Celebrities running for office is a danger to democracy

Published

donald trump

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore

Josh Upton
Writer

“It is time for us to show our maturity; to show that custodianship of democracy is safe in our hands, and show the Trumps, Grillos, and Oprahs of this world that governance is a job that requires more than just charisma and Twitter – it requires experience and talent.”

Democracy, the commentariat seem unable to stop saying, has lost its way. Fake news, conspiracies, identarianism, nationalism, populism. Democracy’s death knell is near! I’d say that there has been a far more wide-ranging trend that has been undermining democracy for a while now; and it is not just a millennial debasement of the institution of democracy, but rather a side effect of Western culture in general. Before we elected based on policies, on whom we thought better able to govern, but popular democracy has devolved into little more than a popularity contest. While the electorate has always been concerned with scandal, it has become one of the principle deciding factors in who we vote for. Gaffes of party leaders eating sandwiches wrong, wearing sweaters rather than suits, not being “cool” enough, things that bear no relevance on the skills of a person to govern and lead, take up entire news cycles. Our politicians are becoming celebrities.

All this could be considered acceptable, maybe – a regrettable side-effect of the mass media age. But more than our politicians becoming celebrities, our celebrities are attempting to become politicians. Famous voices inserting themselves into popular narratives, attempting to control conversations, using their names to swing elections or using politics to boost their fame. This too is, perhaps, acceptable. Any voice is welcome in the political sphere, every debate open for contribution by those who hold a stake in it, anyone is welcome to run for office to represent an opinion or offer a voice of advocacy. However, we do more than simply elect people to represent us, we elect people to rule us.

The government doesn’t just give voice to our preferences and opinions; it governs the apparatus of state and manages the day-to-day business of running our countries. The fathers of democracy believed that the collective wisdom of the people would create a better class of rulers than an aristocracy ever could, that the open debate and approval-seeking of democracy would ensure better rule than the cronyism and nepotism of autocratic or despotic regimes. And celebrities, with their unflappable egomania, seem hell bent on proving this old wisdom wrong. For celebrities aim for positions at the head, leading the team, soaking up the spotlight. Regan and Trump for POTUS, the Governator and Cynthia Nixon for governorships, Beppe Grillo in the Italian elections. These celebrities don’t seek to add the weight of their experience to aiding governance; they seek to directly govern, or overthrow the current system of governance totally. There is no problem when those socially minded celebrities seek to take part in the political process, to represent and advocate, annoying as many may find it. Seeking to govern when one has no experience of it, however, is actively dangerous.

Those with no talent or experience in public service have no place leading nations or federal states, and the continued self-involvement of egotistical and self-absorbed celebrities in the highest echelons of power further devalues the democratic system in which we live, weakening the legitimacy of governments the West over. What’s more egregious, however, is our continued indulging of these wannabe celebrity kings and queens. As citizens, and members of the electorate, it is our duty to ensure that our votes are cast not for those we like most, or who we really liked in that rom-com, or who said that really good takedown of the whole of capitalism in 140 characters on Twitter, but for those who will govern our states best. It is time for us to show our maturity; to show that custodianship of democracy is safe in our hands, and show the Trumps, Grillos, and Oprahs of this world that governance is a job that requires more than charisma and Twitter – it requires experience and talent.