The Wisdom of Our Elders


by Roxanne Tellier

What a difference a week makes! Since the inauguration, I haven’t had a single communication with another person that didn’t involve a distanced high five, and a recounting of how much better we’re all sleeping and eating since we saw the backend and ignominious departure of the previous resident of the White House.

Trump was that creepy uncle that you only saw once or twice a year, and learned at a young age to step lively around, lest he pinch you cruelly, and in a ‘private’ place.  His words were lies, his ‘truth’ nothing but narcissism and tales of his own greatness, believed only by the gullible.

Predictably the QCrazies are bereft, inconsolable, losing their minds, because, it seems the Kraken didn’t awake, the Storm didn’t break, and all the money they spent on champagne to toast a forever trump presidency is gonna have to paid for, so it’s back to the proverbial chain gang, trumpless.

There’ll be no pardons for those that opted to follow their leader’s words, and attempted to overthrow the government, just arrests, fines, and imprisonments to remind them that black out drunks and highs have consequences.

A new Biden administration toddles into place, just a few days old, and already under siege from a Republican party that believes their bluster will protect them from the wrath of not just the Democrats, now in a majority, but the millions of Americans who watched trump and his lackeys attempt a coup in broad daylight.

Gone, but not forgotten, America must now sift through the rubble left behind by a corrupt and criminally incompetent administration whose response to crises was to throw blame and shade on everyone around them, before taking off for some R & R on the golf course. There’s a lot of work – a mindboggling amount of work – to be done before America is back on track.

Yes, Creepy Uncle is gone. In his place, we have ‘No Malarkey’ Joe Biden, a man whose backstory would make an amazing made for TV movie. A dog lover, and a lover of trains, he’s a man who has spent the best part of his life in and around D.C., in public service.

It’s an interesting moment in time. The 74-year-old contender was beaten by a 78-year-old retiree. While the new vice-president, Kamala Harris, is just 56, Nancy Pelosi, who is third in the line of succession, will be 81 in March. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is 70.   Mitch McConnell will be 79 in February. The incumbent Secretary of State, Daniel Bennett Smith, is 64. Many of the most prominent members of both parties are in their seventies and eighties, including Dianne Feinstein, 87, whose mental capabilities have been questioned in recent months, and Chuck Grassley, who is also 87, and who recently won yet another six years in office. Prior to last week, Wilbur Ross, 83, was the US Secretary of Commerce, when he wasn’t busy on his side hustle, as Jeff Dunham’s puppet, Walter. (Wilbur Ross Walter Puppet.jpg)

South Carolina’s Senator Strom Thurmond left office at the age of 100, after having served almost fifty years in power. West Virginia’s Robert Byrd died in office at the age of 93, as did Georgia’s John Lewis, at 80. Prior to the most recent elections, it was virtually unheard of that a Senator be under the age of 40.

The United States has, thus, for some time been effectively a gerontocracy.

“A gerontocracy is a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population. In many political structures, power within the ruling class accumulates with age, making the oldest the holders of the most power. Those holding the most power may not be in formal leadership positions, but often dominate those who are. In a simplified definition, a gerontocracy is a society where leadership is reserved for elders. “ (wiki)

Under trump, that gerontocracy was in full bloom, as he placed into positions of power septuagenarians and octogenarians willy nilly. By contrast, the majority of Biden’s nominations look more like the average American than in any previous administration, with the exception of a few, like Janet Yellen, 74, who has been nominated to serve as Treasury Secretary.

And this, a younger, more diverse cabinet, is deeply needed, since the aging of the three branches of government has been repeatedly connected to the broader themes of American decline. 

How weird is it that, in a country where, clearly, we treasure the ‘wisdom’ of our elders, based on our electoral choices, where we only feel safe and in good hands with those as old as our grandparents and great-grandparents in the highest elected positions – that we also treat the poorer, less powerful, and frailest of our elderly with such dismissive contempt?

If we believe, as has been said, that the weight of years and experience is responsible for the wisdom, gravitas, and good-hearted balance brought about by decades of living, how is that so few of those opining on the ‘common sense’ approach of ‘herd immunity’ in dealing with COVID-19 feel absolutely no shame in expressing no regrets, publicly, that the first and most voluminous group of martyrs in such a program would be our elders? 

In Canada, COVID-19 has wreaked most of its wrath upon seniors, disproportionately affecting the elderly. In November, StatsCan reported that more than 52 per cent of those who had died from the virus were individuals aged 85, and older, while 36 per cent were aged 65-84. 88 per cents of our deaths have been in people over the age of 65. Only 12 per cent of the victims were younger than 65. 77 per cent of those deaths can be traced to long-term care, and senior homes.

95 per cent of deaths in the US were of people over the age of 50.

That we have failed so dramatically at protecting and prioritizing the health and care of our elders is a colossal moral failure. It appears that we only value people who are deemed economically productive. Once that time has passed, and regardless of how much we may have contributed to society throughout our younger years, people who are no longer economically productive are essentially perceived as worthless, and without further value.

In Ontario, twenty-five years ago, and under the Mike Harris government, hospitals were closed, and the jobs of thousands of nurses were eliminated, while the public role in long-term care was reduced, allowing corporate players such as Sienna Senior Living, Revera, Extendicare and Chartwell Homes to enter the game. Regulations were relaxed, and public oversight was reduced. Seniors would now have a range of options for assisted living and long-term-care housing, but at a significantly higher price.

In May of 2020, the Toronto Star reported that “three of the largest for-profit nursing home operators in Ontario, which have had disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, have together paid out more than $1.5 billion in dividends to shareholders over the last decade.”

The article added:

This massive sum does not include $138 million paid in executive compensation and $20 million in stock buybacks (a technique that can boost share prices), according to the financial reports of the province’s three biggest publicly traded long-term-care home companies, Extendicare, Sienna Senior Living and Chartwell Retirement Residences.”

A decent society resists the temptation to take the easy way out, no matter how profitable it may be. The elderly deserve more than warehousing, secured away from their loved ones, while they wait to see if they’re next to die. It shows a horrifying disrespect that we are not making more effort to protect them. 

Ontario may be the guiltiest province in Canada for hypocrisy. In April 2020, when the province wanted to appear ‘caring,’ they brought in the military to help with the abject neglect and chaos in long term care homes, brought about by those lax regulations, and poor staffing choices.

And yet, in June, and despite record-setting profits, the CBC reported that the majority of Ontario’s LTCs were still operating at 1972 structural safety standards.

Ontario changed its structural safety standards back in 1998 — mandating, among other things, that nursing home bedrooms should house no more than two residents.

Homes that didn’t meet the new standard were allowed to keep running as-is, with an expectation they would upgrade eventually. The vast majority of homes that haven’t yet upgraded are run by for-profit companies.

While non-profit and for-profit homes have been equally likely to experience outbreaks, those outbreaks have proven deadlier in for-profit homes. (CBC Canada, June 2020)

In January 2021, Mike Harris, who spent the last 25 years raking in profits from the long-term care system he helped create, and who is the chair of Chartwell Home’s board of directors, was nominated for the Order of Ontario, despite protests from numerous minority groups, most vocal of which have been the Indigenous communities of Ontario.

(“Between 1995 and 2002, Harris was premier during some of the province’s most notorious scandals in recent history, including the shooting death of Indigenous protester Dudley George in 1995 and the Walkerton water crisis five years after.”) from CTV News, January 2021

We believe that we live in lush capitalism, but that’s not true of all of society. In fact, we are in end-stage capitalism, where even the lions turn upon each other. There are homeless living in our parks, but millions in dollars in pandemic aid is going to corporations making healthy profits, who are paying out dividends with one hand, while receiving federal wage subsidies in the other.

In Canada, 53 public companies disclosed receiving more than $10 million under the Canada emergency wage subsidy program (CEWS). CEWS will have cost ALL Canadians more than $100 billion by the time it wraps up in 2021. But only a small segment – the wealthiest – will have received the most benefits from that and similar protection programs.  

While far right Republican and Conservative pundits clamour that the Democrats will ruin their economy with socialism, their parties actually preach and platform something more akin to dog eat dog, where people are only valued for what they produce. These groups advocate the removal of any sort of social safety net, in the form of Social Security or Medicare. What these politicians never acknowledge is that the removal of those nets will doom the elderly, the frail, the ill and the disadvantaged to spending their days in situations akin to that of the worst horrors of the 19th centuries poorhouses and workhouses, where society placed stigma and shame on those unable to support themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the truth in the social safety net, that it was never adequate protection in times of major risks like pandemic illnesses, because of the massive inequality of resources in capitalistic societies. If not addressed and amended, the worse is still to come.

I’ve long contended that the gerontocracy of the United States government is a negative factor, in terms of governance, primarily because those making the rules and regulations for the future have no stake in that future; they won’t be around to reap the rewards or punishments of their decisions. That’s on top of the fact that the majority of those in power are long term seat holders, who have amassed significant wealth and fulsome pensions and benefits, and so are unaffected by the ebb and flow of the average citizen’s lifetime.

They don’t look, act, behave, or earn like the hundreds of millions of Americans they represent. Yet they define the parameters for everything those hundreds of millions must do, from birth to death, and everywhere in between.  

Some have called me ‘ageist’ for this position, which is almost laughable, in that there is no ‘ist’ or ‘ism’ that takes away one iota of wealth or power from that most blessed group of elected fortunates.

But what do we call those who look at the opposite end of the age spectrum, at the people who are poor, sick, frail, and without any of those benefits, and deem them of no value to society?  Nothing that can be repeated in polite society, that’s for sure.

These last few years have been hard on all of us, in Canada, and in the United States, as we’ve struggled under circumstances made all the harder in the last year with a global pandemic. I want desperately to believe that there are better days ahead. I sincerely hope that Biden has begun as he means to go on, and that his successes inspire Canada and other countries to look in the same direction of progress, healing, and more equal opportunities for all, not just the privileged.

BONUS .. everybody sing along! 😉

2 Comments

    1. I’ve never really thought about what happens to what remains of my pension after I pass – I believe my spouse receives that along with his own pension for as long as he lives. It would be interesting to look into any talk of actually returning some of the accrued funds to one’s survivors.
      Some have talked about self-management of retirement funds. As a rule, those are people who have actually managed to save and invest throughout their lifetimes, and who have been lucky enough never to have been ‘wiped out’ thru events beyond their control.
      However, as a musician and creative person, surrounded by other musicians and creative people, I think that would mean a return to the poorhouses of the 19th Century – too many of us are unable or unwilling to save for our senior years. I’m very happy that, in Canada, there is a pension, however small, for people no longer able or willing to work.

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