The Democratic Party may feel tempted to play the political game by Donald Trump’s rules and pick a wealthy celebrity, possibly one from a political family, to become its new face, but this urge must be suppressed. The temptation to empower only well-known people who are descended from the political or socioeconomic elite, rather than educated, experienced citizens who care deeply about bettering our republic, poses a serious threat to our democracy, as it only serves to limit the degree of representation that our government can provide to the American people. The middle-class, the impoverished, and the little-known but impassioned, should be entitled to their share of power in deciding the American agenda and therefore ought to be represented only by those best qualified to protect their futures and interests. The two-party system and major media outlets should not lower American democracy to the level of a reality television show when American lives are so profoundly affected by the actions of our leaders.
Our democracy could all too easily turn into a social oligarchy of only rich, elite, and well-known political operatives. It is dangerous to elect anyone based on name recognition alone. While it is every American citizen’s right to run for public office, fame does not correspond to preparedness and capacity for leadership.
Take Donald Trump as an example: he was a prominent businessman, famous for being wealthy and a star on reality television. He used his public platform to garner attention that allowed him to run for president. He had no prior political experience and yet managed to win the 2016 election, in large part due to his notoriety as a wealthy national celebrity.
Now, after having successfully become president of the United States, this business-savvy television personality has discovered that “this is really a bigger job than I thought,” that handling the situation on the Korean peninsula is “not so easy,” and that healthcare is “so complicated.” He has even admitted to missing his old life, back before he had so much work and the fates of millions of Americans riding on his shoulders. Our celebrity, anti-politician president has all but explicitly said that he himself is not prepared for this job, and that all of his bluster and bravado was merely that.
The Democratic Party should see the example of Trump and be wary of running its own version of a businessman, anti-politician figure in the form of Mark Cuban or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Political parties aside, well-known figures such as Kanye West and Caitlyn Jenner are beginning to talk about running for public office. While such actions may not be totally unprecedented, as celebrities have been elected to positions in the government in the past, the precedent of inexperienced leadership is alarming. In a society that glorifies the rich and famous, as seen through the popularity of shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the Real Housewives series, celebrities can use their fame for political gain, even as they lack the practical experience needed to actually do the job of running the country. Even highly controversial figures like West and Jenner, after seeing the example of Trump, can view the presidency as a new way in which to achieve personal gain. Both of these celebrities share Trump’s fame, polarizing nature, and extraordinary wealth, and they are also unqualified as politicians and unworthy of becoming the face of the United States due to their previous deeds.
The growing risk of celebrities diluting the political process is a serious one, as this phenomenon degrades our democracy. Societies founded upon mutual contracts and democratic principles require the election of sensible, intelligent, measured, and grounded individuals to ensure that the voices and interests of the electorate are heard and properly represented. Most celebrities do not fit this ideal of what a leader in American politics should be, as many of them have been long separated by their sheer wealth and fame from ordinary American life for years on end. Politics may have come to seem like the next level of reality entertainment, especially with stakes as high as the success and future of the American people on the line, but this is the moment when we must collectively realize that the importance of political questions extends beyond any petty partisan disagreement or any contentious election.
When we support the election of any individual to public office, we are entrusting her with the power to become instrumental in deciding upon legislation that will impact the everyday life of the average American. Politicians, especially those descended from the elite echelons of our society, are popularly known for their narcissism and power-mongering, and one might ask what the difference is between such a politician and a celebrity being in office. This is where I must insist that there are options beyond these two forms of narcissism: there are politicians who actually care about the well-being of the American people, and such politicians share the same concerns and hopes as the average citizen because they are average themselves.
Due to their wealth and fame, celebrities live in their own realities, in a collective Hollywood bubble that is not comparable to the lifestyle of the average American. How can such people, separated from the harsh reality faced by the American public by years in the spotlight, be expected to protect the rights and privileges of the most vulnerable citizens in our society? It is not worth risking the integrity of the American electoral system by putting a blue version of Trump up for the Democratic ticket in 2020, when viable non-celebrity figures exist within the party who are more than qualified to actually take on and successfully fulfill the position of president.
American politics should be neither taken as a joke nor made into the latest brand of reality television. The political process is meant to be arduous, complicated, full of compromise and intellectual discourse; it is not meant to be purposely sensationalized. Candidates should not be chosen or supported based on entertainment value or their personal brand alone. While a politician also relies upon her name brand in order to get elected, the value of her name is based upon years of education, years of involvement in government, and enough trust from her community to be re-elected to office. The efforts of the aforementioned inexperienced characters gaining power over the American people should not be taken lightly or be tacitly encouraged by popular passivity. Such efforts should spark outrage, concern, and perhaps even fear of America’s extreme partisanship or lackadaisicalness (or both) in our hearts.
What is most strikingly concerning about Trump’s election is that, while his celebrity played a significant role in his victory (which is worrying in and of itself), he also won because he simply fits the mold of what a our society expects in a president. In other words, he is a straight, white, successful man, and that combined with his fame and “no-nonsense” attitude resulted in almost half of the country implicitly trusting him with their futures. All of Trump’s economic missteps, derogatory comments about women and minorities, and lack of concrete solutions to contemporary domestic and international issues could not override the fact that he was a white, confident, rich man running for political office.
The only way to successfully overcome the threat of Trump-style politicking becoming the new normal is to actively refuse to give in to the use of such tactics. Trump has denigrated the presidency, and the only way to ensure that trust in and respect for the office is restored is to coalesce behind a set of values that rejects all that Trump espouses. We must demand that only the most qualified and reliable of people lead our nation. If we pick candidates based on familial heritage or monetary status alone, then we are an aristocracy, not a democracy. We must resist the temptation to orient our political institutions around our societal glamorization of the ultra-elite and vehemently defend the ideal that American democracy was built to protect the interests of all.
The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.
Kate Healy is a third year majoring in Political Science major, and possibly double minoring in Spanish and History. Last summer, she interned with State Senator Heather Steans in Chicago. On campus, she is a member of the Women in Public Service Program, New Americans, and Kappa Alpha Theta.