Seniors are told, and many fervently believe, that these programs simply give them back what they paid in, but this is a lie. The typical American gets much more out of these programs — in the case of Medicare, several times more — than he’s put in.

When the enormous Baby Boom generation was working, these programs nonetheless managed to build up a bit of a surplus, which was kept track of (though not actually saved) in the trust funds. As the Baby Boomers drain those balances, Medicare will run out of money in 2026, Social Security in 2034. We’re already running trillion-dollar deficits, and as entitlement costs mount further, we will have to either hike taxes — not just repeal the recent tax cuts, but seriously hike taxes — or trim benefits. Though whatever we choose will be painful, it will be less painful the sooner we act.

It used to be that some politicians would take this problem seriously and most would at least pretend to. But the Boomers have started to leave the work force, and fear of the political repercussions has prevailed. Trump won in part by stating flatly that he wouldn’t touch Social Security and Medicare; he reiterated at his Thursday event that “I made you a sacred pledge that I would strengthen, protect, and defend Medicare for all of our senior citizens. . . . It will never be taken away from you. We’re not letting anyone get close.” The Democrats, incredibly, have made noises about expanding Social Security.