But this traditional picture of old age as the repository of wisdom comes with certain complications. Gerontocracy is rule by people who insist on turning the peak of their career into a plateau. Aristotle and the others acknowledged that it carries hidden and insidious effects, and reveals unflattering qualities in the gerontocrats themselves. We can see this most obviously in the effect it has had on the Democratic Party generationally. There is a huge gap between where the energy and creativity of the party lie, with a group of dynamic activists and House members in their 30s and even their 20s (thank you, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and the ruling class of 70-somethings layered far above like a crumbling porte cochere.

In the farm system that trains and seasons the leaders of tomorrow—assuming tomorrow ever comes—that gap signifies a lost generation. One day, presumably, power within the party will pass, and when it does, if present trends continue, it will leapfrog from seniors born around the time of V-J Day to people who can barely remember 9/11. More likely than not, members of Generation X will never get their turn—an entire cohort condemned to the fate of Prince Charles. After the indignities that Boomers inflicted on Generation X, from disco to postmodern literary theory, this scarcely seems fair.

The situation pushes some Gen Xers to take extreme measures. The far-fetched presidential campaigns of backbenchers such as Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton are best understood as cries for help, as ambitious young politicians try to free themselves from the professional bottleneck created by unbudgeable leadership.