DANIEL VAUGHAN: An Older Generation Is Passing Away - We Should Honor Them Now

December 8, 2023

There's a changing of the guard happening across multiple industries and places in the world. I had this thought while reminiscing about the incredible career of TV producer Norman Lear. At one point in the 1970s, Lear was responsible for producing "All In The Family," "Sanford And Son," "Maude," "Good Times," and "The Jeffersons," and they were all running contemporaneously for a short time. And those are just the hits. He had a hand in numerous other shows and mentored countless stars in Hollywood.

His family said they sang the tunes of all the famous TV shows he created as he passed away. It's a different way to go, but fitting for the television legacy he leaves behind. While Lucille Ball and her generation invented the sitcom, Lear might be credited for being one of the people who perfected the formula. And if you didn't grow up on those shows, you probably saw them in syndication on channels like TV Land.

Last year ended on this kind of note, with Betty White passing away just a few weeks before her 100th birthday. Norman Lear caps this year in entertainment. But I've already written obituary columns in the last two weeks for Charlie Munger and Henry Kissinger, both giants in their fields. These are not the deaths of youth but of wisened old age. That's why I refer to it as a changing of the guard.

When I wrote of Kissinger, I mentioned that there was no one like him left. Charlie Munger was on that level, too, sitting there with Warren Buffett in the investing world. And Norman Lear wrote what feels like all of 1970s television and influenced countless others. These are the titans of their age passing away, and everything moves on to the next generation.

Time is the one constant here, and everyone counts it. We watch the highest and wisest of a previous generation pass away and wonder how we'll then make it ourselves. For the most part, each generation does that because new people rise up. Or there's a natural follow-up we can link ourselves to as the "next-in-line" person to follow.

There does seem to be something missing at this moment, though. A lack of the next person or thing we can all follow. Our politics is proof positive of that. For all the talk of how Barack Obama was a young leader, he is a baby boomer. The same as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, just born a little later than those two. And instead of a newer generation moving in after that, we've shifted backward to the silent generation, which came just after WWII's greatest generation.

I'd honestly thought that Bob Dole was the last of those two generations to be a significant play in politics. But here we are, keeping a hold of older generations because everyone understands everyone underneath, in both the Democratic and Republican Parties, isn't that great. Biden won the 2020 primaries because his party looked around at the other options, gagged, and pulled the lever for Biden.

In finance, you have the fad-chasing people running after options trading, crypto, and a million other get-rich schemes. That's the polar opposite of Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett's advice. They invested in real companies and turned over massive profits.

And in Henry Kissinger's case, he's the greatest geopolitical thinker of the last century. We're still debating the accuracy of his moves with China and other nations today. His shadow is inescapable on the international stage. No one seriously thinks that Blinken or anyone else in Biden's administration is close to that. And while I like Mike Pompeo, he's not near that level, either.

It leaves you with an inescapable question: looking at the lives of these great men, is our culture still capable of creating these types of people? Or are we building a society that prevents the creation of great men who answer in times of distress? That's the thing about time and life; there's always a crisis that has to be answered. That part you can't escape. But when no great leaders are available to answer the call when it comes, that's on the society.

The Founders had Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and more. Lincoln stood on top of history during his era. The WWI and WWII generations fought actual global conflict for the first time in history. There are plenty of eras between those major flash points where leadership looks terrible. The line of Presidents leading up to the Civil War is a rogue's gallery of some of the worst Presidents in all of US history.

Are we in one of those moments now? It's hard to say. But I can say this: we're losing the great ones of a previous generation, and there's precious little evidence we're replacing those losses. That bodes ill for the future. Fixing that problem now requires acknowledging the greatness passing away now. And we're losing a lot of that these days.

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