Coronavirus Unmasks the Global War on Millennials | Opinion

We are seeing in the exploitation of the coronavirus by authoritarians in Asia, Europe and South America not only similar profiles of nationalistic rhetoric and isolationist tendencies, but also something much more nefarious. Each of these individuals—such as Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jingping, Hungary's Viktor Orban and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, among others—have something in common that transcends their words and actions.

What is it? Each one is a baby boomer.

Now, before you punch your desktop or mobile screen in disgust, let's be transparent here: I am a Millennial. Therefore, by virtue of my birth date, I am pre-disposed to negative thoughts about the way baby boomers have led our country and our world. In fact, in my 2014 book The War on Millennials, I wrote of the raw deal being inherited by American Millennials at the hands of baby boomers, political mercenaries and, to be fair, Millennials ourselves. But while that book was mostly domestic in focus, looking at how America handles economic, entitlement and international affairs, it has become evident to me that the war on Millennials is, in fact, a global phenomenon. And it only took a global pandemic for the truth to be unmasked.

Here's my case: Baby boomers, who came of age amid strife, tend to look at the geopolitical landscape in black and white. There are, in their view, only winners and losers. On the other hand, Millennials and our chronologically adjacent brethren, Generation X, were taught (by boomers, ironically enough) to speak truth to power, embrace individual thought and to look at the world as a win-win proposition. We want a world in which everyone can flourish and everyone can thrive. We don't want communities of haves and have-nots. We want to close the gap between the paupers and the prosperous. And we want global foes to reach diplomatic comity—or, at the least, a Nixonian détente.

It's these opposing generational perspectives, as well as the fact that boomers continue to represent the largest global voting bloc, that are fueling the rise of authoritarian rule across the globe and giving life to not only the weakening of democracies and democratic norms, but the generational warfare inherent within. With this as a backdrop, it may come as no surprise that the authoritarians of today's world are baby boomers, while the defenders of the order are members of Generation X, the slightly-less-hip predecessors of my generation and members of my Millennial generation.

In Russia, for example, the 67-year-old mastermind of disinformation, Putin, is orchestrating a social media campaign in at least five languages targeting European and American audiences in a coordinated effort that dates back to the virus' beginnings in late January. The goal, according to the U.S. State Department, is to "sow discord and undermine U.S. institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns." With November right around the corner, the timing could not be better.

In China, where the 66-year-old Xi has already abolished term limits to give himself the ability to serve for life, the government is working overtime to leverage global distraction to crack down on Hong Kong's autonomy and expand China's sphere of influence through donating desperately needed medical supplies to European and African countries. To add insult to injury, Xi and his government's initial refusal to transparently share information with countries they smugly refer to as "allies" likely led to the loss of countless lives. Why help friends out when your goal is to dominate them?

In Hungary, 56-year-old Orban used the pandemic to level up and declare emergency powers that give him unlimited power for an indefinite time. As if years of effectively destroying private media enterprise and decimating the independent judiciary wasn't enough.

And in Venezuela, the questionably legitimate regime of the 57-year-old Maduro, which already oversaw an economy with pre-coronavirus inflation of nearly 10,000 percent, is actively arresting anyone who dares to publicly criticize the government's inability to protect its people in the face of a public health crisis. Maduro is not one to be outdone by his authoritarian comrades.

In the non-boomer led nations, however, it's a whole different story altogether. These young leaders, rather than spreading misinformation, cracking down on political dissent, jailing enemies or pretending the virus does not exist, continue to promote and defend democracy as a hallmark global value. And when it came to coronavirus, they have each acted swiftly to protect their people.

Among them is Iceland, considered the second most democratic country in the world by the Economic Intelligence Unit, where the 44-year-old female prime minister implemented a strict "test, trace and isolate" plan to eradicate the virus from her island nation. To date, over ten percent of the population has availed itself of free coronavirus tests, leading researchers to discover that approximately half of positive cases come from asymptomatic individuals.

The fourth most democratic nation, New Zealand, is similarly run by 39-year-old female prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who is receiving the most praise of any world leader for her pandemic response. She immediately closed the country's borders and implored citizens to stay home. As a result, the country of 4.8 million has less than 1,200 confirmed positive cases and only 21 deaths.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. JULIEN WARNAND/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The recently elected Finnish prime minister, 34-year-old Sanna Marin, finds herself atop the government of the fifth most democratic nation, or what some call the "prepper nation of the Nordics." Without the need to frantically hunt down PPE, they were able to pivot to a voluntary antibody testing system to get a better handle on the situation. And rather than spread disinformation on social media, Finland utilized an army of 1,500 influencers to amplify useful information.

And who could forget Canada's Justin Trudeau? The 48-year-old international dreamboat is prime minister of the country tied for the seventh most democratic in the world. In cautious and measured tones, without a hint of authoritarian flare, he is regularly preparing Canadians for a long-haul economic and personal recovery, recently saying, "We're going to have to remain vigilant until such a time as a vaccine is found," despite people wanting to know "when things will go back to normal."

So, while the authoritarians are driven by self-interest, namely power, and are gleefully taking advantage of a once-a-century global pandemic, the more taciturn up-and-coming leaders are keeping their heads down and doing the work they were elected to do. A quaint concept in today's world, to be sure.

We are left then with the question: What do we do? There will come a time of generational reckoning. Either my Millennials, and our values-based partners both slightly older and barely younger, will join together to fully take the reins, or we will cede complete control to the autocratic baby boomers until the hourglass runs out. I prefer the former but fear the latter.

Pete Seat is a former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush and campaign spokesman for former Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Senator Dan Coats. Currently, he is a vice president with Bose Public Affairs Group in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is also an Atlantic Council millennium fellow and author of the 2014 book, The War on Millennials.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.