End American gerontocracy
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s viscerally jarring fall on Thursday in Colorado Springs, while on stage dispensing diplomas to new U.S. Air Force Academy graduates, underscores a terrifying reality: The octogenarian denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, palpably in the throes of debilitating mental and physical senescence, is not well. The sight of the commander-in-chief physically falling in front of a graduating Air Force Academy class, no less, is outright depressing to active-duty servicemen and telegraphs national weakness to America’s many adversaries abroad.
Make no mistake about it: Joe Biden is an absolutely massive liability as president of the United States, in charge of the nuclear football and primarily responsible for issues of war and peace. His vice presidential junior sidekick and would-be successor, the cackling nincompoop Kamala Harris, may well be totally insufferable, but this column has argued — and still maintains — that Biden should resign for the good of the country. At a bare minimum, it is foolish and selfish in the extreme for the doddering dolt from Delaware to seek reelection in 2024.
Biden’s Centennial State fall is hardly the only recent example of a high-ranking senior citizen appearing less-than-stellar in the public eye. The 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose political career first began in 1970 (one year before Biden’s), recently missed over two months of senatorial work while recovering from a nasty bout of shingles and encephalitis. When she finally made her way back to the Capitol, Feinstein, in the words of a May 18 New York Times article, “appeared shockingly diminished.” Since returning, the now-wheelchair-bound Feinstein has required additional staff assistance to merely cast her votes and has apparently forgotten she was ever out of commission to begin with: “No, I haven’t been gone,” she told Slate on May 16. Come again?
Overall, an incredible 68% of U.S. senators in the current Congress are aged 60 or older. The single most popular subgroup, at a whopping 34% of the putative “world’s greatest deliberative body,” is the sexagenarians — most of whom are old enough to receive Social Security benefits. The constitutional minimum age for being a U.S. senator is 30, but the cumulative share of senators in the current Congress under the age of 50 is a paltry 10%. There are three times as many senators in the current Congress aged 70-79 than there are senators aged 30-39. That ought to be alarming — these men and women are charged with decisions pertaining to declaring war and assessing our most sensitive intelligence, among other crucial matters. As for the U.S. Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett is the youngest justice at age 51, and five of the nine black-robed oracles are old enough to potentially receive Social Security benefits.
Nor, of course, is American gerontocracy limited to the political and judicial arenas. As American Affairs Editor Julius Krein wrote in a 2020 essay: “The average ages of university professors and administrators, banking executives and corporate CEOs, and many other leading figures have all been steadily rising for some time. Perhaps Silicon Valley has been so successful precisely because it is the only place in America where people who are not on the cusp of senility can get promoted or raise capital. Conversely, perhaps the pharma lobby is so successful because it is not only the biggest donor but probably the largest vendor to the assisted living facility that is Congress.”
Even holding aside the obvious civilizational pitfalls and national security risks of placing issues of war and peace in the hands of so many Baby Boomers (and even some from the Silent Generation that preceded the Boomers), there is a more fundamental problem here that cuts to the very core of the rot now afflicting so many once-great American institutions. That problem, from higher education to the Fortune 500 boardroom to the political arena, can in one sense be summarized as a failure of long-term vision. Just as “short-termism” in the boardroom can take over and misdirect the market’s “invisible hand” away from the general welfare of the broader community, so too are politicians incentivized to merely care about their impending short-term election results, rather than leading with any grand vision or presenting any grand strategy.
It is extremely difficult to foresee how this situation might be remedied so long as the elderly generations, which are more wedded to outmoded conventions and definitionally more prone to short-term thinking than the more longer-term-thinking younger generations, remain in power. As a Millennial conservative commentator myself, I know all too well the dangers of letting the Boomer conservatives — or “BoomerCons” — continue leading us astray and repackaging stale 1984 dogma instead of advancing cutting-edge 2023 solutions that actually deal with our present problems.
As America loses its competitive edge in increasingly more areas and as China rises to unprecedented heights in our new 21st-century great power competition, it is imperative that we get younger, scrappier, hungrier men and women in positions of prominence across the countless institutions comprising the nation’s public and civic life. Private entities should increasingly utilize mandatory retirement ages, and the Constitution should be amended to mandate retirement ages for all constitutional oath-taking actors in the legislative, executive and judicial branches. These are nonpartisan, commonsense steps to help reinvigorate our sclerotic, late-stage republic.
Unfortunately, polling for the 2024 Republican presidential primary is currently dominated by a highly visible Boomer. That Boomer, in many ways, embodies the follies of his generation. As Republicans gear up to take on the oldest president in American history next year, perhaps their chances would be buoyed if they were to instead nominate a younger, scrappier, hungrier Gen Xer. Perhaps that Gen X conservative might even be a highly successful governor of one of the nation’s largest states, known for his ruthless competence and broader worldview orientation toward American renewal.
Wouldn’t that be something?
— — —
To find out more about Josh Hammer and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.