From Joe Biden to Madonna: ageism is everywhere | Margaret Sullivan

Just before President Biden turned 80 in November, he said something that I could identify with – that he didn’t even want to say his age out loud.

That’s how I’ve felt ever since I turned 40 – which was, let’s say, not a recent event.

American media serves as a constant, enthusiastic choir for the nation’s youth worship. Being older here is not only not for sissies, as the saying goes, but can be downright debilitating.

Surely, that desperate obsession had something to do with the plastic surgery that Madonna displayed during the Grammy awards show. The singer long praised for reinventing herself constantly had done it again, but this time she had made herself literally unrecognizable. Her 64-year-old face was bizarrely smooth with a shape that looked nothing like that of the Material Girl of yore.

The insults flew: she was ugly, even a monster. True to form, Madonna shot back, trashing the ageism and misogyny of a world that “refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 and feels the need to punish her if she continues to be strong-willed, hardworking and adventurous.” She’s not alone. The model Paulina Porizkova, still gorgeous at 57, recently summarized the mean-spirited public reaction to some of her near-nude photos: “Put on your clothes, grandma … You’re pathetic.”

American men, at least, get a few more years of viability. The late actor Sean Connery was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” at age 59. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were celebrated on a recent episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” though several band members are over 60.

But even for men, there are limits, which Biden is being reminded of from all sides. The conservative Washington Post columnist George Will (81 years old himself) wrote recently that – based on a factual error in Biden’s description of his loan-forgiveness policy – the president must either be senile or a pathological liar. The Maga Republican crowd would have you believe Biden can hardly move a muscle, including his lips, without his handlers.

Even in the wake of the president’s much-praised State of the Union address, the calls mounted for him to step aside for 2024. My Duke University colleague, Frank Bruni, for example, wrote in his New York Times newsletter that he reluctantly agreed with Times columnist Michelle Goldberg’s plea for Biden not to run for reelection even while she praised him as a great president. “In saving us from a second term of Trump, Biden quite likely saved us from ruin,” Bruni wrote. “And so … we’re done with him? That’s beyond cold. It’s close to cruel.” But he makes the case that Biden nevertheless should stand down.

I have to disagree. Of course, I wish Biden were 20 younger; I wish he didn’t stumble over his words and sometimes make inexplicable mistakes. I worry about his cognitive decline and physical frailty. But right now, he looks like the best bet to stave off a likely-disastrous Republican presidency and his record, while not flawless, is impressive.

Ageism goes far beyond celebrities and public officials. Noting that 35% of the US population is now 50 or older, the advocacy group AARP calls age discrimination “the last acceptable bias.” Three in four Americans over 45 see ageism as an obstacle in job-hunting, the group reports, and half of older workers say they have been prematurely pushed out of longtime jobs.

The only answer is to fight back. For workers, it’s knowing that the law often is on their side. For Madonna, it’s deciding not to give a damn. For Biden and Democratic leadership, it’s evaluating a reelection bid on the basis of whether he can do the job and whether he is the best choice to defeat a Republican nominee. (Notably, that may well be Donald Trump who soon will turn 77.)

I like to keep in mind that the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, is 83 and still writing brilliantly; that Picasso had an acclaimed creative surge before his death at 91; and that one of my favorite musicians, 73-year-old Bonnie Raitt not only performed soulfully at the Grammys but won the award for song of the year.

It’s no fun getting older in youth-obsessed America but it doesn’t have to be a reason to disappear. As for those who would mock their elders, two words of advice: just wait.

#Joe #Biden #Madonna #ageism #Margaret #Sullivan

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