Americans should get used to pop culture blending with politics
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Pop culture has not only taken over America’s entertainment world, it is now running the nation’s broader sociopolitical sphere. Actors and musicians are considered heroes instead of people in uniform who protect the nation and our communities. People follow countless singers on social media, but can’t name senators or Supreme Court justices. Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama joins stars in launch of voter registration push The Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Michelle Obama launches voter registration initiative ahead of midterms: report MORE once praised Beyonce as being a role model for girls. It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that a reality television host has used his stardom as a springboard into the White House.

President Trump’s election demonstrated the lines between celebrity and politician have been destroyed. He capitalized on his television fame to launch his political career and utilized the techniques of pop culture to win the presidency. His political campaign, and now his governing style, could be segments of a reality show. As a reality TV host, Trump knows how to push simple, repeated, dramatic themes and direct messages. Just as on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s messages have little room for subtleties, nuance or depth of process.

Trump knows how to keep an audience coming back for more, whether they like him or not. His recent take-no-prisoners press conference demonstrated a dramatic flair that kept viewers wondering what might happen next. Just like a reality show. People shouldn’t be surprised at this style. After all, Trump was a reality TV star for many years and that persona surely affects his public behavior today.


Trump’s experience as a reality TV host informs him to the highly concocted nature of all mediated messages. Thus, Trump sees news reporters as entertainers and creators of messages, not objective transcribers of news events. No wonder Trump so often challenges news reports as fake news.

It is worth noting Trump the celebrity follows the celebrity Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage MORE as president. Obama, of course, just worked the process in reverse, moving from politician to celebrity. Even with a limited governmental resume, Obama capitalized on the trappings of the pop culture world. He gained celebrity status by doing comedy bits on late night television, giving speeches in front of Greek columns, filling out NCAA basketball brackets, and hosting a parade of entertainers through the White House. He embraced the viral Internet culture by granting an interview to a YouTube performer known for sitting in a bathtub full of cereal and milk.

When comedian Pat Paulsen launched his presidential campaign in 1968 off the Smothers’ Brothers show, everybody understood the comic was joking. Ronald Reagan’s background as an actor led critics to question his suitability to be president, even though Reagan had served two terms as California governor. He hadn’t been on a TV or film set in fifteen years when he was elected president, but Reagan was still viewed largely as an actor. It was a different era when entertainers were viewed as just that.

Today, voters are too impressed by entertainer status and put celebs in office, despite their lack of any particular governing gumption. Minnesota voters elected wrestler Jesse Ventura as governor and sent goofy comedian Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws AP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE to the U.S. Senate. Muscle-bound Arnold became governor of California. Odds are most voters were more impressed with the pop culture fame of those newly minted politicians than any particular policy proposal or political vision.

Reporters help fuel celebrity infatuation by covering the political rants of the glitterati as news. CNN and other mainstream outlets can’t wait to report the commentary of policy geniuses such as Madonna and Meryl Streep. Informed voices of economists and political historians are overlooked, while celebrities giving each other awards on prime time television are portrayed as public policy intellects.

Our nation had better hope that pop culture figures are capable political leaders, because the country is likely to elect more from their ranks. The media has created this environment by glamorizing entertainers well beyond those celebs’ true value to a society. Regular American citizens, however, must shoulder their share of the responsibility, too, in that they have allowed pop culture to dazzle and distract them, and falsely conclude musical or acting talent sets somebody up for civic leadership.

Eisenhower or Kennedy would have a hard time winning office today, but Kanye or Peyton Manning could easily attract voters. #Kanye2020 is getting traction on social media. That notion might make some people snicker, just like others chuckled when a reality TV host launched a presidential bid in 2015. 

Jeffrey McCall (@Prof_McCall) is a professor of communication at DePauw University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.