When I was a kid, I felt certain that I would always have a finger on the pulse of pop culture. I’m now 37 years old, and needless to say, it hasn’t panned out.
Take YouTube, for example. There are a few YouTube channels I watch; I check out RedLetterMedia for hilarious movie reviews, I watch Doug Demuro’s car reviews, and I always tune in to the latest videos from pinball wizard Bowen Kerins in the hope that his strategies will rub off on me.
However, there is an entire world on YouTube that I don’t understand. I just looked up a list of the most famous YouTubers and I don’t know any of these people, but millions of young folks watch them every day. These are people who have made millions of dollars by doing stuff like recording their kids unboxing toys. I cannot fathom why anyone would spend time watching videos of children they don’t even know. There are about three kids in the world that I actually enjoy being around, and even then, I’m not watching a 15-minute video of them taking a toy out of a box.
But beyond pop culture ephemera, my values are different from the values of Gen Z. For example, I love old cars, but Gen Z does not, for the most part. Some of this is due to environmental concerns, some of it is due to absurd prices, and some of it is a simple lack of interest.
Gen Z is also more accepting of folks who are different. Back when I was in high school, the word “gay” was routinely used an insult or as a synonym for “bad.” That’s generally not the case anymore, and good riddance.
While my values and interests are different from those of the next generation, it’s neither a good thing nor a bad one. But it does make me wonder: if I’m still kicking 50 years from now, just how alien will the newest generation of young folks seem to me? It will be like we’re from two different planets.
And that brings us around to the actual point of this column: term limits.
Many of our elected officials are old. Really old. And while many readers may think I’m a partisan hack, this is an issue that both parties need to grapple with.
For example, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, will be 89 years old in June. It’s been widely reported that her mental faculties are in steep decline. Our second oldest Senator, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, will turn 89 in September.
Of course, Feinstein and Grassley are spring chickens compared to the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, who completed his eighth term in January of 2003 at the age of 100 and then died that June. It’s remarkable to think that the one-time face of the Dixiecrat Party was still actively serving as a Senator in the 21st century.
If you were on a hiring committee for literally any job and someone in their late 80s applied, you probably wouldn’t hire them. You would be concerned about their health and their mental acuity. You’d be nervous to get in a car if they were behind the wheel. And yet we have no problem with the elderly steering the direction of our country.
“Now Ben,” you might be saying, “I bet you don’t think that Joe Biden is too old to be President!”
Actually, I do, and so is Donald Trump. Joe Biden is 79, and if Trump runs again in 2024, he’ll be 78.
With some exceptions, my concern with the old folks running our country isn’t so much about mental decline. My concern is that our nation is being led by people who have absolutely no relevant experience with the realities of the world today.
First off, there are few things more infuriating than watching a Congressional hearing about anything involving cutting-edge technology. Remember when Iowa Rep. Steve King (not the author, the scarier one) asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai a question about an image that popped up on his granddaughter’s iPhone, despite the fact that the iPhone is made by Google’s rival? Or what about the time the late Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook makes money if it doesn’t charge users, forcing Zuckerberg to explain the concept of “ads” to him? This is not terribly complicated stuff, yet the majority of folks in Congress apparently haven’t interacted with technology in a meaningful way since they programmed their Betamax player to record the episode of Dallas where J.R. gets shot.
But beyond that, how can any politician in their 70s or 80s understand the challenges that younger Americans face today? How can they understand the difficulty of finding an affordable place to rent, much less buy? How can they understand the effect of inflation on a minimum wage salary? For that matter, how can they even conceive of what it’s like to live on minimum wage?
We need term limits, and we need a mandatory retirement age. I propose 70, the age at which you can retire and receive full Social Security benefits (at least for now; by the time I retire, I probably won’t be eligible for full benefits until I’m 120 years old).
To any older readers, I do want to make one thing clear: I like old people. In fact, I aspire to be one someday. But when someone is in their 80s or older — particularly when they have spent a long and lucrative career in a field that insulates them from the real world — there is nothing they have to say that’s relevant to my life.
Of course, there may come a day, many years from now, when I feel differently on this topic. Hopefully when that happens, some younger person will write a column about how I need to be quiet and step aside. My feelings won’t be hurt; I’ll never see it because I won’t be able to figure out how to work my futuristic holoPhone.