The Archaism of Donald Trump

One of the least commented upon yet (in my view) striking aspects of Donald Trump is how he’s technically a Baby Boomer, having been born in 1946, yet he comes off like he’s much more antique, lending an even more aged vibe to a man who was already the second-oldest president in history — the oldest, at the time he was elected, having been beaten out only by his immediate successor, Joe Biden, who’s so old he’s a member of the Silent Generation, not a Baby Boomer — to the point of seeming almost timeless to his followers.

But look a bit more closely, and if you’re a man steeped in culture and history you’ll see it: from “The Forgotten Man” to “America First” and everything in between, it’s as if Donald Trump grew up not in the 1950s or the 1960s but rather in the 1930s, perhaps even grading a bit earlier.

How could this be? I’m pretty sure of the explanation: he had older parents. His father, Fred Trump, was 40 when Donald was born, and his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was 34. People talk about the health effects of having older parents or their lack of energy or what-have-you, but an underrated aspect of having children later in life is they’ll be raised by older people, and as a result come off as from a more archaic time period than other members of their birth cohort year.

So it was with one of my parents: their parents, my grandparents, were aged 42 and 40 when they were born, and as a result their mentality had much more in common with the World War II Generation than what you’d expect for a member of Generation X. One of the grandparents in question in my case even came from Queens, the same borough of New York City that Donald Trump came from, and as indicated above was roughly the same age as Trump’s father (though a couple decades younger in terms of birth cohort). So I know what I’m talking about here.

Might this be a piece of the puzzle of how it’s so often claimed by his followers that Donald Trump is youthful? I always chalked it up to how he has boundless energy and a big mouth, so although he looks and acts about as old as he actually is (i.e. in his seventies), it might seem in some ways that he’s not so geriatric; contrast that with Joe Biden, who’s not much older than Trump but comes off much more like a stereotypical really old man.

But I wonder how much of it is how Trump seems very young for a person who’s rooted in the culture of the 1930s. After all, the youngest people who actually grew up then are pushing 100 by now; judged by that standard seventysomething-seeming Trump is indeed very spry.

More speculatively, I wonder how much this effect might account for the outperformance realized by children of parents who birthed them later in life. On average children born when their parents are older tend to have better socioeconomic outcomes, which is usually assumed to be the result of them having more resources to invest in their upbringing; this would seem to make sense (certainly no biological advantage can account for it, considering that holding other factors constant the best time to have a child is in one’s late teens, far earlier than around 40).

I can’t help but wonder, though, if being raised by older parents instills a more archaic mindset and vibe, which gives the impression that the person so raised is a member of an earlier generation than they actually are, and their youthfulness therefore is judged by the standards of that previous generation rather than by the generation their actual birth year would suggest. Especially later in life or later in a career this could yield a considerable advantage, particularly when it comes to rising to leadership positions: seeming like you have more wisdom and experience than you in fact do, while seeming more youthful than you in fact are should lend one an air of competence and authority.

I did a cursory search on the topic, and couldn’t find much of anything. At least according to ChatGPT there’s never been much research done on this subject, especially as it relates to CEOs and others in leadership positions:

Hmm…well, I for one find it interesting; if some prospective graduate student or a professor is reading this, take this as a call to action: do your thing! 😀 

Maybe someday I will; I’m torn between this on one hand and my idea to test the effects of using random selection in the hiring process for employers, but at least I have some ideas for rather interesting research, both of them in the fields of management, business, and leadership. Maybe that MBA won’t be as useless as I feared… 🙃 

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