How does a national leader deal with the future of the world when he doesn’t personally have a future in that world?
As the confrontation with Russia escalates into nuclear threats, there is a risk the world is facing that has not been clearly stated. It has to do with the ages of Presidents Biden and Putin, both in their 70s.
There is no mandatory retirement age for politicians. As a senior member of society myself, I appreciate that there are no agist biases limiting elder statesmen from continuing to participate in politics. Hopefully, their age brings experience and wisdom, so having US and Russian leaders in their 70s is a lucky thing. Right? We need experienced, wise leaders to help us get through this difficult, dangerous time.
Wisdom from age is good. But can we trust the future to two old men who, due to their advanced age, have little future themselves?
The future means a different thing to soldiers in their teens and 20s fighting a war, than it does to the leaders in their 70s conducting the war. Not only is the future longer for the young than for the old, but the future seems brighter to the young than to the old. The young have not yet paid all the dues that the old have paid in full. They still have the hope and naive trust that makes them try what the old have given up.
But what sets the young and old apart the most is that the old are facing their own, personal existential crisis of getting old and ultimately facing their end.
Old age can be a difficult time, as we realize we are past our prime and now face health challenges and the specter of disability and death. And depending on one’s personal religious views, it can also be an important time to set things right before meeting one’s “Maker”. It’s a time to do what one can before the world effectively ends for oneself.
This has to play on the minds and spirit of elderly leaders. When facing one’s own personal apocalypse, it is hard not to draw others in.
If a leader is fighting his last battle, he might feel his people need to fight with him to the bitter end, as well. That’s what some people seem to worry about Putin and his threat to use nukes. Meanwhile, Biden has responded to Putin’s nuclear threats with frightening concerns over a nuclear Armageddon.
My point is that it’s easier for old people like Biden and Putin, who are facing their own personal apocalypse, to see the world in Armageddon terms.
Perhaps this is a reason why Ukrainian President Zelensky is so successful in thwarting Russia. Zelensky is in his lower 40s. He can see himself part of a future for which he is fighting.
French President Macron was quoted as saying that Biden’s expression of concern over a nuclear Armageddon was irresponsible talk, and that cooler minds are required. Macron is one year older than Zelensky, around 45.
The older heads seem to be hotter than the younger heads. Let’s hope the hot heads don’t bring their personal Grim Reapers to everyone else’s door.
This also means that we need younger people to run for the Oval Office. We need leaders who not only see a vision for the future, but who can also be in that future. We need people in their prime, not their decline. And we need hope for a brighter future, even if it is a bit naive and youthful.
Youth should lead with the advice of elders. And elder leaders should pass the torch before the flame goes out.