In the modern era of Internet connectivity, we feel that we know celebrities well. But does this mean they would be suitable politicians and leaders?
Has Politics Become Show business?
In 1966, then B-list actor Ronald Reagan noted that “Politics is just like show business. You begin with a hell of an opening, you coast for a while, and you end with a hell of a closing.” Given that he later became the 40th President of the United States, it seems fair to say that Reagan knew what he was talking about.
After Oprah’s incredibly rousing 2018 Golden Globes speech, there were many calls for her to run for US President in 2020. Her politics are very different to Donald Trump’s, but it would be the case of one television star replacing another. Is that the world we live in now? And if it is, is that OK?
Celebrity Politicians Not a New Phenomenon
Reagan and Trump are certainly not isolated phenomena. Bollywood actors are often elected to office, soccer star George Weah just became president of Liberia, and film star Joseph Estrada was chosen as President by Philippines voters in 1998. Other examples of celebrities going into politics in the United States include Arnold Schwarzenegger who was Governor of California between 2003 and 2011, and wrestler Jesse Venturra who governed Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.
Oprah hasn’t definitively confirmed or denied whether she has her eye on a change of address for 2020, but if she is she is certainly not the only celebrity who does. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Caitlin Jenner, Mark Zuckerberg and other celebrities have kindled speculation that they may run with some intriguing comments, and actor Antonio Sabáto Jr. is definitely looking to unseat Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley in California.
Personalities Coming Before Principles and Policies
The decision to elevate celebrities to office is generally understood to be due to the fact that, as ordinary citizens, we can identify with them. Populism has been gathering force in American and global politics for the last few years, and Donald Trump rode to the White House on a wave of promises to bring prosperity back to the “forgotten men and women” of North America.
Increasingly, the stories and characteristics of prospective politicians are more important than the actual policies that they debate or promote. Rather than robust discussions around key issues, led by politicians who really understand them and watched by a public that really does too, catchy taglines and well-oiled fundraising and Public Relations machines seem to have replaced actual arguments.
The current state of affairs in politics, both in the United States and further afield, is certainly lamentable – but it isn’t only down to more celebrities getting involved. As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed, everything is changing. This includes the way we interact with our celebrities and our politicians; there is no way to get away from the fact that the Internet makes them feel much more intimately connected to us. Since that is the world we live in today, we have to decide how to work with it going forward.
Potential to Do Good or Do Bad
Don’t forget that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was the first to really harness the power of social media platforms, and he was a politician who had worked his way through the ranks. The power of connectivity and even celebrity can be used in politics to benefit people, but potential leaders need to know how to use it.
Celebrities and other populists without experience in government administration are, in a way, not that different from revolutionaries who come to power after a coup. They’re great at rallying a crowd who is dissatisfied with the current status quo, but often are unable to manage logistics and effect change. That deep understanding is what we need from whoever is running – celebrity or otherwise.