AND SO, THE SILENCE: PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS, 2016
By Eleanor Jaffe
No subject has more completely dominated my thinking these past few months than the crisis of our presidential election of 2016. Not since 1968 when I was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Chicago from the State of New Mexico have I been more passionate and worried about the state of our nation and our politics. In the 60’s, I and many of you were so agitated by the continuous war in Vietnam and its harmful effects on our families and our entire generation that we were moved to political action. Today, 2016, I worry every day about where our nation is headed. I read the papers voraciously and watch the talking heads on television (especially those who support my positions). I wring my hands, write postcards of support for my candidate, but I feel helpless. From what I can tell, there is little political action from our generation (except for political donations). Just a feeling of powerlessness and worry.
This 2016 election is gut wrenching, corrosive, and divisive. Among our friends, there is uniform agreement: the political stakes are monumentally high. Our very democracy seems imperiled. And how can “the other side” (who otherwise are seemingly good people) believe in the rightness of their candidate and the positions that candidate supports? A strange political silence falls on our social meetings. By tacit agreement, the subject of politics doesn’t come up. It is too hot a potato to bring up in polite social gatherings. We fear that political discussion with someone whose allegiances are from the “other” political party will result in the end of our friendship. And so, the silence…. Have you noticed this, too? (Even here I sidestep naming the two candidates and their parties: too divisive for a collegial group like ours. Our cohesion as a group might feel imperiled.)
Ironically, some issues at stake in this presidential election directly affect people in our age group. These issues have received scant mention and no debate. Among them are: Social Security and its future financial viability; medicare benefits and associated health costs; and raising minimum wages to $15 per hour since many people in their 70’s need to continue to work in order to survive economically.
Long term care goes undiscussed, although it merits widespread political discourse. Cokie Roberts of NPR writes: “Fully a third of households in America are taking care of an elderly or disabled member,” but most Americans don’t anticipate needing long term care until a significant health crisis develops in their families. Nursing home care costs, on average, $80,300 per year in a semi-private room; a home health care aide working 6 hours a day costs $45,760. It is conjectured that this issue has not “bubbled up” from the grassroots because caregivers are completely consumed by their responsibilities.
People in the U.S. who are 71 years old and older form 12% of the electorate, so we form a powerful voting block since a high percentage of us vote. Many contribute financially to the candidate(s) they support. We may even exert a more powerful influence on the outcome of the elections than our 12% indicates if we all vote. The “millennials” outnumber us by far, but we hear they are disenchanted by the presidential choices and may sit out this election. This is so different from our generation. When we were in our 20’s in the late 60’s, we were a powerful and energizing political force.
Let us actively commit to the candidate of our choice and find ways to actively support that candidate. The stakes are incredibly high. Could you live with the alternative choice? Would our democracy survive?