Back in September, I wrote a column about Kanye’s V.M.A. announcement that he will run for president. At the time, the announcement may have seemed like a joke or just a campaign to increase his celebrity profile and to promote his brand. But months later, Yeezy is still claiming that he is seriously planning on running. He has a lot to learn before his campaign officially launches.
As celebrities continue to foray into politics, it has become harder and harder to tell which candidates are joking and which intend to be taken seriously. This summer, Waka Flocka Flame made a fake campaign video for Rolling Stone. Trump has been discussing running for president since 1988, saying in 1999 that Oprah Winfrey would make a perfect running mate and famously backing out of running in 2012. Most people assumed that he was joking and that he was just stirring up publicity for all those years. Now, however, isn’t he taken seriously as one of the leading Republican candidates?
The American people are not going to be able to avoid these celebrity politicians, as Hollywood’s interest in Washington, D.C. seems only to be rising. However, there are some strategies that the famous can use to maximize their efficacy as politicians while the voters can use them to make sure they elect qualified, serious individuals.
Not all actors are inherently uneducated and unqualified to work in government. Actors are adept at empathizing with individuals from all walks of life because it is part of their job description. Most musicians and actors are effective public speakers. Diplomacy, agenda setting, campaigning and deal brokering are all presidential skills that are boosted by their professional experiences.
For example, Donald Trump’s longstanding celebrity has helped fuel his candidacy thus far. Trump feels familiar and honest to his supporters. The people who are currently backing Trump appreciate the effective demagoguery and no-nonsense rhetoric that he has honed throughout his career in the spotlight. Trump’s campaign will not inherently fail because of his celebrity, but instead because his politics are so far from what the average American – or even the average Republican – could support.
Voters need to be aware of this fallacy among celebrity politicians. They should take into account actual policy records, not just proposals and promises. Of course, this applies to all politicians, but stars can be particularly prone to telling people what they want to hear without having the legislative skills or the drive to back it up. Ask anyone who lives in Los Angeles and they will tell you all about the disingenuous, fake nature of Hollywood.
Education, thorough understanding of the citizenry and experience in politics and legislation are de facto prerequisites to a successful campaign for any high office. Celebrities wishing to be president should create a track record by running for lower offices first.
Fame should not be America’s pipeline for politicians. Nothing about a celebrity makes them more qualified than an experienced legislator or governor. However, if the trend of celebrity candidates invading our political system continues, these considerations must be taken. Someone like Shirley Temple Black, who served as a distinguished diplomat for over 30 years, could be taken more seriously. A Waka Flocka Flame presidency, on the other hand, should not be blazing through headlines.
Annie Cappetta is a sophomore majoring in ecosystem science and policy and political science.