Once an obscure word, “gerontocracy,” which means a government ruled by people who are significantly older than the adult population, is now increasingly part of Americans’ vocabulary.
Not a lot unites Democrat and Republican voters but one issue stands out: many think America’s leaders are too old.
Much has been said about the ages of President Biden and his likely contender Donald Trump. Mr Biden turns 81 on Monday, making him the oldest president ever, with Mr Trump no spring chicken at 77.
Derived from the Latin word senex, which means ‘old’ and ‘old man’, the Senate has always been home to some of the country’s most elder statesmen and women. However, with a median age of 65, today’s Senate is now the oldest it has ever been, according to Professor Kevin Munger author of Generation Gap: Why the Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture.
“We expect people to be in their 50s and 60s – it’s perfectly reasonable to have people with that experience running the country,” he told the BBC. “But we’re talking about it now because we have people who are in their 80s and running the country and that is unique.”
Mr Munger said the reasons for this current aging leadership varies. Many are unable to let go of being in power, which in turn is enabled by no term limits. The baby boom (those born from 1946 to 1964) also meant that a large cohort of elected officials had approached retirement age.
“We are simply seeing the decades downstream consequence of that, amplified by specific historical events and American political institutions,” he said.
With so few leaving office, opportunities for young people to join the ranks are rare. Those who have broken through the so-called grey wall say they can often be underestimated because of their age.
Florida Democratic Congressman Maxwell Frost, became the youngest member of Congress – and its first Gen-Z member – when he was elected this year at the age of 25.
“I remember when I first came to Congress and I was going to the member entrance and I had to show my card,” he told the BBC. “And the security guy called over some of his friends and was like how old are you? And you’re black too?”
“They’re right! I don’t look like a member of Congress.”
While being young gives him a perspective into a generation his elderly colleagues cannot share, he points out that not all young Americans are the same.
“I don’t believe I am the sole representative of Gen Z,” he said. “There are many young people who would say I don’t represent everything they believe. It’s not enough to just have young people in these halls.”
Case in point: President Biden. Mr Frost applauded him for making issues, like student loans, a priority.
“Not everything is about age.”
Still, many are calling on the older generation to step down to make room for faces like Mr Frost’s.
The same worries are now being raised about 81-year-old Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell. He twice froze for an uncomfortably long time during two press conferences, prompting questions about his health.