Aging face of American democracy


In the run-up to Joe Biden’s re-election bid, the age issue of the American presidential candidates took center stage, sparking a national debate on whether older politicians pose a threat to democracy. With Biden at 80 and Donald Trump not far behind at 76, concerns about cognitive health and the impact of gerontocracy on American governance have taken root.

The United States finds itself at a crossroads, torn between the influential, aging baby boomer generation and a rapidly expanding, diverse, and younger population that lacks proportional political and economic influence. This generational divide is increasingly evident in the attitudes and behaviors shaping American society.

The gerontocracy dominating US politics came into sharp focus when images of 81-year-old Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struggling at a press conference circulated widely. The debate over whether there should be an age limit on governing reignited, especially as notable figures like Democrat Dianne Feinstein held office until the age of 90.

The nation’s identity, as articulated by Samuel Huntington, has historically been shaped in contrast to an undesirable “other.” However, with a lack of a common enemy, American identity appears to be disintegrating, leading to a pursuit of commercial or ethnic interests as the basis of foreign policy.

Democracy in the United States faces unprecedented challenges such as rising extremism, authoritarianism, and misinformation. The country is experiencing political upheaval, raising questions about the resilience of its democratic system. Calls for electoral reforms, including the elimination of the Electoral College and increased proportionality, face significant hurdles due to a lack of consensus and the need for constitutional amendments.

Once lauded as a global democratic model, the US is grappling with three major gaps: gender, geographic, and generational. Public policies must address these disparities to ensure equal representation in the political arena, encourage voting rights, and foster diverse leadership.

Inequality is growing not only between individuals but also among territories, creating disparities in infrastructure, social networks, and electoral behavior. The generational gap is widening, as young people face delayed entry into the workforce, economic challenges, and disenchantment with a democratic system that seems disconnected from their immediate concerns.

As the 2024 presidential election looms, the prospect of two septuagenarian candidates raises concerns about the future of American democracy.

Economist Michael Roberts points out the relative decline of the US economy, stagnant manufacturing, and the looming threat of China’s rise, potentially leading to another year of economic downturn.

The danger to American democracy is not mere rhetoric; the attempted coup on January 6, 2021, by Trump supporters underscores the fragility of the system. Over 1,230 individuals involved in the assault on the Capitol face criminal charges, and extreme right-wing and white supremacist groups pose significant threats to national security.

The Council on Foreign Relations’ annual poll reveals that domestic terrorism and political violence are now among the top global concerns for 2024. Trump’s continued use of divisive rhetoric and false claims contributes to a narrative that undermines the stability of American democracy.

Dissatisfaction with the democratic process is evident, with only 28 percent of adults expressing satisfaction, a stark decline from 61 percent in 1990. The electoral system’s flaws, including the lack of a direct popular vote for the president, perpetuate the influence of moneyed interests and hinder genuine democratic representation.

Former President Jimmy Carter characterizes the US as an oligarchy, where unlimited political bribery defines the nomination and election of leaders. Calls for a renewal of political elites and a shift away from gerontocracy gain momentum, with proposals like mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75.

Organizations like Run for Something emerge to break down obstacles hindering young people from entering politics, aiming to build a new generation of diverse politicians who truly represent the American population. However, with a majority of Americans expressing reservations about Biden’s second term, the need for a democratic renewal goes beyond age and encompasses the very foundations of the political system.

As the nation grapples with existential threats to its democracy, the 2024 presidential election becomes a critical juncture. The challenges faced by the US are not just political but deeply rooted in societal divisions, economic inequalities, and the urgent need for comprehensive reforms. The aging face of American democracy demands a concerted effort to redefine and revitalize the nation’s democratic principles for the generations to come.


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