Something I’ve heard discussed since I was a child in my parent’s family room is how presidents dramatically age while in office. While it is true that everyone “looks” different after four-to-eight years of life, presidents seem to age more dramatically than the rest of us.
There is even considerable attention being paid to current Democrat presidential candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and whether or not they are still young enough for the rigors of the office.
Now consider the curious case of Donald Trump.
Last week I had the occasion to once again be with the president in person, this time at Turning Point USA’s annual Teen US Action Summit in Washington D.C. With 1,400 young people in attendance who averaged 16 years of age, President Trump—born the year after WWII ended—defied the nearly 60 years that separated him from his Gen Z audience and effortlessly matched their energy level.
As it turns out, there is real science behind the anecdotal reflections on aging we’ve all heard about. The field of epigenetics examines genetic changes that are not derived from changes in the actual DNA sequence. The prefix “epi” comes from the Greek and it means “outside of, or around.” In simple terms, factors outside of our innate selves can impact chromosomal changes and speed aging. These include diet, lifestyle choice, and stress.
I think it’s safe to say no job is more stressful than that of being President of the United States. It’s something no one can relate to (except of course previous presidents), and yet, because we see our leaders every day on television and on our smartphones, we begin to feel like we know them personally and that they’re one of us. Which is at least partly fitting. After all we don’t have kings in this country; we elect citizen-leaders to represent us for a short period of time.
In the process, however, we forget the awesome burden they shoulder. They are faced with decisions every day that would tax even Solomon’s wisdom. We are taught in history class (or at least we should be) about the burden great leaders throughout history have carried, but we rarely extend this understanding or sympathy to our current president. Temporal proximity leads to a blurred image and a different set of standards.
For his part, President Trump has taken on more attacks from outside sources than has any president since perhaps Abraham Lincoln, and the two are impossible to compare because of the changes in communication technology over the past 150 years. Trump has had the entirety of the American media, political, and bureaucratic establishments unified against him with unrelenting vitriol. To put it another way, his epigenetic aging factors are off the charts.
Yet, this president doesn’t seem to be showing the effects. Compare a picture of President Trump in 2015 to one taken in 2019 and you’ll see what I mean.
President Trump governs with a clear joie de vivre that seems entirely incompatible with the hate hurled his way since announcing his candidacy. Incredibly, he seems to genuinely enjoy his job.
How is this possible? I believe the answer lies in his original reason for running for president.
Before he was ever candidate Trump, interviewers would ask him, “Why would you want to run for President? You already have so much wealth and success?” His answer was always approximately the same: He loved America, saw significant problems, and felt he had the right ideas and skills to help turn things around. Now facing the reality of office, you would think the combination of burden and brutality would finally take a toll.
I have found the exact opposite is true. In my interactions with President Trump, he is energized by the very seriousness of his work. And as long as his energy remains high, his numeric age is an asset. President Trump was born when America was at its industrial, economic, and patriotic apex, long before Vietnam, stagflation, and an ever-expanding federal government led us off the rails. We’ve certainly made strides when it comes to civil rights since then, but he may be one of the few Americans alive who is old enough to remember an America that more closely resembled the Founders’ vision, and still “young enough” to do the work necessary to restore her.
You might say, President Trump is an epigenetic enigma.
The president has nearly half a century on me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I might meet him in the middle of the aging process somewhere down road.
Charlie Kirk is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, the nation’s largest and fastest growing conservative youth organization with a presence on over 1,400 college and high school campuses; he is also host of “The Charlie Kirk Show.”