Representative (or not) Government

When Greta Thunberg talks of a generation of political leaders of who have taken her future, in reference to the impact of climate change, one point strikes me. She’s not even seventeen. If she was living in the US, and like other seventeen-year olds, she would not be entitled to vote in elections.

In most US states, she could get married, consent to sexual activity and conceive a child. She could also have a firearm and gain full time employment. She could even fight in the US armed forces. But she can’t vote. She has the right to bear several incredible responsibilities but she has no right to vote for her democratic elected representative.

The issue of representation is not just confined to voting age. In the US, more than 13 percent of the population is aged between 15 and 24. These folk don’t wear diapers. Not a single Representative or Senator is aged between 15 and 24. Yet the future of the next generation is being decided by a bunch of ‘others’, the political oldies …. who are ignoring the likes of young Greta. A stunning 57 percent of American teenagers are ‘afraid’ about climate change.

The average age of Senators is 62 and Representatives is 58. What would happen if we decided that not only were we going to prohibit 56 to 65-year olds from elected office but we were going to deny them the right to vote? In other words, present to this age group the same de facto political reality that 15 to 24-year olds have?

And just as a case can be made that younger people may not have sufficient maturity for voting, a case can be made that 56 to 65-year olds may have … too much maturity. Dementia typically starts in our 40s. Some Representatives and Senators suffer from some type of dementia. Don’t ask me who, but statistically it’s a slam dunk. For sure, elected officials do not need to be screened for dementia.

The essence of democracy is people power. The people, not a sliver of the population, but the entire mass is meant to decide its political future. Women only got the right to vote in 1920. We’re sort of facing that problem again today. By excluding the future generation from today’s decisions, we are doing our democracy no favours.