After former reality-show star and business mogul Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency, several celebrities have teased at running for office. To name a few, Oprah Winfrey, Shailene Woodley, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Caitlyn Jenner have all shown interest in running for some sort of elected government position, mostly through social media posts. While some may be searching for a trending tweet rather than a political office, this is one “trend” I can’t support.
By and large, celebrities are outliers. Making up less than half a percent of the U.S. population, their interests are narrow and do not generally align with those of the common people. Though not all celebrities will be completely disconnected with the plight of the general public, as plenty come from humble beginnings, the status of celebrity indicates a position, usually both economically and socially, that is more privileged. This personal disposition will taint proceedings in office.
Socioeconomic status affecting proceedings in office is not unique to celebrities. Any common person who assumes office will also, consciously or subconsciously, influence proceedings with their respective status, but the word “common” makes all the difference. A common person’s attitudes and desires are more like that of his or her constituents, meaning he or she can both understand and provide for them.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily think all celebrities wouldn’t fare well in public office. Rather, I fear that a precedent could be set in which celebrities are encouraged to go into office. As people who have significant public reach, they would be the only ones with enough publicity and financial bearing to be elected. Already, wealthy people have an advantage in political influence because they can bear exorbitant campaign costs or fund interests and initiatives with genuine political efficacy. The normalization of celebrity transition to public office would maximize campaign expenditures, making representative political participation extremely inaccessible for those who don’t have comparable funds. The common person would eventually be forced out of the running, replaced by those who are already equipped with the kind of wealth and prominence that make winning much more likely.
At that point, elections would be a competition of publicity rather than policy. Personality would be valued more than integrity, intellect or strategy. Most celebrities lack experience in key areas like politics, international relations, economics and ethics. Their resumes may be filled with albums or movie credits but not with the substance that matters in the political realm. Yet this doesn’t scare some people. They see celebrities as a welcome alternative to career politicians.
For the most part, people hate career politicians because they’re seen as corrupt and ineffective. I don’t entirely disagree with this. Especially among Congresspeople, corruption is rampant. Many officeholders support legislation and initiatives not in accordance with their constituents but rather their personal interests. Furthermore, a lack of term limits in Congress essentially ensures incumbency since congressional races are decided more by name recognition than any other factor. Secure in their re-elections, incumbents can pursue personal interests as long as this is obfuscated by some effort for constituents.
When it comes down to it, people hate career politicians because they’re out of touch with the public and protect only their niche interests. Would celebrities be any different?
A danger distinct to the election of celebrities is the risk of conflation of entertainment and policy. A line should be drawn that distinguishes the two to preserve political affairs from distracting theatrics. This is not meant to disregard versatility of talent. I’d be pleased to see a celebrity who could draw a strong line between entertainment and politics and show aptitude in both. President Ronald Reagan, a former actor, did this well, severing his public life in entertainment from his more serious political life. Still, even though Reagan’s celebrity may not have influenced his presidency, an assumption that any other celebrity would be fit for office is unwise. Many celebrities interested in office have not shown strong ideological positions and may very well be looking at office simply as a result of delusions of ego or as a publicity boost.
It seems to make more sense to choose a corrupt career politician who knows political strategy over a self-interested celebrity who lacks political education. In extreme cases when life and death are at stake or a major policy initiative requires an officeholder’s approval, I would much prefer expertise to entertainment value.
In a perfect world, every politician would be an honest, selfless statesperson. But this is reality, and that’s not the case, though that does not mean that the American public should settle. Rather, we should collectively become more involved with politics at every level. Instead of relying on soundbites from biased news sources or voting for the person whose name we recognize or backing our favorite celebrities’ bids for office simply based on likability, we should stay as informed about candidates and political affairs as possible. We should get to know candidates’ policy proposals, preparedness for office and potential conflicts of interests like outlying socioeconomic statuses. We should demand candidates that can sympathize with the plight of the common person and make an effort to fix it. Though anyone should have the ability to run for office, it is up to us to make a prudent choice in selecting representatives who have the common interest at heart and the knowledge to achieve it. We should not sell ourselves short by electing people based on superficial factors.
Photo courtesy of Yahoo.