If Joe Biden and Donald Trump agree on one thing, it’s that being an octogenarian doesn’t necessarily mean one can’t get the job done.
That’s to be expected, since Biden turns 80 today and the newly declared Trump, should he win another term (Heaven forfend), would be 82 when he left office.
Trump, in fact, doubled down on his opinion recently when on his social media site he postulated that “There are many people in their 80s, and even 90s, who “are as good and sharp as ever.”
Quick to opine that “Biden is not one of them,” Trump nonetheless proclaimed, “In actuality, life begins at 80.”
Biden’s age has certainly figured into discussions about his abilities, but so has Trump’s.
Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, recently observed that while Biden’s doctor has pronounced the President vigorous and fit to carry out his duties, his public appearances have fueled perceptions otherwise, including speeches that seem listless, loss of his train of thought, and trouble with names.
But Baker also noted that the age issue surfaced repeatedly for Trump during his term, in the form of diminished vocabulary, a tendency to meander, and sometimes-incoherent remarks.
Biden is already the oldest sitting president in U.S. history, passing Ronald Reagan, who was a few days shy of 78 when he left office in 1989.
A number of current world leaders have far outdone Biden and Trump when it comes to accumulating years.
Paul Biya, president of Cameroon where term limits do not exist, is 89, has held office for 40 years, and is considered the world’s oldest active head of state.
Michel Aoun, who last month stepped down as president of Lebanon, was also 89.
Mahmoud Abbas, 87, has been president of the Palestinian Authority since 2005, when he succeeded Yasser Arafat.
Among royalty since the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II at age 96, the oldest is 86-year-old Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, king of Saudi Arabia, and a year younger is Harald V, Norway’s king.
In the past, Abdul Momin, the sultan of Brunei, died in office at age 97 in 1885, and Hastings Banda was defeated for re-election as president of Malawi in 1994 at age 96.
So those are some of the oldest to have served, but what about the youngest? Among those are Gabriel Boric, 36, president of Chile, and Jacinda Ardern, who was 37 when she became New Zealand’s prime minister five years ago.
In the U.S., the youngest person ever to assume the presidency was Theodore Roosevelt, who at 42 succeeded the assassinated William McKinley in 1901. Sixty years later, John F. Kennedy became second-youngest at 43.
But that’s nothing – Iraq’s Faisal II was only three when he was crowned king in 1939 after his father died in a car crash.
But even that was bested by Egypt’s Fuad II, who was named king at six months old in 1952 when his father, King Farouk, forfeited his throne in the face of revolution. Fuad’s “reign” – in exile in Europe with his parents – lasted less than a year when Egypt declared itself a republic.
However, the crown for youngest leader of all time must go to Shapur II of Persia, who, after his royal father was murdered, was named king in 309 A.D. – before he was even born.
As the story goes, nobles brought his pregnant mother – a concubine of the late monarch – to the palace, placed a crown on her swollen belly, and proclaimed her unborn son king.
Some dispute this account, especially wondering how the nobles could have known the baby was a boy.
We could further investigate this, but as one who’s made his living digging up stories, I know – and the aforementioned Mr. Trump would certainly back me up – that some yarns are so good they should never be spoiled by the facts.
Gerry Goldstein (email@example.com), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.