When in 2015 Donald Trump announced he was planning to run for president, many of us couldn’t help but crack a smile. A celebrity with no prior political experience, Trump’s decision seemed to be a PR ploy in order to build up his tired brand and get the world talking about him again. How wrong we were.
Now with Trump replaced in the White House by Joe Biden and his Twitter and Facebook accounts banned following his incitement of rioters in the lead up to the Capitol Hill insurrection, it would be easy to forget about Trump and close the final page of his history book shut. However, it is important to reflect back on past presidents in order to assess what their legacy will be for the future.
Trump will be infamous for many things: the Muslim travel ban, the no filter tweets, the bilateral meeting with Kim Jong Un, and the border wall all come to my mind when I think and his time in office.
One legacy of Trump that I feel has not got the attention it perhaps deserves and has subtlety been accepted as a normal part of the political scene today is what I refer to as the ‘celebritisation’ of politics.
On the surface, celebrities getting involved in US politics is not a new phenomenon. Ronald Reagan was a successful actor before pursuing a career in politics, as was Arnold Schwarzenegger when he too became Governor of California in 2003. Since Trump though we have seen a plethora of celebrities being linked with the presidency and top political positions, all of whom are inexperienced and underqualified.
In a hypothetical matchup released by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas between Matthew McConaughey and Texas Governor Greg Abbot, the movie star has a polling lead by double digits. The fact that McConaughey is this popular is concerning to me. He has not even stated he is going to run, which party he belongs to, and what political positions he holds.
Having celebrity status, as seen with Trump, is a massive benefit in terms of name recognition and means many members of the public are already familiar with you in the public sphere. That isn’t necessarily a good thing though, as your personality should only carry you so far.
Policies above all are the most important factor when deciding on which candidate is best for governing. In a world which makes sense, when voting, the electorate would consider candidates’ policy proposals and how they are going to fight for them. Sadly though, personality ‘trumps’ policies and voters care more about whether they emotionally connect with certain figures and if they are the right fit for the job.
This is not even considering the extent to which many of these celebrities toying with or actually committed to running are uninformed and hopeless. Inflated with ego and self-importance, Caitlyn Jenner is running for Governor of California. Her website holds very few specific details on her positions on the key issues facing Americans such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, instead displaying links to her merchandise store and prompting individuals to donate to her campaign. In a Trump-like move, she has gone as far as referring to herself as an ‘outsider’ and a ‘disruptor’ who will shake up American politics. This is deeply ironic considering the fact that she is part of a family which collectively is reported to be worth around $2 billion. Does anyone really think that she is experienced enough to lead California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, with a population of 40 million?
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is another example of a celebrity figure contemplating a future presidential run. Undoubtedly charismatic, Johnson seems likeable and outgoing, but when it comes to the substantive policies he supports, his answers to these questions are vague and vapid. In a 2017 interview with GQ, he said that ‘if he was president poise would be important’ and ‘taking responsibility would be important’. What does this mean? What specific things would you do to help ordinary Americans? Almost all the time, these celebrities have no concrete solutions to real-world problems. It is easy to be amicable but having sound legislative ideas is much more difficult.
Normal people should be encouraged to get involved and run for office, rather than career politicians or celebrities. The best candidates are those that are well rounded, have real-life experience and are enthusiastic about making a positive difference in the world. Celebrities, from Democrats like Dwayne Johnson and Tom Hanks to Republicans like Caitlyn Jenner, will never be more grounded and informed about everyday issues than working people who have experienced some degree of struggle. America needs to shake its obsession with celebrity culture if it wants real change to occur in the country.