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Celebrities have entered the Oval Office, and they might not leave

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Barack Obama accomplished something that no other president was able to achieve during his time in office: he became a celebrity. During his tenure, Obama changed the way the American public viewed the presidency. He was Mr. Cool, starring in a Buzzfeed video, reading his own mean tweets (twice!) and releasing his Spotify playlists.

No other president has ever been so influential in pop culture while in office. Sure, Ronald Reagan was a celebrity before he became a politician, but he didn’t act like it when he was in office. There’s a distinctive and inherent difference in the way the two presidents treated the office in regard to themselves.

In 2012, conservative thinker and commentator Bill Whittle predicted that the next President would come from pop culture. Turns out he was completely correct. Trump was a pop culture phenomenon before he stepped into politics; everyone knew him as the crazy guy from “The Apprentice.”

There is a reason that an actual celebrity is now president: We expect the president to be a celebrity. A pop culture presidency is now ingrained into who we are as a society, which may or may not be a bad thing. We are only about a month and a half into the Trump presidency, so it’s hard to make a determination. 

We’re in a new reality in which people are not as apprehensive toward celebrities running for president. Voters used to want politicians or lawyers or respected members of their community to represent them. Now, it seems constituents want someone they know and someone who makes them feel good. They want George Clooney (who will probably run for president one day) to look them in the eyes and pretend he’s one of them. 

After Trump’s improbable election, a string of celebrities began to talk about possibly running for president, even though they don’t have prior political experience. In 2020, we could see Oprah Winfrey, Dwayne Johnson or even Kanye up on a debate stage espousing their political policy on the Middle East or on health care. Musician Kid Rock is possibly running for a Senate seat in Michigan, a sight possibly even crazier than seeing our current president on a debate stage.

Maybe even UH’s resident billionaire, Tilman Fertitta, will make a run for the presidency. The parallels to Trump are uncanny: they’re billionaire business moguls and reality show hosts with a flair for dramatic statements.

Every U.S. president from now on might be a celebrity. We have entered an age in which people vote based on how well they like a candidate and how well they know them. Voting is centered on celebrity status, not real initiatives or experience in office. It sets a dangerous precedent. We could have wholly unqualified people running the country, but because they’re a celebrity, we vote them into office.

In 2020, we’ll have to decide as a country what we want in a president after experimenting with Trump, the ultimate celebrity president. But now, the presidency is not restricted to only politicians with decades of policy experience. What does the celebrity status of the presidency mean for the future? That’s for the voters to decide. 

Assistant opinion editor Jorden Smith is a political science and creative writing junior and can be reached at [email protected].

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