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Op-ed

An ode to the old: When did we stop respecting our elders? | GUEST COMMENTARY

David Horsey cartoon for 7/14
- Original Credit: David Horsey
- Original Source: The Seattle Times

When Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, signed a major Infrastructure bill in 1956, he was 65 years old — definitely a senior. And when Ike, as he was affectionately nick-named, left office in 1961, at age 70, his approval ratings throughout the country were sky high. Everyone still “liked Ike,” as his early campaign buttons suggested.

Eisenhower was venerated for being a senior; I remember the word “grandfatherly” being used. President Ronald Reagan, too, was respected for his age. Today, sadly, many young people believe President Joe Biden, who just turned 80, is over the hill. When he won the passage of his own critical infrastructure bill in 2021, he received nothing like the credit Ike was given.

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Nevertheless, three major party leaders today, known for getting things done with amazing energy, are seniors. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 82, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, have been highly successful. On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 80, practically single-handedly, managed to get three conservative Supreme Court Justices appointed in a relatively short time. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, a brilliant physician scientist who happens to be 81, was the public face of the U.S. COVID response throughout the worst of the pandemic, saving countless lives with science-backed recommendations.

During the past decade the senior population age 65 and older has grown by 36% to more than 54 million — one in every seven Americans. Sadly, as people live longer, many seem to face unnecessary hurdles, often from a younger population. For example, Maitland Jones, an experienced chemistry professor, now 84, who had taught at Princeton University for many years before retiring, was hired by New York University to teach Organic Chemistry. He was recently fired because several of his young students claimed his courses were “too demanding” and his grading “too harsh.”

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On the other hand, 38-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has made billions of dollars by allowing the advancement of often false and dangerous information. And Elon Musk, 51, having recently taken over Twitter, is allowing all sorts of conspiracy and racist theories on his platform.

Venerated newsman, Bernard Shaw, passed away recently at the age of 82. When I watched clippings of his news delivery — so honest, so sane — I wondered how some people today could possibly prefer Tucker Carlson.

In a recent opinion piece, CBS business analyst Jill Schlesinger wrote about inflation, earning, and Social Security. But the headline of this rather tame column was frightening, especially to me and to my senior friends. It read: “Seniors will get raises; rest of us aren’t so lucky.” The raises seniors will get are hardly a matter of luck; seniors have been paying for Social Security in every single paycheck they’ve received over an entire lifetime.

In a recent letter to the editor of The Sun, the writer suggested that retired teachers be encouraged to return to the classroom and be remunerated accordingly. Administrators, who were once teachers, could return to the classroom as well, alleviating the huge teacher shortage throughout the country. Why hasn’t that happened?

We need to respect seniors for their expertise — whether it be in medicine, in teaching or in plumbing. Queen Elizabeth, who recently died at the ripe old age of 96, certainly was venerated by the people of England. There is a lesson to be learned in the U.S. I think former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature; beautiful old people are works of art.”

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of “The Feminine Irony” and “Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing.” Her email is lynneagress@aol.com.


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