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From Their Cold, Dead Hands

We need new leadership more than ever — particularly when the old bosses simply refuse to relinquish their tenuous grip on power.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Win McNamee/Getty Images and Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

 

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The entire idea of the United States demands a reckoning.

Never mind a militant, minoritarian movement who ache to turn the clock back on the bedrock advances made by highly visible and very vulnerable groups of people over the past several decades.

It’s an inflection point for a country which could reengage with what its ideas of society mean, what government is capable of, and what an honest days work could earn an ordinary person increasingly gutted by American oligarchs and their foot soldiers.

What is going on?

It’s not unfair to say that American leadership has a horrible age problem — elected officials simply do not reflect the demographics of the communities they hope to govern.

The average American is 38 years old as of 2019. The average member of Congress in the same year was 58 years old.

The US Senate is even worse — its median age is continuing to tick upwards, from 62.4 in 2017 up to 65.3 in 2022.

A small silver lining, though not much, is that the House is steadily getting younger on average and even welcomed its first Gen Z member, Rep. Maxwell Frost, in its most recent session.

Rep. Frost actually made news by being denied an apartment for his bad credit history — despite recently coming into an income that, oh I don’t know, probably would have made him a decent tenant.

I can’t imagine a Congress awash in Baby Boomers being able to appropriately engage with that reality for generations coming after them.

Did he not shake his would-be landlord’s hand hard enough? Did Rep. Frost even pound the pavement?

This is obviously really bad, for more reasons than one.

Our country and our communities need leadership that leaves no one behind, and at the simplest of levels that means more representation from younger people and for younger people.

And by younger, I mean people who are in the meat of their middle years of life.

Even more Gen Xers would be a step in the right direction.

But, tragically, Gen Z and Millennials are losing confidence in their society at an alarming rate — making them less likely to participate in a system that has so thoroughly failed them.

Conversely, these same people in government during that time did a tremendous job of shielding one particular generation — everyone’s favorite, frankly — from the brutal economic conditions that have defined life for the vast majority of people born after 1970.

And for their swan song, those who have spent a lifetime in power offering the average American an increasingly raw deal plan on either burning the house down or blowing it up altogether before they check out permanently.

Even if the sum total of their actions means the house is left in a pile of ashes, they’re so shameless that they demand their name still be on the deed for the heap.

I’ve never necessarily thought of myself as someone who ascribes to generational politics — some of my favorite people are up in years.

But it gets harder to toe that line when our leaders age, exhibit symptoms of aging which demand one slows things down, and then blatantly refuse to pass the torch to people better equipped to deal with the problems they’ve failed to solve for the duration of their careers in public service.

Who knows…maybe I’ll understand why they do it better when I’m older.

 

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