America is no stranger to celebrity politicians. We had Ronald Reagan in the oval office, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as California's "Governator." There's Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, even Jerry Springer was the former mayor of Cincinnati. The list goes on. But now Donald Trump, the former host of the popular reality TV show, "The Apprentice" and infamous trademarker of the "you're fired" catchphrase has become a serious candidate for the most powerful office in the world. Even Kanye West has announced his bid for the presidency! I'm left to wonder, is celebrity culture and our government getting a little too close for comfort? Should celebrities really be politicians?
People are very distracted by the media in this country. Traditional news outlets like CNN, Fox and MSNBC are propelled by sensational soundbites, inflammatory headlines and polarizing guests. This is designed not to give you an objective report of reality, or even the whole story, but to keep your attention during those fleeting commercial breaks in between political theater. Because of this, most of us are anxious, impatient with hard news and chronically misinformed.
America is more polarized than it has been in a long time. And in an age of information overload, we naturally tend to gravitate to what is familiar, what is popular... such as famous celebrities.
I'm not saying celebrities should definitely not run for government. You don't have to be a long term bureaucrat to make for a good politician. In fact, truly caring about the public's concerns, being educated about the issues and having a passion for public service are what we really want. Perhaps Donald Trump is resonating with so many people precisely because he is removed from the political system that so many Americans are fed up with.
But are we really giving him our attention because he is actually a good candidate? Or do we gravitate to him because we know him? We recognize his authority as the man who could host "The Ultimate Job Interview" with utter confidence - and confidence is exactly what we are lacking in our system currently. Studies show that when we are repeatedly exposed to something, we tend to like it more over time. We are already familiar with Donald Trump's personality. And we tend to naturally go with what is familiar.
The problem then is that we live in a culture that revolves around the cult of the personality. On the one hand it's important that we relate to our politicians (George W. Bush was famous for being "someone you'd have a drink with" in his early run for presidency), but on the other hand politics is not supposed to be a glamorous popularity contest. It's about public service. Something is not working when people are voting on very little real information, and choosing candidates in elections begins to feel more like voting for contestants on American Idol.
People like Donald Trump need to be very careful with how they use their celebrity status. They can easily steer people in the wrong direction once they get on the soapbox. As for the rest of us, I feel like there are little steps we can take to solve this problem.
Turn off your television once in awhile. Try and look for news sources outside of what you're used to. My father was a UN diplomat, and he would always recommend European news and looking much deeper beyond American cable news. It's easy with the internet to stay in our own little bubbles of opinion. But reading news from a perspective different from yours can actually help you be more diplomatic and empathic. When we engage with people with different points of views than our own, avoid personal attacks.
The media encourages us to rail against one another as if our society was a zero sum game. But if you can tune out all of the noise for a moment, and genuinely try and understand and communicate respectfully with those on the other side of the fence, maybe some real progress can be made.