When the 2016 Presidential election cycle began last year, many political pundits envision the election coming down to a Clinton/Bush dynastic battle. This was because political pundits think that presidential elections are about politics. Now that Donald Trump is surging in the polls and Hilary Clinton is hanging on to what was once considered an “insurmountable lead,” we have a clearer view of current American political reality. What with all those reality shows; the popularity of programs like Dancing with the Star, The Bachelor, The Great Race and, need I say it, The Celebrity Apprentice, we should have expected this. We now have the full emergence of the merger of politics and the Culture of the Celebrity.
We saw the beginnings of this in the Regan era, but it emerged fully during the Bill Clinton presidency. We need only remember that Hilary’s emergence on the public scene was not her failed attempt on Health Care, but her role in Presidential Candidate Clinton’s story as The Good Wife forced to stand by her man. She played out that role in such an effective manner that she was able to claim in her own book that the revelation by Bill about his affair with Monica Lewinski was a genuine moment of betrayal. Of course, she already knew of several other affairs, but she has kept the script moving forward. She is now the Julianna Margulies of prime time politics. By the way, The Good Wife is rumored to be her favorite TV program.
Many forget that both George Bush and Al Gore ran on a campaign aimed at “restoring dignity” to the office of President.” This was, I think the failed attempt to snatch politics back from celebrity status to statesmanship, but after the interruption of the 9/11 Presidency and the professorship of the Obama Administration, the celebrity election has fully emerged. Now our election in 2016 is a kind of combination dance off, survivor Iowa, bachelorette, and shark tank that will lead to one exciting final vote on the second Tuesday of November, 2016. With celebrity reporters acting as judges and the voters as the audience, it could be one heck of a show with the biggest ratings ever on American TV. In fact, the most important cultural trend in all this may be the movement of Americans from citizens to audience.
The build up to all this will be a social media frenzy combined with late night appearances on the all the talking heads. There will be the obligatory emotional laden appearances on The View, The Chat, and Steve Harvey where Donald or Hilary whip up their favorite dessert while dishing the latest gossip on their enemies, friends and family. OMG, I can see Rachel Ray in tears over Hilary’s testimony of her forgiveness of her wayward husband and the struggle of making her own professional way. By the beginning of 2016, we should have both parties producing a reality program for each major candidate, a kind of behind the scenes look at what makes each of them so interesting. I doubt even Ms. Jenner can compete with those ratings. Imagine too the excitement of so many in the entertainment community. Comedians will be relishing in all the one liners. Producers will be speculating on all the spin offs; think Keeping up with the Trump Clan or Living with Bill.
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not saying that politics or the presidency is no longer important when it comes to governing or policy, I am just saying that Americans have changed the criteria by which we will decide who will be best at this. There was a time when demonstrated leadership, political philosophy, the ability to build consensus, and decision-making were our criteria. Now with the Cult of Celebrity, the criteria are different. Now public image is the most important thing. Hilary Clinton may be able to build on her “stand by my man/great right wing conspiracy/good wife” image combined with being “the first woman president” combined with her “defender of the rights of women, migrants and the poor” (even though she is in the 1%) to win. Perhaps a last minute November revelation of Bill’s latest betrayal will cement her election. Or Donald Trump can continue his strong-will/tough decision maker/simple solution image that dominates not only his past TV programs but so much of the image of leader in our media.
Or a last minute contender may emerge. I understand Kanye West is considering giving the presidency a run. Even if he loses, we can easily imagine him grabbing the mic away from the winner to announce that Kim would have been “the greatest First Lady of all time.” The exciting possibilities here are endless and this is the great strength of The Celebrity Presidency. After all, politics and politicians get pretty boring after a while. Then after an election, they have to govern and this is fraught with on-going frustration and criticism. Against this reality, we have a greater reality show, the realization that either The Hilary Show or The Donald Show can last for at least four seasons.
And if you are concerned about our image in the world, do not worry. Media consultants will help the President improve it. American Culture is, after all, not about substance but about image. Should we expect the Presidency to be any different?