There is one major topic in the American presidential election that neither candidate – nor the media for that matter – have dared to touch upon: age.
Kate de Medeiros, author of The short guide to aging and gerontology, asks ‘why?’
Age – specifically older age – has been conspicuously absent as a line of personal attack between the candidates, as a demographic target of would-be voters, and as an articulated position regarding health care and pension policies.
Don’t get me wrong. In some respects, I am glad to see that the ageist rhetoric which has clouded other U.S. elections hasn’t appeared this time, at least not explicitly.
Perhaps because the two candidates are so close in age (Trump is 70 years old; Clinton, 68), or because the oldest people in the American baby boomer cohort (those born between 1946 and 1964) are now 70 themselves, we’re not hearing whispers of dementia like in the 2008 election. Then, the 71-year-old John McCain, running against a 47-year-old Barack Obama, was often referred to by contenders and the media as ‘confused’, ‘out of touch’, and lacking vigor and energy.
Of course, chronological age alone says very little about a person or their functional abilities. Although Trump has repeatedly stated that Hilary Clinton ‘doesn’t have the look’ or the ‘stamina’ to be president, it’s unclear if his remarks were based on her gender and a double standard of ‘beauty’, on her age, or something entirely different.
“Neither campaign side has talked about going after ‘older voters'”
In stark contrast to 2008, the idea of being ‘too old’ has not featured prominently this election, at least not that I’ve seen. Bernie Sanders (75 years old) captured the youth vote during the primary elections, something that Clinton has been unable to do herself. While women as a demographic have been heavily courted by Clinton, interestingly, neither campaign side has talked about going after older voters.
Since I have the happy pleasure of living in one of the election battleground states – Ohio – I am confronted on a daily basis with television advertisements from both sides. Clinton’s ads often feature images of children looking frightened or sad as they watch clips of a petulant Trump mocking or insulting others. For a brief time, there were Trump ads showing Clinton stumbling at a political event with a voice over that questioned her health status. All I can say that as of this morning, the ads from both sides now feature nuclear weapons (or maybe it just feels that way).
“‘Old’ is the most dangerous label of all”
While it is good to see the age of the candidates being a non-issue, it is disturbing to see that talk about Medicare and Social Security are also absent. There have been some brief quips about “shoring up Medicare” and strengthening the social security system for “our seniors” (whoever those people are). But one has to really dig into various articles and news postings to even get a sense where either stands on these issues. Even now, I’m still not entirely clear on who wants what and why.
So, all of this begs the question: Why are both candidates shying away from age-related issues? I suggest it is because the label of ‘old’ is the most dangerous label of all, that to claim ‘old’, the candidates fear they would be discredited or overlooked. There have been studies suggesting that many cultures around the world view older people as kind but incompetent and view anger and competence as negative characteristics in them. Although they may be dubbed as’wise’, they are not expected to have a voice and may even be discouraged to. Older age then becomes a time that others can easily forget by putting older people out of their minds and out of the dialogue.
Perhaps, then, of all the stories we’ve heard during this campaign, the most important is the one that has yet to be told.
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