20 July, 2024

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Trump-Biden Debate Saga: Vital Lessons On The Burden Of Gerontocracy!

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

The world surely would have felt awkward, watching the recent Trump and Biden showdown on TV. Behind the scenes at the first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the buzzy atmosphere of the spin room descended into horror-struck silence within a first few minutes of Biden opening his mouth. Watching the exchanges between them, the debate looked akin to participating in elder abuse, pestering old men with incessant questions as if to deny them the dignity of their dotage. Biden from the moment he shuffled onstage and muttered his first answer in a hushed and wheezing monotone, made it clear that he will be too old for the job whether now, and surely for another four-year term.

Trump was much the same as he always has been, ignoring every question posed to him, repeating bizarre lies, until his time ran out. Biden seemed in worse condition, but Trump was by no means sharp. While Trump told bombastic lies in front of the audience, Biden struggled to recall what were obviously canned responses. Biden certainly is in the wintertime of his life and he ought to rest, but Trump in his advanced age too, would be the worst possible alternative. The main choice for America appears to be between someone who belongs in a retirement home, not the White House, and a convicted felon. Thus, America, a country of roughly 336 million people, should ask itself! Are these two choices the best it can offer?

With many leaders showing their age recently, a previously somewhat obscure word, “Gerontocracy,” meaning “rule by elders or the dominance of politics by old men,” is popping up everywhere. India’s Narendra Modi (69), Russia’s Vladimir Putin (67), China’s Xi Jinping (66), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (66), and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro (65). Sri Lanka too had aged politicians in the recent past like Mahinda Rajapkasa (78) and Ranil Wickeremesinghe (75) refusing to give up their thirst for power, and still fighting for the top slot. Russians have mostly shrugged at Putin’s attempt to stay in power into the winter of his life. Populous China is ruled by 66-year-old President Xi, who has basically anointed himself ruler for life. Even Brazil, where the population is just as young as India, plumped for grumpy grandpa Jair Bolsanaro in recent elections. It’s a similar story in Egypt, Hungary, Turkey, Poland and countless other nations: The boomers are still in charge. India’s Modi energizes his Hindu base by demonizing Muslims and promising to return India to its ancient, pre-Islamic glory. It’s no accident that most boomer leaders thus are strongmen, who twist the law to achieve their illiberal and populist goals. The US is however an outlier even in a world where the majority of lawmakers are much older than the broader populace. Whoever wins the next U.S. presidential election will be the oldest person in history to have been elected to the country’s highest office.

The fear of a Gerontocracy as well as an appreciation of the benefits of geriatric wisdom, both found favour in the ancient world. Two thousand years earlier, Plutarch, a Greek philosopher who lived under the Roman Empire, wrote a long essay, ‘Whether an Old Man Should Engage in Public Affairs’, where he notes: ‘Some people claim that public men, when they have passed their prime, should sit down in retirement at home’ and give way to more youthful energies and fresh brain power. Yet ‘when in difficulties or in fear’, says Plutarch – at the time of writing, well past his prime, he admits – people nonetheless ‘yearn for the rule of elder men’. Why is this? And is the yearning reasonable?

The simplest explanation is that when people feel anxious about the future, especially in times of political instability, they look for figures whose authority has an aura of indisputability. However, despite these stock generational contrasts, ancient writers were all too aware that geriatric wisdom often falls far short of best-case ideals. Popular myths, history, and philosophy constantly highlight the characteristic errors and vulnerabilities of older men in power. The chief risks have more to do with the complex psychology of ageing than with the physical or mental health of older people. Elders may have a reputation for wisdom, but they can also be narrow-minded, dogmatic, bigoted, unbending, self-righteous – and insist that these qualities embody their wisdom.

In a declining society, the images of an aging leadership can come to embody a general sense of withering and decay. A civic nightmare becomes the caricaturist’s dream. In Moscow, the late nineteen-seventies and early eighties was the era known as zastoi, the time of stagnation. The US  also appears to be in the midst of its own zastoi; a teetering democracy of gerontocrats! The polls show that much of the American electorate fears just that. Voting in many democracies has often become a matter of choosing among highly constrained choices.  President Ronald Reagan once joked that Soviet leaders “kept dying” on him during his first few years in office. Vladislav Zubok, a top Soviet historian at the London School of Economics who grew up in the USSR, told once that there was no single thing that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. But he emphasized that during that era of gerontocracy, “we were all aware of something going deeply wrong.”

Historians and political scientists say the Soviet Union’s morphing into a gerontocracy toward its end contributed to its demise, arguing that this serves as a cautionary tale for other countries — particularly the US, at a time when many of its top leaders are well beyond the age of retirement typical in other fields. The fact the US is a democracy makes it even “more painful” to see it move toward being gerontocratic, Zubok said, laying much of the blame on the “pernicious role of money” in the seemingly nonstop cycle of elections. Even with “periodic elections” in the US, Zubok said, it’s still ending up with “the same kind of people who grow old” in power.A gerontocratic government is not necessarily an inherent sign of democratic decline — but in a country like the US, it can point to deep flaws in the system. The American gerontocracy is composed of a group that has for decades refused to relinquish power. A healthy mix of generations in political office would have its advantages.”

Voters in recent research polls did not express a high degree of confidence in either Biden or Trump across all five of the dimensions they were asked about: mental and physical fitness for office, choosing good advisers, acting ethically in office, and respecting democracy. Voters had the lowest level of confidence in Biden when it comes to having the mental and physical fitness to do the job. Trump was viewed most negatively for his respect for democracy and ability to act ethically in office. A majority of polled voters said that Biden and Trump are too old to serve another term, and  that both men are mentally unfit for office. It’s Gerontocracy: the exceptionally old political class that governs the US.

How old is too old to lead? A 2022 poll showed that more than half of Americans, 58%, believe there should be a maximum age limit for elected officials, with 39% saying that limit should be age 70. “Aging is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon, and different people might have different strengths and weaknesses at different time periods of their life,” says Casey Brown, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University who is on the steering committee for the university’s Center for Healthy Aging. “So, I don’t think there’s a simple answer to the question of how old is too old to lead.” What science does tell us is that cognitive function begins to decline in early adulthood. Typically, across the board, part of the normal aging process, there will be changes in certain aspects of cognitive functioning”

Brown says, “Different things in the realm of executive functioning might be the ability to use working memory. So, for example, keeping the number of things in mind at once and manipulating that information in your head can become more difficult. The amount of information that you can keep in mind at once tends to decline.” Older people tend to lose a sense of purpose as they age, which might help explain why elected officials are sticking around well into their golden years. There’s often a decline in feelings of purpose … and an involvement in society”. “And so, maybe some of these highly intelligent older adults, who have made it to very high-status careers, maybe they’ve maintained their purpose, and they don’t want to let it go.” For the elderly leaders who survive it, an unstable post-coronavirus situation could even consolidate their appeal further. The boomers built their wealth on a period of unparalleled globalization, trade and freedom of movement. Now, as borders go up and the world tips into recession, people may turn to them for a reminder of happier, wealthier times. The boomers will be all too happy to roll back the clock if it lets them stay in power a little longer.

Associate Professor Daniel Bessner from the University of Washington says, virtually most parliaments around the world are older than the population they represent. According to Professor Daniel Stockemer from the University of Ottawa, “In general, representative democracy should try to represent their population. A uniquely American gerontocracy issue is its influence on the future political class. A lack of youth representation makes a difference in how parliaments work and what is on the agenda. “Young people don’t participate that much … one of the reasons is that they are alienated.” The theory goes that when young people don’t participate in elections, they end up less represented in parliament, and that means they become dissatisfied and disinterested in politics. “We call this the vicious cycle of political alienation,” Stockemer says. “If a group is not at the decision-making table, it has very few possibilities to influence policies. In fact, in relation to the political sphere, young citizens have been described as an ‘excluded majority’ with an insufficient legislative presence.

Where there are two-party systems like in the US, its specific electoral institutions prevents the formation of youth parties. The networks of young activists who can influence lawmakers, seem not to be able to form as easily here. Without a youth party, young, politically active people are forced to get experience in aged led environments. The result is that “even the young people that do manage to get elected tend to be more like old people”. Some countries have tried implementing youth quotas in government to prevent gerontocracies, such as mandated youth seats, youth candidate quotas, or individual party quotas, but the experiment in many countries has not been a huge success, even in a democracy like the US.

Mitt Romney, announcing his retirement, at the age of seventy-six, wasn’t wrong to declare that it is time for a new generation of leaders to take the helm. They’re the ones that need to make the decision that will shape the world they will be living in.” Many challenges block younger would-be lawmakers from entering office: the lack of political connections and endorsements, limited fundraising power, and statutory minimum age restrictions. Ramiro Sarmiento, a spokesperson at Run For Something, which helps progressive candidates in the US under 40 run for state and local elections. says “Our government today is run like a gerontocracy. So it is no surprise that the public policy that comes out of them, benefits them. That means older politicians are not going to pass laws that prevent them from re-election. Instead, a “critical mass” of young politicians is needed to bring change. People from both parties can get behind the idea of “passing the baton to a new generation”.

Another concern about elderly politicians is that gerontocracy encourages apathy and disinterest among youth. As much as we may  believe that experience is necessary for political office, this is ridiculous. There are serious questions whether 80+ year-olds have the stamina and mental sharpness to serve in these demanding offices. But even more importantly, we live in a period of rapid change due to globalization, the digitization of communications and the dizzying pace of technological innovation. We need new thinking from a younger generation of political leaders to deal with the critical challenges of the 21st century. The gerontocracy has and their chance and, frankly, have failed as the sad state of US and beyond aptly demonstrate.

Aksel Sundström, a political scientist explains, “The relative absence of young adults in politics could contribute to what we call the vicious cycle of political alienation among the young. It is marked by low numbers of younger people in parliaments, low voter turnouts and political disenchantment—factors that tend to feed and amplify each other”. “In the US, that threshold is 25 for the House of Representatives and 30 for the Senate. In our opinion, these antiquated and arbitrary rules regarding age violate democratic principles. Ultimately, the message turns out to be that younger people are not welcome to participate in politics. Sweden is one of the very few examples of countries where younger people actually have a high presence in their parliament. Ultimately, if our leaders are breaking important promises to the voters and the political system isn’t giving voters candidates that appeal to them, how can we be surprised when the people sour on our democracy itself?

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    Lukman Harees
    .

    The problem with Biden is not his age, it is his cognitive decline.
    .

    Is it not downright dishonest for the CNN media cabal and others in the mainstream media to feign surprise at Biden’s pathetic performance at the 27 June Presidential debate?
    .

    https://youtu.be/XaZSSQ8TaW4
    .

    Are not people like Obama and the Clintons also exposed for their hypocrisy and dishonesty when they have knowingly covered up for Biden?
    .

    “Cringe moment Jill Biden congratulates husband Joe, 81, ‘like a child’ after debate horror show”
    .

    https://youtu.be/a9nYLnrou8A
    .

    (continued below)

    • 2
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      Lukman Harees (continued from above)
      .

      As for Trump being a “convicted felon”, well known CNN presenter Fareed Zakaria who is not a fan of Trump said as follows:
      .

      “I doubt the New York indictment would have been brought against a defendant if his name was not Donald Trump”
      .

      https://youtu.be/ONsSsdDNRxI (3:38 onwards)
      .

      These observations must not be construed as holding a brief for Trump who has his own baggage – nevertheless it is obvious to any fair-minded person that the Democratic Party has weaponized the US Justice system (DOJ) against him. The question is why is Trump so feared by the Democratic Party?
      .

      I ask whether Donald Trump has a MONOPOLY among politicians the world over in uttering alleged “bombastic lies”? Why is only Trump fact-checked in the US?
      .

      Amrit Muttukumaru

    • 3
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      Yes, Biden’s cognitive decline is the problem, not his age. It is strange that the Democrats agreed to this debate as it is not constitutionally mandated – they had all the right to refuse it. Wonder if it was done by the democrats themselves to show out Biden…..they were quick to attack Biden in the post-debate analyses. Wonder if they want a co- presidency, like an Biden-Obama one. Maybe the idea is to replace the VP.

      • 0
        1

        The truth is, Biden only has cognitive decline with his speech…..he never was quite articulate anyway. Otherwise his cognition seems excellent. Biden’s brainpower and Obama’s eloquence will make them a good pair for the Nation.

        Trump had his golden chance during the debate. However, of the many things he could have said, he harped on and on about the border crossings and hyper-inflated their numbers. Never answered the question on Gaza. Exaggerated and lied on many other issues. His actual plans for the country are surprisingly stilted.

      • 2
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        Ramona Therese Fernando
        .

        1) Given the DUPLICITY of most of the Democratic Party controlled US mainstream media (TV/Print) you may well be right that the debate may have been “done by the democrats themselves to show out Biden”. I was thinking on the same lines.
        .

        2) Given the fact that Biden’s cognitive impairment was very much in play in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, it is very likely that ‘thinking’ independent voters and others around the world will now surmise there is substantial truth to Trump’s assertion that Biden’s ‘victory’ is unlawful/flawed.
        .

        3) Biden’s “Man on the Moon” gaffe at the CNN Town Hall held on 21 July 2021 (just 6 months into his presidency) left even the pro-Biden CNN interviewer Don Lemon embarrassed. Biden’s inauguration was on 20 January 2021.

        https://youtu.be/kN_FoVi7Ay0
        .

        4) The Pew Research Center had this to say about the 2020 presidential election:
        .

        “Trump performed much better among voters who cast their ballots in person on
        Election Day (65% for Trump vs. 33% for Biden).”

        Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory | Pew Research Center
        .
        (continued below)

        • 2
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          Ramona Therese Fernando (continued from above)
          .

          5) Today there is a two tier justice system in the US – one for Trump and another for Biden. For example, in the alleged retention of Classified documents by Trump (after his presidency) and Biden (during his time as VP), while Trump is charged by Special Counsel Jack Smith, Special Counsel Robert Hur despite finding that Biden had “wilfully” retained classified documents during his time as VP failed to charge him because in his view a jury would consider Biden as a “well meaning, elderly man” with a “poor memory”. Robert Hur’s report was long before the 27 June 2024 Presidential debate. Yet the media cabal and the Democratic Party had no problem in Biden running for the presidency until now.
          .

          6) I would consider the blatant ‘COVER-UP’ of Biden’s COGNITIVE DECLINE over the years by the mainstream media and Democratic Party leaders such as Obama, Clintons, Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and others as the real ‘BIG LIE’ in present day US politics.
          .

          Amrit Muttukumaru

          • 1
            1

            Amrit Muttukumaru,

            During the last elections, Black people were given greater leverage to vote….previously there there had always been some suppression. However, there seemed to be a lot of recounting in Democrat areas and hence there could have been manipulation of votes.

            Trump acted ridiculously during the time of Covid, and that ruined it for him. Some feel that Covid was a plot to get rid of him. Still he should have known how to take the upper hand on it.

            No initiated wars by Trump, but much concession towards Putin in the Ukrainian case. Never answered the question on how to end the war with Putin given key areas of Ukraine. So, we can’t be sure on exactly how Trump will handle the global economics with the Putin potential of expansionism.

            • 2
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              Trump’s solution of untaxing the billionaires will cause huge billionaire tension and eventual wars between competing global billionaires from each country….a huge gallop from the hitherto ordinary wars fought between entrepreneurships in the usual global SME’s that man thrived and relied on in the past (save the colonial empires, but even they spread the wealth and actually created SME’s for the masses, and never became billionaires unless they were monarchs ).

              Trump’s MAGA intent cannot be a sustainable one, for once Global billionaires are enticed into US together with global brains and brawn to boost the UD economy, there will be nothing left for US finances to work on to keep the money rolling. After and initial boost, World and US will come to a grinding halt.

              White Americans are divided on whether to have a bunch of dark-skinned foreigners with money take over their cities. Some, especially middle-aged crones will try to control the situation in localized areas with a show of having them under their authority. But the vast masses of Whites will resent these influxes of monied foreigners taking over their cities and employment possibilities. They will still be getting nowhere and will remain 2nd-3rd class citizens.

              • 0
                0

                Therefore in the end, most will see that the slower and more winding route of the Democrats has greater potential for sustainability, together with the final demise of expansionism from the billionaire-run Communist Russia, and also Zion.

                • 0
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                  Ramona Therese Fernando
                  .

                  “The truth is, Biden only has cognitive decline with his speech…..he never was quite articulate anyway. Otherwise his cognition seems excellent. Biden’s brainpower and Obama’s eloquence will make them a good pair for the Nation.”
                  .

                  I will appreciate anyone deciphering what you state above.
                  .

                  Is not the blatant ‘COVER-UP’ of Biden’s COGNITIVE DECLINE over the years by the mainstream media and Democratic Party leaders such as Obama, Clintons, Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and others the most damning ‘BIG LIE’ in present day US politics?
                  https://youtu.be/XaZSSQ8TaW4
                  .

                  Given the fact that Biden’s cognitive impairment was very much in play in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, is it BELIEVABLE that 81 Million people voted for him? Trump obtained 74 Million votes.
                  .

                  Biden’s “Man on the Moon” abomination at the CNN Town Hall held on 21 July 2021 (just 6 months into his presidency) left even the pro-Biden CNN interviewer Don Lemon embarrassed. Biden’s inauguration was on 20 January 2021.
                  https://youtu.be/kN_FoVi7Ay0
                  .

                  Corporate honchos have now become major donors of the Democratic Party.
                  .

                  Amrit Muttukumaru

                  • 0
                    0

                    I should have said that the rest of his cognition (minus his speech) is excellent. I already said that his speech was never that articulate anyway.

                    As for if a former president become vice-president, this link says the following:
                    “To be sure, thoughtful analysts have argued that the Constitution forecloses the possibility that a twice-before-elected President can hold (or at least secure election to) the Vice-Presidential office. Close inspection reveals, however, that that view misses the mark. In fact, the relevant constitutional provisions, their histories, and their purposes all point to the same conclusion: A twice-before-elected President may become Vice-President either through appointment or through election and — like any other Vice-President — may thereafter succeed from that office to the Presidency for the full remainder of the pending term.” https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/1012/ (it’s a .edu website)

                    So, there is nothing much to decipher.

                    • 0
                      0

                      Amrit,

                      You’re also saying that Biden’s “cognitive decline” is the reason that Americans voted for him because they too are not too bright? Guess he should win this time round, even more then. Guess too that the Americans are able to see beyond inarticulate speech and see his concepts in a wholesome light. Be too precise in speech and it is a painful experience. It is like modern art:
                      5 main characteristics of modern art
                      Expansive innovation. Expansive organization of visual elements in a composition…..
                      Artist value. The “actual worth” of an artist’s work is the artist’s own estimation of its worth. …
                      Symbolism. …
                      Reaction to the environment. …
                      Iconography.

  • 2
    1

    Yep! Best lot to rule Motherland : Inter University Students’ Federation!

    • 1
      0

      Ramona Therese Fernando
      .

      1) What I am clearly stating is that in the context of Biden’s cognitive impairment very much in play in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election:
      .

      Biden’s “Man on the Moon” abomination just 6 months into his presidency at the CNN Town Hall on 21 July 2021
      https://youtu.be/kN_FoVi7Ay0
      .

      2) The Pew Research Center asserting that at the 2020 Presidential Election:
      .

      “Trump performed much better among voters who cast their ballots in person on Election Day (65% for Trump vs. 33% for Biden).”
      https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/06/30/behind-bidens-2020-victory/
      .

      3) Trump is spot-on to reach the conclusion that the 2020 Presidential Election giving victory to Biden is UNLAWFUL/ FLAWED.
      .

      4) Hence, it is mischievous for you to allege:
      .

      “You’re also saying that Biden’s “cognitive decline” is the reason that Americans voted for him because they too are not too bright?”

      (continued below)

      • 1
        0

        Ramona Therese Fernando (continued from above)
        .

        5) On the weaponization of the US Justice system(DOJ) against Trump by the Biden White House and he being a “convicted felon”, I cite as an example the opinion of well known CNN presenter Fareed Zakaria who is not a fan of Trump:
        .

        “I doubt the New York indictment would have been brought against a defendant if his name was not Donald Trump”
        https://youtu.be/ONsSsdDNRxI (3:38 onwards)
        .

        6) Notwithstanding Biden’s PATHETIC performance at the presidential debate with Trump you are entitled to your BIZARRE opinion:
        .

        (a) “The truth is, Biden only has cognitive decline with his speech…..he never was quite articulate anyway. Otherwise his cognition seems excellent. Biden’s brainpower and Obama’s eloquence will make them a good pair for the Nation.”

        (b) “I should have said that the rest of his cognition (minus his speech) is excellent. I already said that his speech was never that articulate anyway.”
        .

        7) Is not the blatant ‘COVER-UP’ of Biden’s COGNITIVE DECLINE over the years by the mainstream media and Democratic Party leaders such as Obama, Clintons, Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and others the most damning ‘BIG LIE’ in present day US politics?
        .

        8) Please note that I am not holding a brief for Trump. I am merely stating facts in context.
        .

        Amrit Muttukumaru

        • 0
          1

          Oh, I see, you said “is it BELIEVABLE that 81 Million people voted for him?” I missed the ? and read it as “it is.” Apologies.

          Yawn…..guess you are for untaxing the billionaires. Russian billionaires and American billionaires will be dancing the dance around each other with global Masses imploring and beseeching for help. Poor suffering Palestinians also.

  • 2
    1

    The perception that the world was more peaceful during Trump’s presidency compared to Biden’s is a topic of much and increased war and tension during Biden’s period

    • 0
      1

      RBH59
      True, Trump did not promote new wars and was in charge as the war in Afghanistan neared its inevitable end.
      Under Biden, provocation of Russia led to the conflict in Ukraine. The US made stupid moves aimed at weakening Russia, but ended up hurting European partners more than they did Russia. But can we blame a sleep-walking President for these things?
      I do not expect much improvement in Gaza or Ukraine under another president, as foreign policy is not made in the White House.

  • 0
    2

    Trump is an interesting character. If he wins the election, he will cut the corporate tax rate by a significant margin, resulting in share buybacks. The US stock market will surge to unprecedented highs. So now is the time to be invested in this market.

  • 1
    0

    The problem is not gerontocracy,
    Look at the last three British PMs.

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