In his thoughtful — if depressingly headlined — story for The Atlantic last year, “Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think,” Arthur C. Brooks noted that while most people’s happiness increases between the ages of 50 and 70 in wealthier countries, all bets are off after that, especially if you’re male: Both depression and suicide rates go up in men after 75.
The story also noted that peaking early in life, as Biden did — he was first elected to the Senate at 29 — can often set unrealistic expectations for old age, and the inevitable decline in our ability to reason and solve novel problems, “or fluid intelligence,” can be a recipe for utter devastation.
But here, to me, was the real takeaway from Mr. Brooks’s piece: If our fluid intelligence declines as we age, our “crystallized intelligence,” or the ability to use what we know, increases. And what better profession is there to make use of what you know than politics?
On some level, voters intuited as much. They decided to replace a savage clown and chaos-sowing novice with a man defined by decency and nearly half a century of public service. After briefly (and disastrously) defining competency down, they defined it back up.
They also chose someone who is capable of change and admitting error, two qualities one associates with wisdom. During the second and final debate, Biden not once but twice confessed he’d made big mistakes in public office — in not persuading Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform during the Obama years, and in supporting the 1994 crime bill during the Clinton ones.
Compare that with “I don’t take any responsibility at all.”
Age has tempered and humbled Biden. We see precious little, now, of the strutting and gasbaggery we saw from him in his youth. Whereas Trump has remained ever the same since he was an insipid real estate developer whose businesses filed serially for bankruptcy. Time and experience have not shaped him. His misshapen personality does not permit it. A disordered psychology renders him immune.
The next government will be a veritable gerontocracy, with an 80-year-old speaker of the House and perhaps a 78-year-old Senate majority leader. I sympathize with those who say this arrangement is less than ideal. It’d be wonderful if our government could be more representative of the United States in every respect.
But right now, we have a president who won’t concede defeat, much less allow the victor into the building. Thank God we’ve elected someone who can build a cabinet in his sleep. Who knows the future players in Congress and in many statehouses. And best yet, knows the country. His bones may be a tad more brittle, but he’s got a body of knowledge rivaled by few.
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