US election: What does a 78-year-old President Joe Biden mean for the world?

US President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to lead, from January 20, a country ravaged by Covid-19, economic struggles and deep social and racial divisions.

He’ll do so as the oldest Commander-in-Chief in US history – Biden blows out 78 candles on his birthday this Friday.

The former US Vice-President defeated a sitting President just four years younger, but that hasn’t stopped some questioning whether the father and grandfather is too old for the job.

Much less has been said about the value Biden’s 78 years could bring to his presidency.

The Herald on Sunday asked older Kiwis what their golden years are like – heck, no, were they slowing down – and what they thought a 78-year-old president would mean for the world.

Jim Fisher, 77, Auckland

I can relate readily to President-elect Joe Biden as I will be 78 years “young” next year.

I tell people “the chassis is a bit battered and dented but the rest of the vehicle is in good working order”.

In retirement do I sit down all day and grow old? Certainly not. There’s always things to do.

In recent years, my wife and I have travelled to interesting places. Viet Nam, China, Cambodia, India, Morocco plus many more. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of organising all aspects of our trips.

Family is always an important part of our lives and I have always felt it important to have a bond with family and the values that have been instilled in them will be carried through to the next generation.

I’m at present digitising family records that our children will be able to have. I would like to write my biography.

There’s always work in our large section – lawns, gardening, pruning and spraying, beehives. I belong to the NZ Male Choir, which involves monthly rehearsals at venues throughout the North Island as well as memorising a repertoire of 40+ songs.

I also still work one day a week.

Am I old? No.

Much has been made of Joe Biden’s age and his mind but I think he will bring to the presidency his family values and the experience of 78 years of living, as well as his concern for others.

Sir Bryan Williams, 70, former All Black and lawyer, Auckland

I’m expecting to see a bit of wisdom and empathy from a Joe Biden presidency.

Just a calm, collected approach, although I guess we couldn’t say that about the previous 70-something-year-old President.

Ultimately, it depends on the individual.

For me, I find as you get older, you come across all sorts of people, in all sorts of situations and you don’t get as upset.

And you become more philosophical about the ups and downs. The up times are to be cherished because you know around the corner there could be something adverse coming.

You’re more aware of your mortality and that drives you to do things you’re really passionate about.

I’ve recently been involved in one of the bids to get a Pasifika Super Rugby team, which is starting to get real traction.

I’ve felt a grievance for a long time that the Pacific Island rugby teams were left out of the mainstream professional competitions, despite the fact they’d been part of them prior to the game going professional.

Rugby used to be a game for everyone, particularly under the amateur ethos, but once money was introduced, it was everyone for themselves. I want to see that wrong righted.

That’s something which has exercised my time and my brain.

I’m also on several committees and boards, I work out two or three times a week, do crosswords to avoid dementia and have 14 grandchildren, which all keeps me busy.

Sometimes I wonder how I used to fit work in, because there’s always something to do.

Dame Kate Harcourt, 93, actress, Auckland

I think it’s excellent Joe Biden has been elected as the next US President.

It’s appalling Donald Trump is refusing to step down. He needs to grow up for goodness’ sake!

I’m 93. Biden’s only 78, he’s just a young man full of energy and vision.

Let’s hope he gets the US back into the world again so we can all work together solving the problems facing the whole planet.

Keith Carroll, 79, bus driver, Auckland

Until the Covid hit, I was driving five days a week, sometimes six, taking groups on day trips and doing three-day tours with American tourists.

Now it’s more like one or two days a week.

When I’m not working, I like singing tear-jerkers – Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Jim Reeves are my favourites – with the Manurewa Country and Western Club.

I also look after the vege gardens at Bupa Wattle Downs Retirement Village, where I live with my wife of 60 years. I like to help with the maintenance too.

I don’t have to work, by any means, but you’ve got to have a reason to get up each day, and keep active. Four walls would drive me up the wall.

As for Joe Biden being President, as long as his health is okay, I see no reason why not?

One good thing about him is he’s been in there before, as Vice-President. He’s not running into something new, like Donald Trump was.

I know what it’s like to be judged on your age. I got into bus driving after a new owner at the factory where I worked didn’t want the older fellas and made them redundant.

But ample years around the sun has its benefits. For one, you’re a lot calmer as you get older.

When you get stroppy passengers on the bus, you deal with them differently.

And, in life generally, you don’t rush into things. You just take it steady.

As the tortoise said to the hare, “Slow and steady wins the race”.

Dick Frizzell, artist, 77, Auckland

Being 77. President or otherwise.

The biggest survival trick that I’ve ever heard was George Bernard Shaw’s observation that, at some point, you have to learn to do deliberately what you used to do by accident.

I think that that’s where a lot of people collapse by the wayside, because it feels somehow dishonest … a betrayal of everything you’ve fought so hard for. Well … to hell with that, because it works.

It gets you over the hump.

To do it, you have to start thinking a lot more strategically. Actually, it’s pretty much ALL strategy from now on. Figuring out where you fit in the conversation and maximizing on that knowledge.

And you DO have a lot of knowledge and experience to bring to bear from here on in if you’ve been lucky enough to keep and open mind and an open heart.

I had a friend once who called me a ‘flexible bigot’, meaning that I’d go all out on an idea, but will swerve abruptly when I hear a better one.

The trick being, of course, that it has to be better: a more eloquent expression of your manifesto.

I think that all that violent swerving has given me distance, and a certain nimble acuity.

You find yourself in the fabulous position of not giving a shit anymore…but really, really caring.

It’s a remarkably liberating feeling, and while you mightn’t get as much done as you did 30 years ago, what you DO manage to achieve has a much more succinct quality to it.

Jan O'Connor, 70+, Devonport-Takapuna Local Board member, Auckland

Congratulations and happy birthday to Joe Biden as he turns 78. I hope he’s recovering from his full-on election campaign.

As a 70+ local body politician I can well remember our elections here last year. The adrenaline flowed as my much younger Heart of the Shore team members and I covered an area from Devonport to Sunnynook – the size of a small town.

As in the US, I find there’s little ageist discrimination here. The older I get, the higher my voting returns.

This year I was second out of 18 candidates. People respected myelection motto “Standing Strong for my Community”.

They acknowledge my experience, common sense solutions and, most of all, the fact Iactually listen to the community.

I am sure Joe epitomises the saying that 78 today is the new 68.

The battles I face daily are minute compared to those emanating from the Oval Office.

But after a short afternoon siesta, I am sure Joe will cope well.The Queen, after all, at 94 is a shining example to us all.

To quote Joan Collins, “Age is just a number, it’s totally irrelevant – unless of course you happen to be a bottle of cabernet sauvignon”.

Kai Luey, 79, community leader, Auckland

I’m New Zealand-born Chinese, the youngest of nine, whose migrant parents worked long hours in fruit shops to establish the family in New Zealand.

I was lucky enough to become an electrical engineering graduate and worked in the electrical power industry for the NZ Electricity Department and then in private enterprise as a corporate manager in New Zealand, Australia and Thailand.

There’s a wise old saying that your age is only a number and I fully admire Joe Biden for his ambition to become President of the USA at 78, and face the daunting challenges of mending the damage caused by Donald Trump, both domestically and in relationships with the rest of the world.

I myself am still very active in leading the local Chinese community as chairman of Auckland Chinese Community Centre Inc (ACCC), which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

I’ve been in this position since 2013; before then I was on the ACCC committee and also chairman of the New Zealand Chinese Association Auckland branch for 11 years and national president for three years.

I’m also currently chair of the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust and have been an active Rotarian since 1994. My wife and I also recently joined a combined Probus Club, so we’re also busy with wider community activities.

ACCC’s iconic flagship event is the annual Chinese New Year Festival & Market Day at ASB Showgrounds, which attracts more than 20,000 people, and I’ve been the event organiser for 14 of these celebrations.

Planning this and other events is a very time-consuming, but fulfilling task.

Overall, the motivation to continue this voluntary work is the satisfaction of achievement, and creating enjoyment for others.

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