The presidential summer of ‘46

We didn’t know it at the time, but the summer of 1946 has turned out to have been a rather significant season in American history. Between June 14 and Aug. 19 of that first postwar summer, three of the first Baby Boomers were born, and all three grew up to be president.

The last arrived first. Donald Trump was born in Jamaica, N.Y., on June 14 to Frederick Trump, a real estate developer, and Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, a Scottish immigrant who came to America at 18 and worked as a housemaid. 

Then, on July 6, George W. Bush was born in New Haven to George H.W. Bush, a Navy flyer turned Yale freshman, and Barbara Pierce Bush, the daughter of the publisher of Redbook and McCall’s, popular women’s magazines.

The last to arrive was William Jefferson Blythe, born to William Blythe III, a traveling salesman and Army veteran who died in an automobile accident in the spring of 1946, and Virginia Cassidy Blythe, a nursing student who had married Blythe not knowing he had three previous marriages, including a current one. 

William Blythe later took the name of his mother’s next husband, Roger Clinton and, as William Jefferson Clinton, became president in 1993, to be succeeded by George W. Bush in 2001 and Donald J. Trump in 2017. (Barack Obama was also a boomer, born on the other end of the generation in 1961, just missing membership in Generation X.)

Before these multiple presidential births in the same summer, only two pairs of presidents had been born in even the same year, Ulysses Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes in 1822 and Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, more than a century later, in 1924.

But it is altogether fitting and proper that the first members of our most populous generation, the boomers, would break that record. This aging generation broke a lot of records and is going to end its reign by becoming the largest, most demanding, expensive generation of old folks the nation has ever seen. A huge special interest group that will want and get more from government than their forebears ever dreamed of.

Those in the generation that spawned most of the boomers — the Depression-hardened Greatest Generation — never asked for much but were rewarded with the G.I. Bill of Rights that educated millions of them and created a strong middle class in the United States. But that generation, born between 1901 and 1924, is no longer great in numbers, with only 3.7 million remaining in 2016. 

The Silent Generation, the so-called Depression babies born between 1925 and 1945, was small at the start, and only about 28 million of us remain. (This is the generation that failed to produce even one president but it’s still apparently trying. See “Sanders, Bernie, 1941–”).

But the boomers continue to boom. There are 75.5 million making their presence felt, and not only in the presidency. They are the first generation to have accepted a higher standard of living than their parents as a divine right, and they show no indication of abandoning that thought as they age. As a result, their care and maintenance will become increasingly expensive, no matter who controls the presidency and/or Congress.

As we noted in this space last week, the nation’s debt already is at 77 percent of the economy, or gross domestic product, a number not approached since the immediate postwar years when we were sending the greatest generation off to college while paying for a war and rebuilding Europe.

And now, with ever more members of the Bush/Clinton/Trump generation beyond retirement age, and their demand for everything from Social Security payments to health care growing, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the debt to reach 89 percent of the GDP by 2027.

Of course, there’s the possibility that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was right when he assured us in April that the Trump tax cuts will grow the economy by creating trillions in additional revenues.

But what if it doesn’t? What if, as some economists warn, some national emergency — a great war or a natural or man-made disaster — intervenes?

The emphasis on lowering tax burdens while not having to cut spending — even spending more — will always be very appealing. Getting something for nothing is always wonderful as long as it lasts.

But, again, what if it doesn’t? 


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.