Why We Entertain the Idea of Celebrity Presidents
In case Trump’s election has skewed our perceptions of what it means to be qualified for the job of president. Consider this test.
Take Oprah, or whoever your ideal candidate could be, and ask yourself two questions about them.
- Is this person currently qualified to be Secretary of State? This would mean going face to face with Russia, handling North Korea, and managing the civil wars that are sure to spring up around the world.
- Is this person currently qualified to be Secretary of Defense? Would it make sense to see this person telling career generals at the Pentagon what to do?
Now, the job of presidency is both more difficult and more important than either of these two cabinet positions, so if a person could not reasonably be seen in charge of either the state department or the Pentagon, they have no place in the presidency.
It does not seem controversial to say that Oprah unequivocally fails this test. She may have the charm, communication skills, and intellect that, if paired with decades of experience, would make her an excellent public servant at this level. But as of right now, as of 2020 as well, she is nowhere near close to an appropriate option.
To be fair, most elected officials are not qualified for the presidency either. Commentators made relatively decent cases for why Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were not truly qualified for the job they eventually won.
The Rock that America Needs
I love Dwayne Johnson.
The Rock is one of the most charming, hilarious, and admirable people alive in America today. So it’s with a heavy heart that I have to agree with what National Review’s David French has to say in his 2017 article about the possibility of a Johnson presidency.
“Rather than speculating about whether The Rock could run and win, let’s ask a different question: What is his highest and best purpose as a patriotic American? Is it really in politics? Or is it in expanding a public platform that combines an enormous amount of pure fun with outspoken patriotism, love of his fellow citizens, and evangelism for hard work and perseverance?
…At the risk of sounding corny: At this time in American life, we need points of agreement, and right now tens of millions of Americans on both sides of the political divide agree on The Rock.”
If Oprah is truly committed to helping America in the public sphere, she could start a tv show where she sits Republicans and Democrats together to talk through their differences. Or, she could double down on her charity work, filling in the humanitarian gaps of the U.S. government. Or, she could run for Congress, which would prove that she truly cares about public life rather than simply enjoying the idea of seeing herself as president. An affliction that I personally don’t think applies to her, but certainly applies to our current president and other celebrity hopefuls like Kanye West or Mark Zuckerberg.
The Myth of the Shake-Up President
While a strong, ethical President can move the country in a better direction, the things people hate the most about Washington DC– the bickering, the corruption — these issue simply cannot be solved by one overwhelming figure fixing America’s problems.
President Obama, despite what he would consider good faith efforts at bipartisan compromise, noted that one of the greatest disappointments of his presidency was “that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”
Likewise, an argument for voting for Trump was his claim that America needed an outsider to finally get things done for once. Cue his line at the Republican National Convention where he declares that “I alone can fix it,” referring to our countries problems.
Most Presidents armed with Congressional support can make some headway on legislative issues, but the fundamental game-changing improvements that we expect from elected officials can not be made by the White House alone. You need a Congress that deeply cares about halting corruption and partisanship for anything to change in this regard.
Electing another celebrity to the presidency reinforces this idea that we need or can expect a savior to come fix us. But in reality, if you really want a better Washington DC, you should unseat your incumbent Congressmen.
Lastly, America needs to start placing trust in its elected officials again. Not in all of them, of course, but the ones who stand up, actually care, and try to make people’s lives better. This will not happen until we stop looking for our favorite tv show characters to swoop in right when the plot demands to save the day.