Ageism is Making a Comeback, Just Ask Joe Biden by J.E. Dean
Two months into his presidency, Joe Biden seemed to be doing well. He got the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act enacted and most of his cabinet picks approved. His team began reaching out to the world, setting its own tone in foreign policy and, perhaps most importantly, the nation’s effort to combat the coronavirus was going well.
I hadn’t been watching Fox News. Or following the tweets of giants such as Donald Trump, Jr., a big-game hunter when he’s not serving as an EVP for the Trump Organization, or Stephen Miller, an ex-Trump White House aide who continues to spew venom in private life. I caught up with all three (Fox, Junior, and Miller) after President Biden slipped three times while attempting to jog up the stairs to board Air Force One.
Let’s start with Mr. Miller, perhaps the worst of the entire cadre of Trump White House advisors. Last Friday, in an interview with Fox (who else?) he commented on Biden:
“Our adversaries around the world — Iran, Russia and Venezuela and China — they are looking at the United States and its chief representative, the president of our country, who is unable to get through even a softball interview without a cheat sheet and falls three times going up a flight of stairs. It’s sad to watch.”
Miller apparently coordinated his comments in advance with the program’s host, Sean Hannity, who played video of Biden appearing to use a “cheat sheet” to answer questions and referring to Kamala Harris as “President Harris.”
What is Miller trying to imply here? Could it be a ham-fisted attempt to say, “Biden is senile and all of you who voted for him made a mistake?” Miller’s usual rants focus on border policy. At least for the short term, he concluded more damage could be done by ridiculing Biden based on his age than on the increase in migrants at the southern border.
Now let’s look at the President’s namesake son. The one who some people thought was on cocaine when he addressed the Republican National Convention last year. After the president’s slips on Air Force One stairs, he posted two separate video clips on Twitter. The first showed the president falling, and he commented, in part, “Biden falls repeatedly but I’m sure he’s the picture of health. No wonder all our enemies are pouncing simultaneously and mocking him publicly.” The second video was of Junior’s dad hitting a golf ball that, through the magic of video editing, hits Biden in the head and causes his stumble. The text to this tweet reads, “It wasn’t the wind folks.”
These videos tell us a lot about who Donald Trump, Jr. is but they also are examples of ageism.
Of course, this unlikeable pair of misfits (Trump and Miller) are not the only people who are publicly or privately saying Biden is too old to be president. W. James Antle, III of the Washington Examiner, for example, recently penned an article titled, “Age Questions Continue to Dog 78-year-old President.” In the article, Antle writes about what many saw as a recent Biden memory loss, “In a recent speech, Biden appeared confused about Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s name. ‘I want to thank Sec- … the former general … I keep calling him ‘General,’ the president said of the retired Army four-star officer. ‘My … The guy who runs that outfit over there.’It was reminiscent of Biden’s election-year flub of the Declaration of Independence.”
Is this story legitimate news coverage or an example of ageism? Is it wrong for the press to report on the president’s health? On the latter question, the answer is yes. On the former question, it’s a bit of both—legitimate news and ageism.
So, what does recent reporting tell us about how ageism is treated in the press in 2021? The answer is that if another president would have flubbed Secretary Austin’s name, it would have been reported but would not necessarily have been linked to other incidents that also were offered as examples of age-related decline.
The recent events also tell us that ageism, while a recognized form of discrimination, doesn’t quite measure up to discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Slights and slurs against seniors that would be considered hate crimes or at least expressions of hate, if premised on race or one of the other recognized subjects of hate crimes, are tolerated if directed at “old geezers.” Old people continue to be depicted as technologically clueless and as doddering fools in many films and TV shows. You know the rest.
Today, age discrimination is a recognized form of employment discrimination, but check the statistics to see how often it is enforced. And then check with any person over 50 you may know who has recently sought employment. (And, although it is beyond the scope of this article, look at statistics relating to the reliability, integrity, and efficiency of older workers. The statistics support the conclusion that there is no legitimate basis to deny employment opportunities to anyone solely based on their age.)
Recent episodes of ageism directed at President Biden are troubling but perhaps unavoidable in today’s deeply divided America. If Biden succeeds in getting additional parts of his agenda enacted, expect more, and most likely more vicious attacks. Hopefully, the silver lining of these incidents will be some of us taking a fresh look at ageism—a subject America needs to confront and do something about.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, domestic policy, and occasionally goldendoodles.