Celebrity Presidents and the Changing Political Landscape

The presence of celebrities in American politics is quickly moving from an infrequent novelty to a commonplace occurrence. After a passionate speech at the Golden Globes during her acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award for career achievement, Oprah Winfrey has become the latest in the ever-increasing list of celebrities who have been strongly linked to a presidential run in 2020. Such a list already includes the likes of Stephen Colbert, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Kanye West. However, while most of these claims hold very little substance, the possibility of a celebrity battle between Oprah and President Trump in less than two years is causing many to wonder whether the increasing celebrity presence in American politics is a step in the right direction or a decidedly backwards approach to fixing the problems of this country. Unfortunately, it is almost certainly the latter. The main argument against a so-called “celebrity candidate” is their lack of the level of political experience required to execute the responsibilities of the office of the President of the United States. Most celebrities are not famous because of their vast political history; similarly, there are barely any politicians who could be classified as “celebrities.” In fact, well-known political activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi gained their celebrity-like status through political actions that more often than not opposed the government, rather than by becoming part of it. The problem is that modern day celebrities are not famous for their political actions; they may have very public political opinions which is also a cause for concern for some peoplebut their actual experience with politics as it pertains to the government is almost nonexistent. This should be a concerning factor in the instance of a celebrity running for any position of office within the US government, but the fact that celebrities with no political experience whatsoever are running for the highest office in the country and winning is a seriously worrying issue.

Another dangerous problem with celebrities running for president is that American voters can often become caught up in the celebrity’s image rather than their stances on various issues. Many politicians actually try to exploit this lack of education among voters during elections already. America’s first real celebrity president, Ronald Reagan, was known to most American voters for his career as an actor, despite his involvement in politics prior to his presidential run. Reagan is still considered the darling of the Republican Party and consistently ranks inside the top ten most liked presidents of all time; but while support for him as a person was very high, the support for his policies has been incredibly mixed. He entered the White House with $678 billion in spending and a deficit of $79 billion but left with around $1.1 trillion in spending and a deficit of $155 billion, leaving the US government’s financial affairs significantly worse than before his tenure as president. His controversial policy of trickle-down economics may have worked on paper, but in its purest form many believe it never achieved the effect that was desired. Many American people saw him for the celebrity that he had been, not the politician that he was.

Unfortunately, political experience is becoming less and less of a requirement for public office to American voters. Donald Trump defeated sixteen incredibly qualified Republican candidates on his unexpected path to victory to secure the Republican nomination before going on to defeat Hillary Clinton– a former First Lady, senator, Secretary of State– in the presidential race with no previous political experience. When asked why voters voted for him over any other candidate, answers included “Trump is a self-made man,” “he may say controversial things, but at least he tells you what he thinks,” and “under Trump, the American dream is revived.” All of these reasons either buy into Trump’s celebrity status as a businessman or favor how he is perceived as a person. What was less considered by American voters were his political experience or actual stances on important issues. This is where the concept of a celebrity president becomes untenable for this country: even if the celebrities running for president have good intentions and a firm stance on important topics, the American public will for the most part be unable to see past their images as celebrities.

Trump was not the first celebrity president and he unfortunately will not be the last. If Oprah does indeed decide to run for president, it is safe to assume she will run as a Democrat against the incumbent Trump in 2020. “I know it’s conjecture right now, but I’d ask her to give it serious consideration. If anybody could bring us together, it’s her,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed some doubts over the possibility of an Oprah candidacy, she did say that “there’s an argument for choosing someone outside the circle.” However, Harry Enten, a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight, also argued that “there’s a difference between having experience and being an outsider.” Unfortunately, unless more people realize this before 2020, America’s trajectory towards celebrity politics is doomed to continue.

 

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