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The absurdity of an eightysomething president

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I’m convinced that one of the downstream effects of putting a totally unqualified and mentally unhinged grifter into the White House is that lots of far more modest prudential rules than “don’t make a thieving madman at the head of a cult of personality president of the United States” get much easier to ignore.

One of those rules would be, don’t put somebody in the White House who would be in his eighties for most of his presidency.

I’m genuinely puzzled by how people can’t see what a reckless and absurd thing it would be to do that.

The risks associated with advanced old age — death, dementia, serious illness, and other forms of sudden steep decline in cognitive and physical ability — increase exponentially as people move into their eighties.

It’s a fool’s game to try to guess what the specific odds are of today’s spry 78-year-old becoming a shell of his former self a very few years down the road. Suffice it to say that the epidemiological data for the general population are grim. And of course almost all of us have seen this process up close and personal at one time or another with relatives and friends and colleagues.

The eighties are often brutal years for even genetically lucky people with healthy lifestyles and little day to day stress (a major health risk all by itself) in their lives.

All of which is to say that the idea of electing a soon-to-be eightysomething president is just nuts. It’s a particularly extreme form of the Myth of the Indispensable Man. It’s something I’m convinced seems less than insanely reckless at this particular historical moment in large part because 62 million American voters thought it was a great idea to do something even more insanely reckless, by putting someone like Donald Trump in office.

The question of how old somebody can be and still be considered a good candidate for president despite their age is obviously an open one, but eighty? Or anything very close to that?

Come on.

. . . two points I meant to add but omitted in a rush:

(1) What about re-election? Since the passage of the 22nd amendment every president who has served one full term has gotten his party’s nomination for another term, with the exception of LBJ. Are we seriously going to have an argument about electing someone in his mid-80s to another four-year term? And if Biden or Sanders finesses this by pledging not to run, you have all the disadvantages that come with that.

(2) I don’t think the main risk here is death while in office, or at least not a sudden unexpected death. The bigger risk is loss of capacity/competence, in a system that really has no effective way of removing someone who clearly shouldn’t be in the office any more (see our present situation). An ongoing deteriorating health situation that wasn’t producing an extreme enough result to obviously require the invocation of the 25th amendment would be a constitutional nightmare. The risks of that happening to a president in his or her 80s are again exponentially higher than the risks for candidates even a decade younger.

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