America’s Gerontocracy: An Issue Aging Like Milk

For most aging Americans, the retirement age is 65. For most people, retirement is seen as the end of a life sentence without parole, a new lease on the human condition- free of responsibilities to live out the remainder of your own American Dream. In fact, it’s almost expected of our retirees to silently end their fulfilling career and move to a warmer state.

Unfortunately, there is a very powerful group who refuses to retire, no matter their abilities (or lack thereof)- our politicians. As we approach the 2024 election season with seats in the White House and both chambers of Congress open, many Americans wonder “How old should our elected officials be?”.
This issue has taken a forefront in the race for the White House, with both leading candidates being over the age of 75. The incumbent President, Joe Biden, is currently the oldest serving president in our nation’s history. Donald Trump, the de-facto Republican nominee, would be 79 within the first six months of his term if elected.

Although it has been reported in a somewhat partisan manner, the presidency of Joe Biden has been marred by falls, slurred speeches, and other mishaps that can be correlated with his advanced age, being almost 81. Although he may be able to handle the day-to-day operations of the United States, these events leave Americans with many questions on his competencies. Additionally, most Americans disapprove of his successor if Biden were to pass away during his current term. According to the L.A. Times, 54% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion on Vice President Kamala Harris.

Trump on the other hand, is also advancing in age, is well known for his habits of fast food and limited exercise. Although cognitively Trump seems somewhat sound, both candidates are at an increased risk for Dementia, strokes, and cardiac issues due to their age.

A sizeable portion of Americans believe that Biden is simply too old to run. Due to his fumbles during his presidency, the public opinion has swayed against him. Junior political science student Cami Toth voiced her opinion on the issue: “There have been multiple signs that Joe Biden is too old to run in the upcoming election. Physically and mentally, it is clear to me that he has declined significantly since being elected in 2020. It would be dangerous for American citizens, and it would be a weak representation of our country to keep him in the public eye in 2024.”

Populism and polarization have unfortunately led us to this gerontocracy. With both runners-up in the partisan primaries polling under 15%, it seems likely that the next person in the White House will be an octogenarian. Robert F. Kennedy, the other Democratic candidate in the race is not full of youthful glory either. RFK currently sits at 69 years old, which would put him in his mid-70’s at the end of his term, if elected.

Additionally, this gerontocracy also extends to congress. According to the Pew Research Center, the average age of members of the House of Representatives is currently 57.9 years old. Members of the Senate are even older, with the median age being 65.3 years old. It’s important to remember that these are both the average ages, rather than a majority. A significant portion of Congress are currently over the average national retirement age, with Senators Diane (D-CA) Feinstein and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) now over the age of 90. Feinstein has been in her seat since 1992. Grassley has continuously held his seat since 1981. According to Statista, over 40% of the United States population was born in the year 1981 or later. Since the beginning of his tenure, generations have grown up, left home, and started careers and families.

The current and former leadership of Congress are also aging. Both the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate are currently over 70, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) currently coming under fire for a majority of recent incidents that call his health into question. McConnell, now 80, has been seen on cameras across the nation freezing, in an almost trance-like state. Details about the cause of these incidents are largely unknown, but it has spurred a conversation about the health of our lawmakers.
Nancy Pelosi (CA-11), a career politician and former Speaker of the House, is also aging. As one of the nation’s most prominent Democrats in history, she represents a significant portion of California’s second-largest city at 83 years old. She is running for an additional term in 2024.

Americans have recently been discussing term limits for members of Congress, with sophomore political science student and local political operative Jackie Tamburrino having this to add on the issue- “As a young person, I want my representatives to be in touch with me and how I think. Having a sitting president who can barely get out of his own makes me question his ability to effectively execute the office. Having leadership on both sides of the aisle that can barely function let alone govern, makes me question whether the ideals in our Constitution are accurately being conserved.”

Her statement echoes throughout many Americans, with a recent WSJ poll finding that 73% of Americans find that Joe Biden is too old to run again. Another recent poll conducted by Ipsos and Reuters found that 67% of Americans support term limits on members of Congress.

Nearly all Americans use a mobile phone daily. To some members of Congress, this seems like advanced technology out of a Sci-Fi movie. How someone can effectively govern and represent large swaths of Americans while being unable to use a basic piece of technology is a thought on most American minds.
This was never the intention of our founding fathers. Politicians were never intended to hold their seat for the period of time that is common during the modern political era. In the 21st century, we are facing the consequences of populistic policy, as we are now a nation largely ruled by the elderly.