A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947
OPINION

We're governed by geezers: Time for gerontocracy to pass the torch

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When Baby Boomers protested the ills of society in the 1960s, we didn’t trust anybody over 30. Now that we’re in our 60s and 70s, we don’t seem to trust anybody under 70.

President Trump is 74. Joe Biden is 77. Biden beat Bernie Sanders (78) and Elizabeth Warren (71) for the nomination. Nancy Pelosi is 80. Mitch McConnell is 78.

This gerontocracy, like most things in America today, reflects the aging of Boomers. So many of us were born between 1944 and 1964 that we’ve dominated America economically, socially, culturally and politically as we’ve moved into our 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and now 70s.

Bill Clinton was the first Boomer president, and he was elected in 1992 — nearly 30 years ago. George W. Bush and Trump are Boomers. Barack Obama was a late Boomer, born in 1961.

Boomers will tell you that 70 is the new 50. We pride ourselves on our health, our fitness and our eternal youthfulness. We go on and on about it, like the gabby old geezers we are.

Actually, we’re just lucky. We happened to be born in the greatest nation on earth at the very time it went through an unprecedented economic boom with huge improvements in health care and the greatest gains in nutrition, education and quality of life in history.

We took it all for granted. We figured it was our birthright. We expected it to go on indefinitely without us having to do much. Like when we were kids.

Instead, young Americans today face unprecedented economic inequality and insecurity, unreliable health care, an undeniable climate crisis, social unrest and an uncertain future.

We Boomers haven’t made the kind of sacrifices and investments our parents and grandparents made for us. Investments like the GI Bill, the interstate highway system, the space program, vaccines, hospitals, science, research and, most of all, the greatest expansion of education opportunities by any nation at any time.

Leaders in both parties, like Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, did all that. They weathered the Depression, they won World War II and they secured our future.

They were the Greatest Generation. Boomers are the Luckiest Generation. It’s time we pay it forward to the next generation.

America has always embraced young leaders. President Kennedy was 43 when he was elected in 1960. So was North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was 35. Martin Luther King was 34 when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. John Lewis was 23 when he spoke that day.

People we think of as old were young by today’s standards. Lyndon Johnson was 55 when he became president; he was only 65 when he died. Richard Nixon, who always seemed old, was just four years older than JFK. Franklin Roosevelt was 50 when he was elected president and 63 when he died. 

“Hamilton” fans know that many Founding Fathers were young. Alexander Hamilton was in his early 30s (his birthdate is disputed) and James Madison was 36 when they forged the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

President Kennedy said in his inaugural address that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” He described that generation as “unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

That could be said, I submit, of a new generation of Americans today. They’re ready to lead. They’re leading the protests and the changes sweeping across America now.

It’s time to pass the torch to them.

Gary Pearce is a former political consultant and adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt. He blogs at www.NewDayforNC.com.

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