2008 and someone from Mars visiting the USA could not help be impressed as a nation did what it had never done before-it elected a young black President. With him and his wife and their two girls- America was going back a generation to find leadership and embrace the “Yes We Can” spirit. Not that this was unusual.
In 1961, the electorate chose a young JFK, and put another young family in the White House. Whatever you say about the success or otherwise, the choice was clear. America wanted something new, fresh, rather than the familiar Hillary and the familiar McCain.
Roll the clock forward and our Martian visitor returns in 2020 and who does she see as the front runners before the nomination is sealed? There are three candidates. One at 74 is the incumbent. His chief opponents are aged 77 and 78. The average age is 76. Obama was 47. Yes, there were younger candidates like Mayor Pete but somehow, after 8 years of one generation, we decided to go back a generation and a half. The grey hairs or the no hairs have returned to lead the tribe.
The best way to bring out the oddness is to imagine the younger Bush being elected first and then, we decide to elect Dad. The observer from Mars would rightfully be curious as to what happened? And so should we. What went wrong?
Did the “young Turks” destroy their generation’s change of succession? What do 70 year olds offer that 47 year olds cannot?
The average age of CEO’s in Fortune 500 companies is 57. Churchill assumed the Prime Ministership at 67. The closest comparison we could find is the College of Cardinals who averaged out at 72. So lets think this out in terms of where we are, and where they are.
All the candidates are in the third matrix of life, their last 30 years of active life. They have more of life to look back on than to look forward to. More importantly, if they determine to make era shaping decisions, they most likely will not live long enough to see the enduring impact. Their position in life is looking back, even if their role requires a disposition about the future they want to lead the nation into. It is just that their future is freighted with more past than a leader at mid-life. Obama and his family shared in the future they were creating for us. But Bernie and Donal and Joe are signed on for the final act. And that has to color their perspective, how they see themselves as actors on the political stage.
It also is reflected in their platforms or promises. Trump wants to make America Great Again so he makes no apology that the best future is a return to the past, not an unfamiliar position for a 74 year old. And VP Biden wants a return to “normal” and undo all that Trump has undone, a return to the best of the Obama years plus more. Turns out only the oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, had the genuine radical message. No wonder that young people resonated with it. The two grandfathers getting ready duke it out are fighting over what kind of nostalgia will power us into the 1950’s. The fight is not over remembering and forgetting. Sorry Kundera. It is about remembering and remembering.
Our election is being staged as a battle of an old persons home, fighting for the boasting rights of who had it better. And when we look at the electorate, we might see why. The over 65’s are healthier than ever, they are as active and informed, and they vote and more to the point, they have the money. 25 year olds might have the passion but they do not have the pension. This election is the nation fighting over the best way to go backward, and on each ticket if Pops. One the wealthy playboy of the western world and the other the stalwart Senator who is Mr.Smith going to Washington. Old fashioned golden age glory days wealth and flair or old fashioned decency in the form of Atticus Finch.