Why Do Such Elderly People Run America?

Why Do Such Elderly People Run America? By Derek Thompson.

In January 2021, the three people most likely to be the next president—Biden, Sanders, and the incumbent, Donald Trump—would each be the oldest president to ever give an inaugural address in American history. …

If, through some constitutional glitch, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama jumped into the 2020 race at this very moment, each would suddenly become the youngest man in the contest. …

Why?

Maybe it’s about the American electorate’s preference for “experienced novices.”

Since 1996, every new president has had less national political experience than the previous commander in chief had when he was elected. Bill Clinton was a fresher face than George H. W. Bush, but had more gubernatorial experience than George W. Bush, who in turn was a governor for longer than Barack Obama was a senator. And then came Trump, who had no political experience at all. If you extrapolate this trend, it might sound like America’s next breakthrough presidential candidate will be some 35-year-old YouTube influencer who just recently learned about the filibuster.

But audiences tend to gravitate toward extreme novelty when it’s paired with deep familiarity. Most people want to feel mildly surprised and simultaneously comforted by their media, whether film, television, or music. The perfect “familiar surprise” in politics might be a character quite like Trump: a well-known celebrity who also represents a shock to the political system. If the future of American politics is experienced novices, the scale may be subtly tipped toward comforting paternal figures who aren’t steeped in the poison of contemporary politics, either because they’ve been out of the game (like Biden) or because they’ve consistently rejected its rules (like Sanders).