As Politics and Celebrity Merge, Americans Lose
Vox, Slate, and other outlets proclaimed Jeb Bush was the best part of the Emmy’s introductory video on Sunday night. Acting as an Uber drive, Bush bantered with the evening’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, proving that even though he didn’t win the Republican nomination, he was a good sport. He didn’t sulk or get angry; he got funny. He was humanized in the skit. His detractors made fun of the exclamation point in his slogan so what did he do? He included it in a comedy routine. He was in on the joke; we laughed with him instead of at him.
Jeb Bush isn’t the only politician currently crossing over into the land of celebrity — Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas is a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. He is competing against athletes, washed-up actors, and D-list reality stars. The audience is supposed to root for an anti-choice politician who believes in intelligent design, the death penalty for the mentally challenged, and is a proponent of “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman. He actively made life worse for his constituents: during his time in office, Texas led the nation in uninsured residents (at 26%) and had the lowest level of prenatal care in the United States. But by all means, let’s cheer him on as he fumbles through the Tango and the Cha Cha.
When we treat politicians as celebrities, we neuter their positions. While they are no longer governing, we show their successors that we tacitly agree with their policies.
Of course, the cross-over from celebrity to politicians isn’t new. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former Mr. Universe and movie star, was the Governor of California for eight years. Kal Penn of House and Harold and Kumar fame served as Barack Obama’s Associate Director of Public Engagement. And no discussion about actors in politics would be complete without including Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican Party.
We are in the midst of an election where celebrity and politics intersect like they never have before. The lines are not blurred; they’re erased. Donald Trump, a former reality show host, is the Republican candidate for President. He might win.
This election isn’t funny. It’s not a joke or a comedy sketch. It’s not entertainment. It’s pivotal. It’s literally life and death for many Americans. Trump supporters have been emboldened by his racist, misogynist, anti-Muslim, xenophobic rants. Hate crimes against Muslims, immigrants, people of color and trans people have increased during campaign. And it’s no wonder — his platform is built on hate and that is what his supporters do — they hate anyone who is different. Sometimes they even attack them.
This election isn’t reality TV — it’s reality. Americans should not be swayed by sound bites and flashy moves. At the vortex of politics and celebrity, Americans lose.
If you want to vote for an entertainer, become a Nielsen family. If you want to live in peace and economic prosperity, vote for Hillary Clinton.