'Red, White, and Gray': Key findings from Insider's investigation into the United States' gerontocracy




  • In Business
  • 2022-09-30 22:32:52Z
  • By Business Insider
Rachel Mendelson/Insider
Rachel Mendelson/Insider  
  • Congress and the president are the oldest in US history.

  • There's a growing age gap between the people leading the government and Americans being led.

  • Some young officials say they feel blocked by those clinging to power, their issues downplayed.

The United States' elected leaders are the oldest they've ever been.

The age gap between the government and the governed is wider than ever before.

And the notion that the nation is now a gerontocracy - which the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary defines as "a state, society, or group governed by old people" - is decidedly real.

Insider journalists have spent four months interviewing hundreds of sources and analyzing gigabytes of data to understand how the United States arrived at this moment.

In "Red, White, and Gray," Insider endeavors to explain what it means for a nation that, on balance, is decades younger than its representatives in Washington, DC.

Launched September 13, here are highlights and key findings from this ongoing series:

  • Nearly one in four members of Congress are in their 70s or 80s - a level never before seen in US history.

  • Almost 50% of Americans are under 40, but only about 5% of members of Congress are.

  • Before running for the White House in 2020, Joe Biden confided in a friend and quoted a death-defying line from the poet Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into that good night." The friend described it to Nicole Gaudiano as "a window into how he views his role."

  • One of the most powerful legislators in modern US history acknowledged to Kimberly Leonard that President Ronald Reagan, while conducting a meeting at the White House, once seemingly forgot who he was.

  • Current and former congressional staffers explained to Warren Rojas the lengths to which they'd gone to keep older lawmakers focused, engaged, and, sometimes, upright.

  • Old age has been a theme in presidential races. Often it's a liability. But as Leonard and Darren Samuelsohn write, sometimes it's not at all.

  • Six former members of Congress dished to Jake Lahut about why they quit Capitol Hill in the prime of their political careers.

  • Sen. Jon Ossoff and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lauren Boebert, among several other young lawmakers, told Oma Seddiq why youth is an advantage in Congress despite the high-profile flameouts of some peers, including Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

  • Senator Biden of 1977 has some rather different thoughts on key political issues than, say, President Biden of 2022.

  • Most Americans want term limits and age ceilings for members of Congress, per an Insider/Morning Consult poll.

  • Special elections are often chaotic messes that could be avoided if lawmakers stepped aside earlier, writes Grace Panetta.

  • The 2024 presidential campaign, at this earliest of stages, is becoming an epic game of 3-way geriatric chicken.

  • Retirees are becoming one of the most powerful political financial forces in the nation, writes Madison Hall.

  • Tech policy can confuse and confound members of Congress, which doesn't bode well for the public, write Hanna Kang and Kayla Gallagher.

  • The climate crisis affects young people most, but older generations are deciding the planet's future, Eliza Relman explains.

  • These young candidates could have been the next AOC, John L. Dorman writes. But they ran headlong into the political establishment.

  • Redistricting? Gerrymandering? They have significant ramifications for youthful representation.

  • Old leaders helped lead to the Soviet Union's demise. There are lessons to learn for the United States, writes John Haltiwanger.

  • Americans love the idea of age caps for lawmakers. Here's why that won't happen, per Bryan Metzger and Brent D. Griffiths.

  • So concerned are some federal judges about losing their mental edge that they've secretly entered into "retirement pacts," report C. Ryan Barber and Camila DeChalus.

  • Generation X may never have a president to call its own, writes Darren Samuelsohn.

  • Some young, Black activists say the "John Lewis generation" is clinging to power and preventing their ascendance, Elvina Nawaguna reports.

  • Descendants of five US presidents have some serious thoughts on youth and politics.

New installments of "Red, White, and Gray" will be published here through early October as voters across the country prepare for the midterm elections.

Have a tip for Insider's "Red, White, and Gray" reporting team? Confidentially email us at insider-dc@insider.com.

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