place were white men “of a certain age,” in their late forties, fifties, and early sixties. Someday, researchers will pin down the demographics of that riotous mob, but for now, I will trust my powers of observation when I say that it was not a young crowd.
What were they doing out there, so many lost souls from my age cohort?
Full disclosure: I have never identified with Trumpism—not even a little, not even in jest. He sounded like a fascist when he descended those escalator steps in 2015 and he went out like a fascist five years later by summoning his brownshirts to sack the U.S. Capitol. I have always believed he was a con man and a person of low character, and I have never understood his appeal—the meanness, the trolling, the compulsive lying. I want to believe that my opinion of the man is shared by others who possess a rational perspective on the world, yet I have watched smart, well-educated people around my age tumble down the MAGA, QAnon, and “Plandemic” rabbit holes, descending into unfathomable depths of irrationality.
Like so many other Americans, I wonder how the insurrection could have happened. Some of the causes are obvious. The insurrectionists had been lied to and manipulated by powerful people in government, including President Trump. And there were the militias and hate groups and keyboard warriors who whipped up the crowd, in some cases organizing small groups to break into the building itself. Racism was another ingredient in the toxic mixture that day. Some white people, when the chips are down, fall backwards into believing that being white is a zero sum game, with winners and losers. Trump is a master manipulator of their sense of racial grievance.
But there is more to it. The anger, frustration, and alienation evidenced in that crowd is shared by many late middle-aged Americans who would never have gone near that demonstration. Despite the MAGA hats and the politically charged context, the Capitol riot felt to me more like the symptom of a spiritual crisis than a political one. And if a “spiritual” crisis sounds too fuzzy and granola for you, think of it instead as a crisis of meaning. A crisis of meaning revolves around existential questions: Where do I fit into this world order? Economy? Society? Culture? What is my life worth? My children’s lives? Like I said, I despise Trump and Trumpism, but I feel like I have lived inside of that kind of spiritual crisis for most of my life. Continue reading “Daniel Vollaro: “Riot of the Fiftysomethings””