The Appearance of Age

How we perceive the signs of aging could determine the election

George Dillard
Rome Magazine
Published in
9 min readJun 21, 2024


Joe Biden in 2019 (photo by Marc Nozell, CC 2.0)

On the evening of June 27, I, like tens of millions of my fellow Americans, will spend 90 minutes or so watching the TV through my fingers, with my teeth tightly clenched. That’s right, it’s almost presidential debate time and I’m looking forward to the first clash between Donald Trump and Joe Biden like I’d look forward to surgery without anesthetic.

There are many reasons to dread the upcoming debate. First, debates are a weird test of presidential ability (in a moment of national crisis, a president will not be called upon to exchange 90-second, rehearsed soundbites with Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un).

Also, the giant media apparatus that is lurching into motion to cover this debate will almost certainly focus on the wrong things. They’ll focus on “moments” or “performances” rather than who tells the truth or expresses normal human sentiments. The whole thing will be an unpleasant microcosm of our political system — dysfunctional, distracted by flash and superficiality, and more of a reality-TV show than a serious test of the ability to govern.

But, despite their drawbacks, the debates will almost certainly rank among the most important events of the campaign, and, due to the media’s…