When Leadership Gets Too OLD


The average age of the Congressional Black Caucus is 63. This is a problem when handing down a legacy.

The question generally speaking is: Has America and Black America become a gerontocracy?

The average age of a congressional representative is 59, with leaders in their 70s and 80s. We must have lawmakers who look like the people they represent.

The generation that once declared not to trust anyone over 30 now appears to trust few under 70, and this is true of both political parties. On the right, Donald Trump is 72, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is 76, and the ranking Republican senator, Orrin Hatch, is 84. And while the House speaker, Paul Ryan, is only 48, he is set to retire in November, leaving it open as to who will replace him.

On the left, Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House, is 78, while Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member on the Senate judiciary committee, is 85. What is more, the two leading contenders to be the Democrats’ nominee for president, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, are 77 and 69, respectively.

But it’s not just leadership that’s graying. The average age of congressional representatives has been increasing since 1981. In 2001, it was 55 years old; in 2011, 58, and in the current Congress, 59. Typically, congressional representatives are 20 years older than their constituents.

That raises the question: what’s behind America’s aging Congress? One plausible reason: demographics. Not only do baby boomers remain the largest age cohort in the country (although this will soon change), older people are disproportionately more likely to vote. In this sense, it’s not surprising that Congress looks like its most active voting bloc.

Moreover, there is the advantage of incumbency. However, much Americans claim to dislike their representatives, the truth is that incumbents almost always win re-election, which over time has resulted in an aged Congress. This trend will doubtless continue and may get worse, especially given that people live longer than ever before. Granted, as the Hebrew prophet Job once remarked, “with the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding” – a proposition that neuroscientists have confirmed. Nonetheless, it is also true that meaningful problems come with having political representatives significantly older than the median American, who is 37.9 years old.

Thus, the idea of gerontocracy in Africa is not coterminous with what Wiredu calls the “authoritarian order” in African culture; rather, gerontocracy in Africa evokes the ability to look at issues from several angles, encourages thinkers (young and/or old) to explore different views and bring new perspectives. Examined closely, therefore, we can conclude that the position of the modernists on the supposed manifestation of authoritarianism in Africa derives its continuing force from a conception of philosophy, which gives special overtones to the ideas of individuals as opposed to a collectivistic system of thought and the assumption that the multitude cannot produce philosophy.

So the point of this article is this, if young Black people or younger people cannot contribute to wisdom what’s the point? If the bible tells us to train up a child in the way in which he or she shall go, then when exactly do they become of age to use the training? When does inheritance become mature in order to create a framework for the practicing of one’s skills and training? When does the coach allow the student to use their learned skill set? The younger or future generations will never get their grip refined enough to carry on with the historic gains if they are not allowed to practice while the wiser teachers are still accessible to guide. Let them take the wheel and drive.