President Trump is 74 years old. Former Vice President Joe Biden is 77 years old. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 80 years old. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is 78 years old. For years now, the American people have let our grandparents run the country.
Despite the average American being just 37 years old, according to the 2010 census (2020 data is not in yet), the median age of a U.S. congressperson is 58 years old, and the median age of a U.S. Senator is nearly 62 years old.
The typical American retires somewhere in their mid-60s, yet we continue to ask people over 65 to make the most important and impactful decisions for this country.
While there is nothing wrong with having older members in the legislative branch, a significant lack of young leadership is highly destructive to American democracy.
It is extremely common to discuss greater representation for women, minorities and people of color, yet young people seem to be excluded from our conversations. However, it is clear that values rapidly shift generation to generation. Given the extremely low representation of people under 40 in positions of power in federal and local government, an older generation is by-and-large running the show.
This poses an additional threat to the country in the coming years. As we were so painfully reminded this month with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no government official lives forever. Although upsetting and unsettling, voters need to acknowledge that their favorite political dynasty cannot prove eternal. And as officials like Speaker Pelosi, President Trump, Sen. McConnell and former Vice President Biden continue to age, their remaining life expectancy only proceeds to drop.
Many sections of American politics are at a loss as to who the next great champion of women’s rights and foremost legal expert of equality will be in the absence of Justice Ginsburg. Political figures like RBG should not be once-in-a-generation superstars. There needs to be a constant flow of new talent and ideas into the democratic process to keep our society from becoming stagnant.
Our democracy is like a shark: if it stops moving, it will die. The introduction of younger political figures is one of the surest ways to keep our democracy swimming.
However, getting new people to throw their hats in the political ring has become more difficult over the past 10 years. The deep division of partisanship has excluded a whole generation of newcomers to the political scene on both sides of the aisle.
In the past decade, the fissure along party lines has become increasingly deep. Both parties feel an immense pressure to win, and therefore, put forward an older, more experienced, sure winner rather than a young newcomer that is more of a gamble. Both parties would rather take an easy victory than risk bringing in some younger blood.
We need to find a way to work past the notion that securing seats is the end goal of politics. It is about ensuring the people in our communities are properly represented and listened to.
Although seniority is no guarantee of wisdom and youth is no guarantee of innovation, the American people need to seek out a happy medium between age and experience, and new ideas and growth to ensure the survival of our democracy for generations to come.