NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
When America goes to the polls to elect their next president on Tuesday 3rd November, they will be faced with a choice between two of the oldest candidates ever to seek that office. Donald Trump has already broken the age records. At 70 years and 220 days he was the oldest president ever to be sworn-in back in January 2017. He is now 73 years old. Trump will face either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders for the Democrats. Biden is 77 and Sanders is 78, meaning America would have its first ever serving 80+ president if the Democrats win.
Old presidents are not a worldwide phenomenon. Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe until he was almost 94. Dr Hastings Banda ruled Malawi until he was 98. Neither country would judge their elderly rulers as a great success. But for America an octogenarian president would be very unusual. It was Malcolm X in his book ‘Black Liberation and the Road to Workers’ Power’ who said: “the young people are the ones who most quickly identify with the struggle and the necessity to eliminate the evil conditions that exist.” The surge of support that the elderly and hard-left Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed from the grassroots socialist Momentum organisation during the British general election campaign, was mostly based on the backing of young people. Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a ‘democratic-socialist’, enjoys a similar following among young Americans, enthused by his ideas of “creating an economy that works for all, not just the wealthy.” Echoes of Corbynism there.
But in a country of 328 million people, it seems bizarre that the choice offered to voters will be two aged, white pensioners. It looks more than likely that Joe Biden will emerge as the front-runner for the Democrats. The former Vice President had a shaky start to his campaign in the Democratic primaries, but then secured a spectacular revival in South Carolina and went on to win 9 of the 14 states on Super Tuesday, leaving his main rival, Bernie Sanders with only a handful, including his home state of Vermont. Biden notched up further support this week in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, leaving Sanders with only one significant victory, the highly important and influential state of California, whose 415 delegates represent the largest haul in the nominating contest. So, the scene is set for an interesting head-to-head runoff for the Democratic nomination.
But who are these time-worn contestants for the world’s most powerful job? Donald Trump is a teetotal, non-smoker who doesn’t even sip tea or coffee. He knocks back loads of Diet Coke, however and, unsurprisingly, only sleeps for four or five hours nightly, presumably spending the rest of the time on his iPhone, disseminating incendiary tweets. At 6ft 3in and over 17 stone, the White House physician reckons Trump is in pretty good shape for his age.
In 1988, Joe Biden had brain surgery after being diagnosed with two life-threatening cranial aneurysms. According to his personal physician, Biden is currently being treated for an irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol, acid reflux, which causes him to clear his throat frequently and seasonal allergies. Despite the irregular heartbeat, Biden's doctor says he is “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief." Biden’s doctor added that the former Vice President “does not use any tobacco products and does not drink alcohol at all.”
It appears that 78-year-old Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that likes a drink. He’s a fan of ‘Heady Topper’, an American double IPA that has achieved legendary status with American beer enthusiasts. Sanders suffered a heart attack last October and promised reporters then that he would release his medical records. His failure to do so, has raised questions about his fitness for the job. Sanders is a non-practising Jew, while Biden is a devout Catholic, carrying a set of Rosary beads with him at all times. Donald Trump is a Presbyterian, probably harking back to his Scottish roots, where his mother Mary Anne MacLeod came from Tong, on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
The big issue dividing the candidates is, inevitably, political. Trump boasts that he has transformed the US economy, cutting taxes, creating 4 million jobs and securing an impressive 4.2% of economic growth. His main motivation appears to have been the dismantling of everything achieved by his predecessor, Barack Obama, like abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran, trying to dismantle ‘Obamacare’, cancelling the Trans Pacific Partnership trade accord (TPP) and the Paris Climate Agreement and even re-introducing tough new travel sanctions to Cuba. As only the third US Head of State and Commander in Chief ever to be impeached, Trump’s presidency has been one of the most controversial in US history. But can he be beaten by an ageing Democrat?
Politically, Joe Biden’s main appeal is to America’s middle class. His campaign theme during the primaries has been “We need to rebuild the middle class, and this time make sure everybody comes along, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Across the country, too many families have been left behind. The next president needs to understand what the current one doesn’t. In America, no matter where you start in life, there should be no limit to what you can achieve.” Biden’s message has certainly resonated with African American and Hispanic voters across the USA, helping him sweep to primary victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.
The Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders’ anti-establishment message hasn’t changed during the fifty years he has been in active politics. The independent Senator from Vermont aspires to lead a party that he has never joined. Sanders argues that “The average person is working longer hours for lower wages, in a rigged economy which works for the rich and powerful and is not working for ordinary Americans.” His suggestion that he would be open to a 90% top marginal tax rate for the super-rich, as well as a 52% top income tax bracket for the wealthy, has excited his army of young supporters and terrified middle America. Which is why the Democratic nominee will probably be Joe Biden and the final showdown to become the oldest US President will be an historic battle between two old, white men.