Monday, June 5, 2023

Of Age and Politics

Our culture is about to have a problem with the old.

This seems, on the face of it, a little bit absurd. I mean, here we are, rolling into a presidential election in which both candidates are likely to be senior citizens.  That will mean, in the dark and cynical calculus of political discourse, that age is going to be viewed as an issue.

Take, for instance, the prior president.  Not the current one, who is 80, but the former one, who is 76.  

Back when Trump was president, those who despised him would routinely turn to his age as an angle of attack.  "Look at the clear signs of dementia," people would crow, after a rambling answer that was mostly word salad. "Hah hah, he's unsteady on his feet, has to hold a rail, look at the sad feeble doddering old man," they would laugh.  "Look at how unsure he seems taking a drink, haw haw haw, weak old man."

There'd be yet another unflattering shot of his lumpy slacks, and of course, of course, it meant that he was wearing Depends.  "Haw Haw, lookit Little Donnie Diapers," someone would caw, because what is more pathetic and worthy of mockery than the incontinence that so often comes with age?

It would make me angry, because it was cruel and evil.  Seeing that cruelty shared...particularly among "friends" in my social media circles...was hard.

I am the farthest thing from a fan of Donald J. Trump.  He's a huckster and a charlatan, a relentless self-promoter and fabulist whose penchant for infidelity and compulsive falsehood turned...inevitably and predictably...into a threat to our constitutional republic.  He is still a threat, and I take that threat seriously.

He appears vital and dynamic, and is in reasonably good condition for a human being of his vintage.  None of that diminishes his moral unsuitability for leadership.  The issue is not and was never his age. 

Similarly, I see little in Joe Biden to indicate that he is in any meaningful way incapacitated.  He's still remarkably physically fit for a man of 80, and while he's not a golden tongued orator, neither is he incompetent.  He's shown ability as a negotiator, and has worked assiduously to rebuild the center that we all pretend we want rebuilt.  

Not that this has stopped those who despise Biden from taking up the same cruel refrains.  Listen to that answer, gotta be Alzheimers.  Man is senile!  Doddering!  Lookit Brandon fall!  Old man goes down!  Haw. Haw.

As a caregiver to elderly parents, one who has rushed across town in the dead of night because a fall has occurred, that cruelty fills me with anger, but it is not a partisan anger.  It is an anger with those for whom partisanship trumps decency, and for whom partisanship trumps kindness.  

That is not to say that age might not become a concern, as it has with Senator Feinstein.  It's important for leaders not to cling to the role that they believe defines them when they can no longer serve ably.  That's a real thing.  Even for pastors.

But even before it becomes a real thing, it has been a false thing, a partisan line of attack.   Because in the pursuit of power, nothing is off limits.  If, as Saul Alinsky counseled in Rules for Radicals, political mobilization requires us to personally and deeply hate everything about our opponents, then there is nothing about them that we will not twist into that bitter service.  We will shine the blinding light of our hatred on every weakness, real or imagined.