By Matt Perry
What does Donald Trump’s presidency mean for aging?
After declaring on his first full day in office “I feel young, I feel like I’m 30, 35, 39,” a poll of aging experts illuminates just how far we’ve progressed in our acceptance of elder politicians. At the same time, these same experts express deep concern about how the new president’s policies could affect older adults.
To assess Trump’s impact on aging requires use of the Wayback Machine.
The Wayback Machine?
The 1960’s animated “Peabody’s Improbable History” TV show featured the Harvard-trained hound Mr. Peabody who, with his human sidekick Sherman, used their Wayback time machine to meet important historical figures like Napoleon, Marco Polo and Paul Revere.
The Reagan Example
If we set our Wayback Machine to 1980, we’d find concerns aplenty that Ronald Reagan at 69 was far too old to become president. Those fears were so decisively dispelled by Reagan’s physical and mental vigor that, this year, aging was nary a blip on the political radar.
“This presidential election featured multiple candidates in or near their 70’s,” adds Bill Thomas, creator of The Green House Project. “The age of the candidates was, thankfully, largely sidelined as an issue.”
“The rigor of participating in a political campaign, including an arduous schedule with less than optimal sleep… is an example of the type of stamina that many people have in their later years,” says USC scholar Karen Lincoln, who sits on the California Task Force on Family Caregiving.
“Though not much is subtle about President Trump, it’s his actions more than any self-promotion that demonstrate age is just a number,” echoes Stuart Greenbaum, a member of the California Commission on Aging who recently authored a blog post on Trump and California Jerry Brown as examples of positive aging.
“All of us will have important and very different things to contribute long after our 65th birthday,” agrees Bruce Chernof, head of the Long-Beach-based advocacy organization The SCAN Foundation.
“Older People Are Running Our Country”
Los Angeles’ aging head Laura Trejo noted that not only is Trump a “senior,” so are many of his cabinet nominees.
But do they truly identify as older adults?
“Older people are running our country as elected officials, policy makers and business leaders, yet almost none see themselves as ‘one of them,’” says Trejo.
Some aging experts took off the gloves to contrast Trump’s behavior with graceful aging.
“The quality most celebrated and uniquely attributed to older folks has always been wisdom,” says Mark Campbell, of San Francisco’s Art With Elders. “We now have the most elder president in American history who, ironically, seems to have survived his many years without having cultivated even a hint of this valuable resource.”
“If I squint, I can place Trump’s physical vigor in the plus column,” says This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism author Ashton Applewhite. “But it is overshadowed by his narcissism, arrogance, lack of interest in the wider world and lack of empathy for the less fortunate — traits that make him a profoundly negative example of how to be a human being.”
Wayback to the Present
Today, a digital Wayback Machine is being used to assess how Trump’s policies may affect older adults.
The Wayback Machine website archives online content to offer web surfers a glimpse into past versions of a site. Several White House pages have recently been eliminated, including “Seniors and Social Security.” This joins other controversial removals such as those addressing climate change, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights – all of which could be in a the revision process.
The only current reference to seniors, older adults or aging on the White House website as of Monday was the profile of past president Lyndon B. Johnson which included this footnote: “President Obama’s historic health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, strengthens Medicare (and) offers eligible seniors a range of preventive services.”
During his campaign, Trump consistently promised he wouldn’t cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), a stand many credit for his victory. Yet his nominee to head Health and Human Services Tom Price was not quite so definitive under Congressional questioning, leading some to believe privatization remains a possibility.
“Privatizing Social Security, eliminating the ACA, de-funding the NEA – these are a few of my least favorite things,” admits Tim Carpenter of arts programmer EngAGE.
And while Trump has promised to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, it’s unlikely to be a complete demolition – for two reasons.
First, as a bottom-line businessman, Trump will certainly recognize the many cost-saving aspects to the Act, including prevention programs to reward better health outcomes that will save money in the long run.
Second, the joke on Capitol Hill is that the Republican replacement for Obamacare… looks a lot like Obamacare.
No Laughing Matter
But many aren’t laughing.
“What I will be looking for is policy changes that impact the economic security of older adults, who don’t have time to recover from economic losses due to unemployment, investment declines and other effects an economic downturn, as well as uninsured expenses of a serious illness,” says Casey Young, a former AARP lobbyist turned Sacramento consultant.
“I advocate for seniors who are less advantaged economically and socially,” says Lincoln. “A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would certainly impact the way in which many older adults receive care, and could lead to a lack of services and coordinated care for seniors with multiple chronic conditions.”
Many of those polled cited older adults as underutilized “human capital?
“I want to believe that as someone so focused on the ‘business’ of running our country, president Trump will see that it will require that his policies focus on how he will engage older adults,” says Trejo.
In its open letter to the incoming administration, The SCAN Foundation cited five critical issues to address to rebuild a national infrastructure “not worthy of the honor and respect that older Americans deserve”: empower a national leader on aging within the White House to create comprehensive policy solutions with the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, Chief of Staff, Congressional leaders, and community stakeholders; prevent bankruptcy when long-term care needs strike, including a Dependent Care Savings Account; modernize Medicare to pay for coordinated, team-based care, and adopt other ideas from the Chronic Care Workgroup; speed federal efforts to integrate Medicare and Medicaid like those already begun in over a dozen states; and improve measurements of health care quality based on what older adults want.
Boomers Last Stand
Thomas sees the election as a turning point for an American electorate that’s becoming more diverse while embracing younger voters.
“Older voters, including Boomers, favored candidate Trump and continue to hold more favorable views about him,” says Thomas. “I see this as the Boomer’s last stand, in terms of candidates and voters, in national politics.”
Trejo may have summarized the observations best.
“His policies will help America define how as a nation we see our elders: as a problem to be solved or as an opportunity to show the world how we embrace our longevity.”