Young men staring down old age
On Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, a baby bust, and an awkward hug
Thanks in some part to an awkward embrace caught on camera, a visit to Ukraine by the president of France, chancellor of Germany, and prime minister of Italy has captured a little more than the usual amount of attention that might go with a summit of national leaders. But there is something else about the visit that deserves attention.
■ French president Macron and Ukrainian president Zelenskyy are of an unusual age, born just weeks apart -- in December 1977 and January 1978, respectively. They are members of a global baby bust, and are quite nearly the last cohort to have graduated from college in a pre-Facebook (and largely pre-social-media) world.
■ Yet both have shown considerable skill at using all forms of media to their advantage. Both spun up independent centrist political movements which carried them to office. President Zelenskyy in particular makes robust use of social media, drawing from his years of prior experience as a television actor and public figure.
■ Some day, both will be wizened old grandees of their national politics -- assuming Zelenskyy in particular survives Russia's persistent attempts against him. He richly deserves to see old age, especially given how he has relentlessly positioned his country's future in the center of a peaceful Europe that otherwise might well have been willing to look the other way. That Ukraine has been recommended for candidacy to enter the EU is a success he has effectively willed into being in the face of an existential threat to his country.
■ When he was inaugurated to the Presidency of a nation facing a bitter struggle, Abraham Lincoln was 52 years old. Dwight Eisenhower was 53 when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Europe on the course to winning World War II. Mikhail Gorbachev was 60 when he closed the book on the Soviet Union.
■ Zelenskyy is 44 years old (as is Macron), and he is tasked with keeping a nation together, winning a land war in Europe, and triumphing over a revanchist ex-Soviet spy. Much is asked from time to time of people who seem like unlikely champions for their causes. It would do us well to imagine what old age would look like for President Zelenskyy, and to consider what global support in the present will ensure he sees that reward.