9/18/2023 | By Mary Sanchez

Like the building “silver tsunami” of aging Americans, ageism is growing in American society and in politics. Writer Mary Sanchez examines what we stand to lose if we measure a person’s worth by age alone.

At least most people are conscientious enough to preface an unqualified medical diagnosis with, “Well, I’m not a doctor, but…”

What follows is generally their personal take on a range of ailments related to aging that have zero credibility, based on assumption, mere guessing.

Expect and brace yourself to hear this more often. Because America is getting older faster, and without a broad-based understanding of gerontology in the public consciousness.

Just think about the American reliance on driving and what that means for the future, with so many communities lacking public transportation options. How will our elderly get around, to the grocery or drug store, to a doctor’s appointment?

After all, not everyone has a chauffeur or family members at their beck and call.

Consider how much our housing stock is split level homes, often without a bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen on one floor.

It’s a numbing proposition when you start to consider the multitude of ways that the country is out of kilter with what demographers have been warning of for decades, “the silver tsunami.”

The bi-partisan silver tsunami on Capitol Hill

What does this mean for politics? In July and again last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze while speaking. This happened on camera, which meant the episodes were widely disseminated and then discussed relentlessly.

At 81, McConnell is an elder statesman, to say the least.

It’s not that the incidents aren’t concerning. He did seem incredibly frail and unable to momentarily perform as one is expected, as the leader of a major party.

The senator’s insistence that he plans to finish both his term at the helm of the Senate and also his term in the chamber didn’t calm anyone’s fears for the state of his health. His statement seemed more of a dodge, the type of thing that a crisis consultant likely scripted, along with careful instructions not to take any follow-up questions.

But aside from McConnell’s personal situation, it’s past time to underscore the inescapable.

Child's hand and older adult's hand clasping pinkies in a promise, by Melpomenem. Article on silver tsunami

Aging is a bi-partisan matter. And while it is McConnell in the glare for the moment, the next time, and there will be another, it could be any number of politicians who fall – some quite literally – under this type of scrutiny.

President Joe Biden has begun taking the shorter set of stairs to Air Force One. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has appeared in a wheelchair for well over a year.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley decided to take a swipe at the elderly in office, definitely an immature move on her part. After McConnell’s second freeze just recently, she made a quip about the Senate being “the most privileged nursing home in the country.”

But maybe we can forgive her – she is a longshot in the race for the GOP nomination. And Haley is running in a field of male candidates who often try to out boast or slam one another, as if that is a strength for a politician.

Haley’s attitude is the opposite of the thoughtful consideration needed.

An equally important consideration should be that some people will never be mature enough for public office, no matter how many decades they live through. Conversely, others are more suitable for political leadership, especially after honing their skills elsewhere in a career.

Incredible older adults for whom success knows no age

Ageism: A sneaky bias pervading our society

Two pole vaulting seniors, competing and coaching

It’s a dangerous contention to base suitability for office on one factor alone – age. As if a mandatory retirement would solve everything.

Many politicians have successfully served well past the general retirement age of 65, and more often, Congress has been a model for finding value in people who are into their 70s and even 80s.

Again, concerns about McConnell and several other members of Congress are valid.

But one of the biggest mistakes that America can make right now is to continue discounting older people, their talents, insights, and experiences.

Beyond D.C.

Virtually every industry has felt the impact of gutted workforces, when the institutional knowledge of a business is shown the door via cost-cutting measures or early retirements.

Younger people are plopped into roles that literally should be above their pay grade, then left to flounder.

It’s incredibly unfair to workers who deserve to be mentored by more experienced employees and allowed to grow into skill levels, with time to hone and develop their personal strengths. The negative impact on customers is even greater.

Few executives will admit this. Instead, there’s often a lot of flowery language about being “transformative, dynamic, and aligned with our audiences.”

We don’t need that model of disinvestment in human capital to play out in our politics as well.

Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.

©2023 Mary Sanchez. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez is a determined reporter and compelling writer who examines the cultural changes sweeping across America. The daughter of a Mexican immigrant, Sanchez believes that “true culture is so much deeper” than language or location. She writes to shine a new light on a range of issues, from gender equity and education to church and state.