Most “ism” epithets are hurtful if not downright dangerous. Ageism is just idiocy. All bodies age, but dementia is not inevitable. And statecraft is not rugby. Jimmy Carter, the most sensible president in my own Biden-long lifetime, remains shiv-sharp in hospice care at 99.
Those old Romans pegged it. Evil leaders get eviler with age, lusting for power and driven by greed. Good ones, free of envy with no more left to prove, serve the people. Nothing matches their experience and respect earned over time. Today, that has never mattered more.
The following column by contributing editor, journalist and author Mort Rosenblum is from his regular comment The MortReport. Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva Group are supporting Mort’s insightful and frank reporting from different parts of the world. If you can donate to his journalistic endeavour – based on decades of unique reporting experience across the globe – please do so.
Is Donald Trump more “dynamic” than Biden? Yes, like the mad queen down Alice’s rabbit hole screaming “Off with their heads.” He let Covid kill en masse, torpedoed the economy, savaged truth, pushed China toward potential war, egged on Russia and led a deadly coup d’etat.
A Trump-trashed nation is now symbolized less by that flag atop the Capitol than a viral photo of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert on the House floor, heckling a State of the Union speech like game-park baboons on a Land Rover hood flinging feces at the windshield.
“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved,” Cicero wrote, “but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not …poorer but is even richer.”
In fact, “Sleepy Joe” has traveled farther and more often as president than Thump, not to golf weekends, lie-laced rallies, meaningless photo ops or Mar-a-Loco but to summits and visits to disaster-stricken states. A grueling 10-hour train ride in Russia’s gunsights took him to Kyiv.
At night, he pores over briefing books rather than watch himself on cable TV or thumb insulting blasts on his phone that drive away allies while enraging adversaries.
The world has evolved over two millennia, but human nature hasn’t. On politics, Plutarch cites a wise Roman who refutes the notion that a young leader, eager but untested, should be in charge:
“No, by the gods! That is the sort of man who should carry the general’s bedding! The real general is the one who sees both beyond and behind political affairs and, when deciding upon a course of action, remains untroubled by any passion.”
In normal times, voters might gamble on an effective young governor, a member of Congress or a promising outlier. But America’s, and humanity’s, existential challenges are global. Being CEO of the still-free world takes personal relationships abroad based on esteem earned over time.
The advantage of age is having seen how past shapes present to help fresh generations shape a better future. We octogenarians predate Dwight Eisenhower, 13 administrations ago, who warned against a “military-industrial complex” that, nonetheless, has since flourished.
Last week from my home state, an Arizona gone half crazy, Biden delivered what under today’s challenges I consider to be the most important speech since Ike’s parting shot. Disagree, as many will, but first go back and watch it carefully, beginning to end.
He paid tribute to John McCain, his life-long Republican pal who at crunch time bolted from party lines to save Obamacare. He joked about his age, gave generous credit to those around him and oozed optimism. At the end, detailing Trump’s demagogy, he breathed fire.
This was the crux:
“Democracies don’t have to die at the end of a rifle. They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up or condemn the threats to democracy, when people are willing to give away that which is most precious to them because they feel frustrated, disillusioned, tired, alienated.”
Hardly anyone heard him. For those who did, few reporters pointed out why there is now so much despair. Post-Covid inflation, stalled climate action, the border influx, threats abroad, societal fractures, gun massacres, “alternative truth” and more trace directly back to Trump.
Most of the world lost faith in the only superpower able to protect human values, free expression and the rule of law. China now looms large, quickly filling a power vacuum. Vladimir Putin grinds away with genocidal war, confident that Americans will lose interest.
A few self-obsessed House miscreants forced Congress to freeze promised military aid to Ukrainians who are bleeding out on the free world’s behalf. Timothy Snyder at Yale, with intimate knowledge of Eastern Europe, captured the shameful folly on X-Twitter:
“Supporting Ukraine is a once-in-a-generation chance to make the world safer. Ending that support is recklessness for which we will suffer in all the conflicts that the Ukrainians are preventing or making less likely. Let us help those who help us.”
Biden spoke at Arizona State University in Tempe, near Phoenix, deep-red heartland flecked with blue. All three networks used to broadcast presidential speeches so voters could make informed decisions. When Trump moved from the bully pulpit to just bullshit, cameras relayed his bombast, unfiltered without interspersing actual truth. Profits depend on ratings.
CBS, the Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite network, streamed Biden on YouTube. That got 22,000 views. The White House video had 19,000. NBC Nightly News showed a few seconds of the president’s speech before giving more time to Trump babble elsewhere.
CNN and MSNBC carried the speech live. Afterward, smart historians and political analysts raved. Several harshly criticized Democrats who demand someone younger but with no one to suggest who is popular enough to win — or qualified to confront an unruly would.
With much of the mainstream missing in action, magpie MAGA media filled the void.
At the outset, a young man shouted that Biden had not attacked corruption or climate change. Trump’s response in such situations is some version of “get him outa here, feet first.” Biden smiled and said, “If you shush up, I’ll meet with you immediately afterwards.”
(I don’t know if he did, but no one hustled the guy away.)
One rightwing website made that the main takeaway under a headline that crowed, “Cranky codger Biden tells climate doomsday skeptic to ‘shush up.’” The story began:
“President Biden had another ‘old man yells at kids on his lawn’ moment…The 80-year-old codger who is overseeing the greatest breakdown of order in U.S. history resulting in millions of foreign invaders crashing our southern border was talking about protecting ‘our democracy’ when a climate alarmist began heckling him.”
Like most such “coverage” by MAGA “journalists,” the piece was shot full of contradictions, hyperbole and gross inaccuracies.
That border remark reeks with irony. Trump is an old man yelling at kids on his lawn: desperate people fleeing for their lives around the world in large part because of past U.S. foreign policy that he managed to make far worse.
The venerable U.S. Constitution divided powers among three branches, with a free-press Fourth Estate to sound alarms when one overstepped. Its drafters did not foresee Mitch McConnell, the internet, cable TV, dumbed-down schools and certainly not Donald Trump.
Today’s glut of news sources, reliable or otherwise, prevents anyone from staying atop subtleties and undercurrents in a complex world. I lamented to my very smart wife that while Americans focus on Stormy Daniels, few even noticed Storm Daniel. She looked blank.
As Seth Myers would say, it’s time for a closer look.
Storm Daniel was the freak downpour last month that turned a dry wadi into a torrent that crumpled two dams weakened by neglect, killing perhaps 20,000 in Derna, east of Benghazi. Many are still missing, so no one knows. Climate change played a part. Even more, so did geopolitics.
The point here, beyond ageism, is why an American president today needs a firm grasp of recent history. One mishandled crisis inevitably creates others, with devastating cumulative effect.
Benghazi, in case Republicans who hounded Hillary Clinton have forgotten, is in Libya. During the 2011 Arab Spring, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Clinton, then in Paris, urged a NATO strike on Muammar Qaddafi’s tanks before they went east to quash insurgents. Barack Obama and Biden agreed. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy demurred until it was too late.
Libyans savaged Qaddafi, then split into warring factions. Later, Iraqi and Kurdish forces with NATO support conquered the Islamic State caliphate. Trump claims credit for annihilating terrorism. In fact, jihadists streamed through Libya into West Africa and now control much of it.
According to an African Union estimate, 23,000 people were killed in 7,000 attacks since 2007 across the Sahel. With French troops gone, “security” is left to ragtag local armies often in sympathy with Islamists and Wagner Group mercenaries.
Africans fleeing poverty, conflict and climate collapse now funnel through Libya in hopes of reaching Europe. Most spend months if not years as indentured servants – slaves, in fact – to earn enough for a perilous passage. Many were systematically brutalized.
Libya is only one patch on a suffering planet. An “America First” president slashed foreign aid, fired diplomats who tried to help and encouraged tyrants to do their worst. Now the same megalomaniac monster wants to finish the job, perverting a diverse nation into his own image.
He trumpets his intentions: Gen. Mark Milley, who had assured China that his boss’s wild rhetoric was no cause to consider belligerent response, ought to be executed for treason. Police should shoot looters on sight, scrapping due process. Taxes for the rich should be slashed again, with tariffs that raise prices.
Trump, a master at finding ways to stall and exploiting jurisprudence designed to protect the innocent, is unlikely to be convicted before elections despite indictments for treasonous crimes. This extends to bald threats to judges, witnesses and potential jurors.
Ian Bremmer at the Eurasia Group, among my long-time sources, is habitually on the mark. He expects Biden to win but gives Trump up to a 30 percent chance. That should terrify America, considering Electoral College distortions and third-party candidates in the mix.
There is hope among American expatriates, who watched firsthand what Trump did to the world — and how swiftly Biden cleaned up his mess. Washington again talks to Beijing. Neither wants a cold war, let alone a hot one. Smart diplomacy cools down heated relations.
Connie Borde in Paris, former chair of Democrats Abroad, says expats in her party are united behind Biden. She shrugs off worry in America about Kamala Harris’s negative optics. “Kamala is ready to step in if she has to and would do a good job,” she told me.
Harris is a quick learner, adept at negotiation and, Borde says, a crowd-pleaser when she speaks to voters. Vice presidents habitually remain in the background, leaving voters to guess at their capabilities. On-the-job training is crucial to making contacts and grasping complexities.
But Borde fears that far too many Democrats and undecided voters back home obsess on age. It is that pervasive but unfounded collective bias. Dianne Feinstein waited too long. Nancy Pelosi remains in the House, an articulate hard charger who kept an unhinged president at bay.
On ageism, Frank Bruni in the New York Times cuts to the core. Biden and Trump are both old, he wrote. Only one of them is sane, humane and dedicated to his oath of office.
He quotes Rosanne Leipzig, a specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “I see people lumping every old person together and using the term ‘gerontocracy,” she says. “There’s no group…who are more different than older adults. We even have a term for it — the heterogeneity of aging.”
Looking ahead, I’m optimistic but with a capital-i If. Biden needs more time to restore sanity, backed by a solid majority in Congress and in statehouses. Fumigated legislatures can protect collapsing ecosystems, restore lost voting rights and appoint honest impartial judges.
By 2028, a new set of movers and shakers can reshape an America suited to fast-changing times. Yet because of media miasma and schools that shortchange civics, many young people back fringe contenders, if they vote at all. That usually helps the worse of two main candidates.
As the most crucial elections ever approach, rats scramble aboard a sinking ship in an upside-down America. Zero in on Matt Gaetz, if you can stomach it. At 41, he epitomizes the overly ambitious envy-driven manipulators those old Romans described.
Gaetz refused bipartisan accord on the federal budget, then snipped Kevin McCarthy’s puppet strings when the speaker displayed a flash of integrity. Now he, it appears, he wants to govern Florida after 2026 when Ron DeSantis must leave the job.
The House Ethics Committee in May called new witnesses in a two-year investigation after the Justice Department decided against charging Gaetz in a case of sex trafficking minors. His best buddy, Joel Greenberg, went to prison for 11 years.
Carl Hiaasen, whose laugh out loud novels and past columns in the Miami Herald skewer Florida dysfunction, summed up Gaetz on CNN: “If he’s sending money to women with a public Venmo account, he’s no candidate for Mensa.” Gaetz, he said, combines arrogance with stupidity.
But there is the flipside, which feeds my optimism and makes the case against ageism. Cassidy Hutchinson, releasing her book, “Enough,” is now speaking out for the first time since her damning in-the-room testimony to the House January 6 Committee.
Rachel Maddow asked her on MSNBC about Gaetz’s claim that they had a thing together. “I have much higher standards in men,” she replied. Then Lawrence O’Donnell sprang a surprise that had them both near tears: a video message from Alexander Butterfield, her 97-year-old mentor in California.
He was the top-level Nixon aide who told Congress 50 years ago that the president had secret recordings of meetings and phone calls in the Oval Office. That nailed down Watergate. Hutchison found the book he wrote with Carl Bernstein and tracked him down.
Butterfield, looking and sounding like a mere kid of 70, said he was pleased if he had inspired Hutchinson’s decision to testify in such telling detail. But, he added, he did not think she needed it.
A twenty-something who still must keep her window shades down for safety because she felt compelled to testify and a near-centenarian embedded in history reached the same conclusion. Public service demands integrity and character, no matter what. Age is beside the point.
For the record: I borrowed “Mar-a-Loco” from Frank Bruni, who wrote before the 2020 election: “…nudging the nutty monarch of Mar-a-Loco to emulate the Hoosier snoozer is like asking a honey badger to morph into a three-toed sloth.”
Global Geneva contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tucson, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. His regular column, The MortReport, is available online and by email. Also see Mort’s most recent book: Saving the World from Trump.