The Reign of the Methuselahs

Why are so many men and women who clearly only have a few years left on this earth so obsessed with exercising power until their final moments?

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Have you noticed that we are living in the Age of the Aged? Most of our ruling elite, from Joe Biden to Mitch McConnell, are in their 80s or near their 80s. What a reversal from the historical norm, in which the few individuals who survived into their 9th decade were content to be respected advisors who passed on their wisdom and experience to younger generations. Now they cling to power like a liberal nun to her pantsuits.

Consider our current situation:

We have President Joe Biden, who is not only still governing at the age of 81 but is currently running for another term which would not end until he is 86! He is already the oldest sitting president, although he might not be the oldest president to be fully aware that he is president.

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Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader of the Senate, recently announced his upcoming retirement, but he’s already 82 years old and has held his position as the Republican Senate leader since 2007. He’s not exactly going out in his prime.

Nancy Pelosi may not be the Democratic leader in the House anymore, but she’s shown no signs of leaving her congressional seat, and she will turn 84 this month. Maybe she’s trying to top her friend Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was still a sitting senator when she died recently, at the age of 90.

Donald Trump looks like a spring chicken compared to these ancients, but he’s not exactly young himself. He’s currently 77, which means that if he were to win this November (and be allowed to take office), his second term would not be over until he was 82. Instead of anointing a younger man such as Ron DeSantis (age 45), Trump seems hell-bent on getting back to power in his “golden years.”

Why is this happening? Why are so many men and women who clearly only have a few years left on this earth so obsessed with exercising power until their final moments? I can think of a few reasons.

First, in modern times people are living much longer, so few consider retirement in their 60s (even though the official “retirement age” in terms of social security is still 67). Not only are we living longer, but we remain relatively healthy longer, both physically and mentally. Evidently, the powerful elites believe that as long as they have the energy to hold on to power, they should hold on to power, younger generation be damned.

There’s also what I would call the boomer mentality prevalent with many of the elderly. Although the oldest member of the official boomer generation today is only 78, being a “boomer” is more an attitude than an age range. One with a boomer mentality sees himself as the center of the universe, vital to the proper running of the world. We changed the world in the 1960’s and we have to keep on changing it until we die! Many of those who are actually older than the official boomers have been infected with this mentality, believing they must exert power, lest the world fall apart in less capable hands. God help us when the actual boomers are in their 80s.

Another factor, paradoxically, is the exaltation of youth in today’s culture. The idea of spending one’s golden years in quiet retirement is anathema to many people today. We have to do all we can to pretend we are still young at heart, instead of embracing the beauty that comes with old age. “Old age is a crown of dignity, when it is found in the ways of justice” (Proverbs 16:31). It’s hard to find much dignity in the many youth-seeking elderly today (have you seen The Rolling Stones lately?).

Likely the predominant reason for so many of the aged clinging to power is a rejection of the afterlife. When one nears the end of this life, it’s only natural to think of the next—and whether one is prepared for what one will face. It’s a time to take stock and reflect on one’s life. Not these modern Methuselahs. They are consumed with this world, ignoring the judgement that will soon come for them. Imagine spending the last years of your life obsessing about budget reports or committee hearings rather than contemplating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Imagine spending the last years of your life obsessing about budget reports or committee hearings rather than contemplating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.Tweet This

While we suffer under the reigns of these age-denying rulers, we should ourselves view old age in the appropriate way. Our purpose in life is not to rule the world, but to be with God forever in the next life. Therefore, if we are blessed to live to an old age, we should intensify our preparation for that next life in the final years of this life. Our worldly responsibilities have probably diminished—if we allowed them to—leaving more time for prayer and charity. Old age also affords us the opportunity to pass on the wisdom we have gained to the next generation. And until we reach that season in our lives, we should consider with respect those who properly live out their state of life in old age.

Look to examples like the 2nd-century bishop St. Polycarp. When dragged before a Roman proconsul, he was told to “show yourself a man” and “respect your old age” by denying Christ and swearing by Caesar. Instead he chose death by proclaiming, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” He didn’t grasp onto this life, but gave it up freely for Christ.

Or consider the mother of the Maccabees. When her sons were facing death, she encouraged them to stand strong in the faith, to be steadfast in their confession. In her old age, she could see clearly life’s true priorities and so was able to urge her sons to put the next life before the pull of this life.

When it comes to our elderly rulers, however, we should be deeply suspicious of anyone older than 80 who is still grasping for power. A better example is Cincinnatus, the Roman military leader who was thrust into power at an old age due to circumstances, but willingly relinquished that power once the crisis was over, returning to his rural life. It’s hard to imagine a Biden or a Trump willingly leaving the political spotlight for any reason.

And to those men and women over 80 who still want to rule others: look to Cincinnatus, give up your power. Spend your time instead preparing for the next life. You will not only be better off for it, but, paradoxically, it will be by doing this that you will have the most meaningful impact on this world and those around you.


  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

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