Our Geriatric Politics
Plus: Why is Trump backing J.D. Vance?
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." — Edmund Burke
On this Good Friday 2022, let’s contemplate the sinking of Russia’s powerful warship, Donald Trump’s possible endorsement of J.D. Vance in Ohio, and the awkwardness of our geriatric politics.
Yesterday’s news out of Ukraine:
And, as our colleague Cathy Young pointed out, the screenwriters have outdone themselves:
Unfortunately, the day’s political news has a warmed-over feel to it: Trump once again is reportedly thinking about throwing a massive orange turd into the GOP’s Senate punchbowl by endorsing J.D. Vance, who has been trailing in the polls.
This morning, there are reports that Ohio GOPers are desperately trying to block the endorsement. A letter signed by dozens of party leaders, “including a slew of county chairs, tells the former president that ‘an endorsement that cuts against your support and legacy in Ohio will only serve to confuse or upset voters’ and may even suppress Republican turnout in the fall.”
Once again, though, Trump is displaying his delight in humiliating the unctuous toadies who have vied for his favor. It’s hard to imagine what more shape-shifting, Big Lying, or deplorable groveling Josh Mandel could have done to win favor with Mar-a-Lago, but he is being introduced to the World Beneath the Bus, where he will find a good deal of company among his fellow disappointed lickspittles.
And then there is Vance himself, whose transformation from bestselling author to MAGA troll was financed by billionaire Peter Thiel. Last March the Bulwark’s Mona Charen wrote, “Whatever the future of the Republican party will be, the shape-shifting J.D. Vance sheds light on the dynamics of how we got here and where the Republican party is headed.”
Scroll through his Twitter feed and you will find retweets of Tucker Carlson, alarmist alerts about immigration, links to Vance’s appearances on the podcasts of Seb Gorka, Dinesh D’Souza, and the like, and even retweets of Mike Cernovich. On February 16, he tweeted “I still can’t believe the 45th president of the United States has no access to social media, and the left—alleged opponents of corporate power—is just totally fine with it.” There’s a lot along those lines. But the tweet that really made my heart sink was this one from February 12: “Someone should have asked Jeffrey Epstein, John Weaver, or Leon Black about the CRAZY CONSPIRACY that many powerful people were predators targeting children.”
So now the brilliant author of Hillbilly Elegy, a man of judgment, nuance, and, one assumed, a moral center, is positioning himself as QAnon-adjacent.
Vance won the coveted endorsement of Marjorie Taylor Greene, and perhaps, now Trump. Our own Sarah Longwell called that shot:
So why is Trump thinking of making this endorsement now, hard on the heels of his embrace of the problematic Dr. Oz? Here’s Josh Kraushaar’s take:
We have an old political problem
This story is sad and unnerving at the same time: “Colleagues worry Dianne Feinstein is now mentally unfit to serve, citing recent interactions.”
Four U.S. senators, including three Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein staffers and the California Democratic member of Congress told The Chronicle in recent interviews that her memory is rapidly deteriorating. They said it appears she can no longer fulfill her job duties without her staff doing much of the work required to represent the nearly 40 million people of California
The very fact that the article is appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle this week feels like a cry for help.
When a California Democrat in Congress recently engaged in an extended conversation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, they prepared for a rigorous policy discussion like those they’d had with her many times over the last 15 years.
Instead, the lawmaker said, they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during an interaction that lasted several hours.
Rather than delve into policy, Feinstein, 88, repeated the same small-talk questions, like asking the lawmaker what mattered to voters in their district, they said, with no apparent recognition the two had already had a similar conversation.
The episode was so unnerving that the lawmaker — who spoke to The Chronicle on condition they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic — began raising concerns with colleagues to see if some kind of intervention to persuade Feinstein to retire was possible. Feinstein’s term runs through the end of 2024. The conversation occurred several weeks before the death of her husband in February.
Clearly, Feinstein, who has been a political icon in California politics for decades, deserves to be treated with compassion and respect. But there are political implications to this story, especially as we ask ourselves why government so often seems out of touch.
Let’s put this in some context. Feinstein was born in June 1933. That was three months after FDR was sworn in, and less than five months after Adolf Hitler was named German chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg.
This is what was happening that month:
June – The Holodomor famine-genocide in Ukraine reaches its peak, with 30,000 deaths from man-made starvation each day. The average life expectancy for a Ukrainian male born this year is 7.3 years.
June 25 – Wilmersdorfer Tennishallen delegates convene in Berlin to protest against the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany.
Feinstein is not the only octogenarian in the Senate.
Alabama’s Richard Shelby is 87. Oklahoma’s James Inhofe is 86; Vermont’s Pat Leahy is 81; and all three are retiring. But Iowa’s Charles Grassley, who is 88 years old — just three months younger than Feinstein — is running for another 6-year term. And Feinstein’s term runs until January 2025.
They are not alone. This is, in fact, the oldest Senate in U.S. history. The Wapo reports:
Twenty-three members of the Senate are in their 70s; only one is under 40. According to the Congressional Research Service, the average age of senators at the beginning of this year was 64.3 years — the oldest in history.
Some additional context: the median age of Americans is around 38 years old. But the average age of members of the House of Representatives is more than 57. It’s even worse for leadership, especially among the Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82, as is the number-two Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer.
The problem extends to the Supreme Court as well, where many of the most consequential decisions of recent years have been decided by elderly justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy was 82 when he retired; RBG died on the bench at the age of 87. Justice Stephen Breyer, who will step down this summer, is 83.
And then there is the presidency itself…
Six decades after the election of JFK passed the torch to a younger generation, we find ourselves facing the prospect of an ongoing geriatric presidency.
Joe Biden will be 82 on Inauguration Day 2025; if he is re-elected and serves out a second term, he will be 86 when he leaves office.
Donald Trump will be 78 on January 20, 2025, an age that Republicans routinely suggest is too old to be a Democratic president. (I hope you see what I did there.) He would be 82 by the end of his second term.
Can we acknowledge that this is a problem?
Obviously, the answer is not necessarily more youth, inexperience, and idiocy (see Madison Cawthorn), but is it too much to suggest that perhaps we need to have a government that is more in touch with the current century?
1. Bloody Borders or a Bloody Cross?
One way to read Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is as a religiously inspired war of conquest attempting to bring Ukraine back under its influence, not just for political or security reasons, but also because of a spiritual vision shared by Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) of a unified Russian civilization they refer to as the “Russian World.”
2. The Pregnant Beauty Blogger and the Kremlin Propagandists
For the Kremlin propaganda machine to hit a new low is quite a challenge. But it has managed to do that again and again during the war in Ukraine—and there is probably no better (or worse) example than the story of the pregnant Instagram blogger from Mariupol who was caught in the bombing of a maternity hospital. In the end, the Kremlin’s spin didn’t work, but not for lack of trying (with help from a few useful idiots in the West).
3. The Lessons of Ukraine for Taiwan—and the U.S.
A clearly stated U.S. commitment to vigorously defend Taiwan against efforts to forcibly incorporate it into the PRC against the will of the inhabitants and backed up by arms supplies and deployments of allied forces before the fact would serve to complicate any effort by Beijing to rattle the nuclear saber, establish an early blockade, and decapitate Taiwan’s leadership—all to reap the benefits of lessons learned from Russia’s recent experience in Ukraine.
Deterrence ahead of time could very well be the stitch that saves nine. Waiting until the crisis is at hand will be more expensive and infinitely more dangerous for Taiwan, for regional security in the Indo-Pacific, and for U.S. national interests.