The health of a president, in any country, is matter of public interest and national security. The lives of millions of people depend on the decisions of the president. And therefore it is no longer a purely private matter between the patient and the doctor.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s recent bout with Covid and what he called a “fainting spell” is a legitimate and necessary issue for journalists. But it must be treated carefully, without speculation and with total adherence to the facts. When there’s a lack of information, we must respond with more journalism.
It was reassuring to see López Obrador in a long video posted on Tweeter Wednesday, saying, “I am well.” Then came the details that his team had not made public, or had even hidden. AMLO acknowledged he had Covid – for the third time – and “it got complicated because I went on a very intense tour” of southern Mexico. He also said that while in Mérida, “my blood pressure dropped suddenly in a meeting … like I fell asleep. It was a kind of a vaguido” – slang for a fainting spell.
That version contradicts what his Minister of Government, Adán Augusto López, had said two days before. He said the president “did not faint.” The Royal Spanish Academy says a vaguido is the same as fainting. What’s more, the president had to suspend the tour and his team had to mount a special operation to transfer him to Mexico City.
With AMLO’s medical history – he’s 69 and suffered a heart attack in 2013 – any change in his health is news. These days, with the blessed social networks and when almost everything is recorded on a cell phone, it is useless to hide information – and least of all when it’s about a president. Far from protecting the country or the leader, it generates confusion and disinformation. And we lose trust in the functionaries who did not tell the truth. Who’s going to trust them the next time?
When candidates decide to run for president, part of the deal is to make public many things that are usually private, including important information on their health. And that brings us to the U.S. presidential campaign, which may bring two elderly politicians face to face. No doubt, the issue of their mental and physical health will be critical.
President Joe Biden, who this week announced his intention to seek reelection, is 80 years old and would be 86 at the end of his second term. Donald Trump, the favorite among the Republican candidates, is 76 and would be 82 at the end of his second term.
If Biden and Trump face each other in the 2024 election, it would be an important rematch. Trump continues to insist – falsely – that he won the 2020 elections. That is the Big Lie. We will see whether the criminal charges he might face will affect his popularity among Republicans. For now, he is the first president in US history to be criminally charged, for falsifying documents. More investigations are pending.
But the 2024 election will be very different from 2020, which took place in the middle of pandemic. This one will require more personal appearances across the country, and will test the candidates’ stamina and mental clarity. What’s more, we’ll have to see if the presidency has worn down Biden and the 81 million people who voted for him in 2020.
But while those two near-octogenarians fight for power, the United States is ready for a generational change. A recent NBC poll showed that the majority of those surveyed don’t want either Biden or Trump as presidential candidates. Among those who reject Biden, 48 percent pointed to his age as the reason for their decision.
There’s a lot of ageism in the current presidential pre-campaign. There’s clear discrimination against Biden and against Trump simply because of their ages and not because of their political positions. And although science has given us more years than ever – life expectancy is much higher than a century ago – there’s enormous discrimination against the elderly.
Author Anne Karpf, in her extraordinary book How to Age, wrote about “the idea of age as a privilege” and that “to age is, in fact, to be blessed.” Without overlooking the indignities and complications that come with age, to age is in many ways a liberation.
Regardless, for me, at 65, getting older is much better than the alternative. And we have López Obrador, Biden and Trump – among many politicians – who are still here, who refuse to stop running and who are ready to play in the overtime period in search of an ideal.
But it is inevitable that every one of their moves will be monitored and examined with a microscope. Those are the rules of the game. And it is always better to be in the game.