Elderly elected leaders are ignoring my generation | Opinion

I voted for the first time in my life in the Aug. 2 primary election. The 70-something volunteers manning my polling place seemed shocked to see a voter with all his hair.

I’m 18, so my driver's license is displayed vertically as opposed to a traditional horizontal license. The pollworker who examined it seemed puzzled. “Are you sure you’re old enough to vote?” he asked me.

Then we both laughed, but I realized that it was sadder than it was funny.

That interaction told me two things:

First, I was probably the only person below the age of 21 to show up to vote at my local precinct that day.

Second, the boomer candidates who received my vote have little incentive to act on the issues facing my generation.

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I don’t use Boomer to deride. I use it because that’s what many of our elected leaders are: Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. The youngest members of their generation are turning 58 this year; the oldest are 76. Donald Trump, who will be 78 before the next presidential election, just makes the cut.

And many of the most prominent (and powerful) leaders in both parties are older still. Joe Biden is 79. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Bernie Sanders, the outspoken champion of the youthful progressive movement, are both 80.

Who are these guys?

We are ruled by a gerontocracy — a group of people who are growing alarmingly unfamiliar with their constituency. And my peers and I, 40 years removed from their generation, just don’t have much in common with them.

The average age of the U.S. Senate is 64 years and 3 months. In nine months, the Social Security Administration will recommend that they retire.

It’s frightening.

My peers and I, who are slowly finding our way out of college and into roles as participatory citizens of American democracy, cannot be adequately represented by our current politicians. We are facing massive, scary issues that the old people running this country don’t seem to have any sense of urgency about.

There aren’t many people serving in our Congress or state legislatures who understand what it’s like to walk into class and wonder if your classmate has a gun. They don’t have to worry that climate change will destroy the world by the time they’re ready to have kids.

It doesn’t seem like they worry that they will kill the horse before they pass the reins.

Policing the inter-webs

I am concerned that we are ruled by people who are unwilling and unable to keep stride with an ever-changing world. I worry that this will have disastrous consequences for me and my peers.

It is especially dangerous regarding contemporary issues like data rights and cybercrime, which require an element of modern technological savvy that many ncumbent members of Congress are simply incapable of.

This was on full display when Mark Zuckerberg testified before congress concerning the security of Facebook users' data in 2018. It was obvious that the congresspeople many of the lawmakers listening to his testimony did not actually understand the internet and social media.

So obvious, in fact, that a video compilation of senators asking hilariously uninformed questions was posted to YouTube under the title, “Zuckerberg explains the internet to Congress.” The video garnered nearly 3 million views.

Again, it is sadder than it is funny.

Older voters are frightened, too

This goes beyond internet memes, though. Voters of all ages are demonstrably concerned about the ages of their elected officials.

A poll conducted by Siena College in partnership with the New York Times found that 64% of the Democrats polled said they wanted someone other than Biden to be the nominee for the 2024 presidential election. A third of those Democrats cited his age as their main concern.

That’s not something to be ignored.

But young people have a responsibility here. If we, Generation Z, want the gerontocracy that rules our country to start prioritizing our concerns, we have to do more than share funny YouTube videos. Poll workers shouldn’t be surprised when we show up. We have to vote.

Gerontocracy is more dangerous than septuagenarian lawmakers embarrassing themselves on social media. It's scarier than the spectacle of a 76-year-old Trump chiding a 79-year-old “Sleepy Joe.” It is about the future of our country.

We will be voting with that in mind, because we are old enough to vote.

Liam Rappleye, a student at Albion College, is an intern with the Free Press Editorial Board.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Opinion: Elderly elected leaders are ignoring my generation