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Has The U.S. Deteriorated Into A Gerontocracy-- And Does That Presage A National Decline?

The new YouGov poll for CBS News had 5 questions about age. 77% of registered voters say there should be age limits for elected officials. Once politicians reach the age of 70, three-quarters of U.S. voters think they shouldn’t be allowed to run again. Here are some politicians, almost each delusional and convinced they are indispensable, that would cover:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 90

  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) 89

  • Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA)- 86

  • Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ)- 86

  • Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)- 86

  • Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY)- 85

  • Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)- 85

  • Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- 84

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)- 83

  • Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC)- 83

  • Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL)- 82

  • Bernie- 82

  • Rep. John Carter (R-TX)- 81

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)- 81

  • Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)- 80

  • Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA)- 80

  • Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)- 80

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)- 80

  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)- 80

  • Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)- 80

  • Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL)- 78

  • Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV)- 72

  • Joe Biden- 80

  • Señor Trumpanzee- 77

  • Janet Yellen- 76

  • Așa Hutchinson- 72

  • Tom Vilsack- 70

Almost 150 members of the House are 70 or above. 43 of them are 75 or older. More than a third of senators are over 70 and 16 of them are over 75 years old. Do they have the mental and physical stamina to do the job? Some do; some don’t. Look, some of them are going to be more likely to make mistakes and may not be up to the pace of the job. Additionally, older politicians may be more out of touch with the needs of younger generations— like the urgency of the Climate Crisis. For every Bernie, there are half a dozen Dianne Feinsteins or Virginia Foxxes.

So, how can the question of age be dealt with fairly and effectively? The obvious answer is for voters— who don’t have the capacity to do anything I’m about to suggest— to consider each individual on their on its own merits, while keeping in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Voters need to look at the politician's age, health, and mental acuity, as well as their experience and qualifications. So how do we do that? One way is to have a thorough screening process for all candidates, including a physical exam, a mental health evaluation and an interview with a panel of experts. The results of this screening process could then be used to help voters make an informed decision about who to vote for. The problems are obvious here. Experts, for example, warned voters that Trump has very severe mentally illnesses, including malignant narcissism and 74 million voted for him anyway.

Another way to handle this is to just have an arbitrary system of term limits for politicians. This would mean that politicians would have to step down after a certain number of terms, regardless of their age and it might help ensure that there’s a fresh supply of ideas and leadership in government.

Yesterday, Frank Bruni penned a column that reminded Times readers that Biden isn’t the only presidential candidate whose shelf life has passed. “How,” he asked, “would we even notice Donald Trump’s lapse into incoherence, when derangement is essentially his brand? Pretty much any interview he gives is a babble bonanza, and his recent lovefest with Tucker Carlson was no exception. He went on wacky tangents, including one about the wages of building the Panama Canal: ‘We lost 35,000 people to the mosquito. Malaria. We lost 35,000 people. We lost 35,000 people because of the mosquito. Vicious. They had to build under nets. It was one of the true great wonders of the world. One of the nine wonders,’ he added, then corrected himself. ‘No, no, it was one of the seven.’ Seven, nine— he seemed unable to decide, unwilling to commit. ‘You could make nine wonders,’ he ventured. I guess that’s some limit. Once you hit 10, they’re just curiosities. Wonder-ettes.”

But was there a bevy of headlines about a brain ravaged by time? Were there notations that Trump, at 77, was already as old as Ronald Reagan at the end of his presidency, and that after another four years in the White House, Trump would be a touch older than Biden at the end of his first term and thus the oldest president ever?
Most certainly not. And that’s both noteworthy and troubling, because we can’t know— really know— that Biden’s occasionally prolonged, futile search for the right word or name is firmer evidence of cognitive fade than Trump’s hallucinatory musings are.
…Trump is a mere three years younger than Biden, and he’s overweight. His diet is garbage. His cardio is golf putts. Biden, on the other hand, is a trim tribute to regular exercise.
And Trump diverts attention from his age by going to significant lengths to conceal it.
A thought exercise: Imagine Biden with more hair— or at least some swooping, swirling, painstakingly contrived facsimile of more hair. Color it a shade of orange-gold that’s less a sneaky evasion of gray than a desperate pummeling of it. Now get to work on his face. Cloak his age spots under a fake tan. Spackle his wrinkles with makeup. Then dress him in suits so dark and baggy that they veil time’s toll on the body they’re tenting.
…With Trump, it is always thus: The frequency of his outrages and volume of his vices guarantee that no single flaw stands out as it should. It’s just another ingredient in a gumbo of God-help-us.
We should also bear in mind that all the hints of Biden’s feebleness are amplified by a larger narrative of older politicians clinging to power despite their obvious physical deterioration. Every image of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, being wheeled through the Capitol hurts Biden. So does every second that Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, stands frozen and speechless before a group of journalists.
“I see people lumping every old person together and using the term ‘gerontocracy’,” Rosanne Leipzig, who specializes in geriatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told me. But Biden isn’t McConnell, no more than McConnell is Feinstein. “There’s no group of people who are more different than older adults,” Leipzig said. “We even have a term for it— the heterogeneity of aging.”
…[J]udging competence can be a guessing game, given the partial and selective information that most older political candidates and their physicians divulge. To determine aging’s impact “through superficial means is not an accurate measure,” Bob Blancato, the national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, a bipartisan advocacy group, cautioned. “Aging is a profoundly personal journey.”
Similarly, our takes on it are subjective— and can be colored by irrelevant details. Leipzig noted that to some people, Biden’s cultural frame of reference, embrace of tradition and old-fashioned vocabulary (“God love ya’,” “c’mon man,” “malarkey”) read old, while Trump’s rebel pose reads young.
I happen to think that Democrats would be safer with a nominee who’s younger than Biden is and radiates more energy than he does. But I believe at least as strongly that if the unideal choice before Americans winds up being Biden, with his imperfections, or Trump, with his, rejecting Biden because of how old he has grown isn’t a grown-up decision.

Historically, nations ruled by gerontocracies— from Sparta’s Gerousia and Rome’s Senate to both China’s and Japan’s imperial systems— have been very conservative, prioritizing the maintenance of stability and traditional values. However, each led inexorably towards corruption, stagnation and, ultimately, societal and national decline.

1 Comment

Sep 12, 2023

Whatever the shithole has degraded to, it all boils down to voters being dumber than shit and/or pure evil.

more polling that proves that people know shit... but refuse to vote for it.

The fundamental flaw in democracy -- when voters are dumber than shit, it cannot possibly work. WE THE PEOPLE are the proof.

Seriously, we could leave the voting to 10-year-olds and be much better off.

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