Why do we keep electing people who are twice as old as the average American?
Even without COVID-19, the age gap between our top elected leaders and the average American is concerning.
The news that the president and first lady tested positive for COVID-19 made much of the recent events feel like ancient history. October surprises will be a daily event this cycle, 2020 being what it is.
Joe Biden has gotten the all-clear, for now, and Donald Trump, hopefully, will be back to full strength soon.
In a way, America has been fortunate considering the advanced age of both candidates and nearly all of our leaders. People over 70 face the highest risk from the novel coronavirus; we’ve been lucky more politicians haven’t succumbed.
There are few young people at the top
In a nation with a median age of 38.4, the two presidential nominees are twice that at 74 and 77. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is 78, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 80.
Pelosi’s lieutenant, James Clyburn, is also 80, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is 69. The median age of the Supreme Court is over 65. All of these leaders are past retirement age.
The only major Washington figures not included in this cohort are the House minority leader and whip, who are in their mid-50s. Everyone else likely would be a pensioner if they lived in the private sector.
This isn’t an ageist argument; heaven knows, I’ll be there soon enough — if I’m lucky. But it’s not a great idea for a representative government to be dominated by a group that’s three to four decades older than the average American.
We wish all of these people fine health and 100 more years. Yet it is concerning to see our democracy evolve into a gerontocracy. Our political culture would be more innovative, forward-thinking and problem-solving if a wide range of generations were represented at the top.
Even without COVID, this is concerning
Baby Boomers get a lot of flak for dominating U.S. culture, business and politics since the 1970s. But Biden, McConnell, Pelosi, and Clyburn are pre-boomers, belonging to the Silent Generation. The last three were potty-training before the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
If Biden wins in November, he will have reached the average life expectancy just in time for his inauguration. He’ll be the oldest president ever to take office, a record currently held by Donald Trump.
Even without COVID-19, this is concerning.
Anyone who watched Biden as vice president knows that he’s lost several steps. Since the 2020 campaign began, he regularly loses his train of thought, mangles common words and appears adrift.
Focus on the poor, not the rich:From Trump on down, people of means have shaped our COVID-19 experience. That must change.
While Trump has been more physically energetic, his detractors have consistently pushed rumors that he’s also in mental decline. “If Donald Trump were your father,” psychologist John Gartner wrote, “you would run, not walk, to a neurologist for an evaluation of his cognitive health.”
America’s come a long way. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had an average age of 40. Put all the U.S. presidents together and you’ll get an average age of 55.
Diversity in age should matter, too
It’s not like voters didn’t have other choices.
In 2016, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and Govs. Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker were all in their mid-40s. This year’s Democratic field offered four candidates in their 40s and two in their 30s.
They say with age comes wisdom, but that’s in short supply around the Beltway. Congress refuses to legislate, using problems as ammo for the next election cycle. Trump and Biden snipe at each other and flatter their base instead of reaching out to the massive group of Americans who identify as independents or who’ve totally checked out of politics.
Perhaps in 2024, we’ll consider a diversity of ages to be as much of a strength as diversity in gender and race.