The 80s Called. They’re on Their Way for You, Mr. President

Mr. President, if you’re tired of people talking about how old you are, think about how I feel. You’re only 79. I’m 82 – three years down the road. You’re still a kid, although it’s true that crossing the White House lawn makes you walk like the Tin Woodman in need of a squirt of lube. Falling off the bike didn’t look good either. I wish you would remember that the best hope after 75 is enigmatic dignity – Elder Statesman, grandfather knows best, Konrad Adenauer, stuff like that. think gravity. You need a new tailor, by the way. The suits are too tight. you are not 24

Just for your eyes, I’ve prepared a scouting report on the conditions you’ll find as you cross the mystical line of 80, into serious old age. Your timing, I must say, could be better. I realize that you will be turning 80 just 12 days after the midterm elections in November. I predict that neither the milestone birthday nor the election results will put your party in a party mood.

You will have noticed that aging is a surreal phenomenon and that time is passing faster and faster. A year is compressed into a month. Death becomes Zeno’s paradox. The end is always there, right in front of you in the mist and darkness, though you don’t know exactly when or how it will come upon you. They’re no longer reveling in the youthful sense (that used to be the official American thing) that Thomas E. Dewey told voters in the 1948 presidential campaign, “The future is ahead!” Whatever lies ahead for man in his 80’s, it’s not exactly the future. Often just the opposite unfolds before him: the past, this interesting country, rich in treasures and entertainment and regrets. Old age, of course, favors the past; it feels safer there.

Medical horrors lurk. If you’ve come this far, you know these. The 80’s are no jokes. Your calendar will be crowded with doctor appointments; The first half hour of dinner with friends is spent on medical updates. They acquire technical jargon and get to know, for example, the Gleason score for the prostate.

Think of old age in terms of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When John Bunyan wrote his mighty allegory in the late 17th century, its full title was The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That What Is To Come, Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream. This is not a bad description of life in its ninth decade, which at times is ‘dream-like’ and certainly looks like the gateway to the world to come. The staggering pilgrim will wallow in the Slough of Despond, lose his blood sugar while eating lunch at Vanity Fair, scale the Hills of Difficulty, suffer through the Valley of Humiliation, dream of the Delectable Mountains. Old age is like life, but more intense – and made weird by weaknesses.

Sleep acquires a metaphysical meaning; those who can’t sleep (I never can between 2 and 4 in the morning) find strategies: pray, read, think (but please don’t think about the bad or about what should have been; such thoughts come uninvited anyway).

But you are not an old monk like me. You are President of the United States. Teddy Roosevelt set an alarming standard for the Bureau when he lauded “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust, sweat and blood.” Are you still up for it?

It is good to remember that TR died exhausted at the age of 60. His cousin Franklin died at the age of 63 – wasted, exhausted. Lyndon B. Johnson, FDR’s onetime protégé, died exhausted at the age of 64. I remember that when Dwight Eisenhower left the White House in 1961 at the age of 70 – alongside his successor, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy – he appeared to be the oldest man in the world. But of course we were all young that winter.

That moment, as power passed from Eisenhower to Kennedy and the 1950s rolled into the 1960s, marked the reinforcement of a fallacy still at work in American culture — an existential fallacy that Bob Dylan, now 81, wrote in his anthem of 1973 summarized: “Forever young.”

This was the seed of fatal national neoteny – a word defined as the retention of juvenile traits in an adult animal. Age was getting gross — an attitude that seemed hilarious decades later, when it was discovered the hard way that nobody can (or should be) young forever. In fact, life has an apparent, inevitable flow, a progression from birth through childhood through adolescence to adulthood to middle age to old age and finally to death, with rules and roles appropriate to each stage. It’s good to be old. It’s good to be young. It is right to be a child and right when the time comes to be a mother or father, and right later to be a grandfather and little by little a corpse. There is a time for everything and a time for every purpose under heaven. Let’s leave it at that.

No doubt you, the octogenarian incumbent, being smart, have your reasons for insisting that you intend to stand for re-election. But if I were you my viewI would not.

Mr. Morrow is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book is God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money.

Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 general election to a landslide victory against Ronald Reagan, so it’s hard to see why Joe Biden continues to follow Carter’s “malaise” playbook today. Bettman via Getty Images/Shutterstock Composite: Mark Kelly

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