Democracy and Idolatry

Treating politicians like celebrities is a slippery slope for our democracy.

Congresswoman+Alexandria+Ocasio-Cortez+graces+the+cover+of+Vanity+Fair%27s+December+issue.

photo courtesy of VanityFair.com

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez graces the cover of Vanity Fair’s December issue.

By Sally Cho, North Allegheny Senior High School

Recently, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went on a live streaming website and played a popular video game, “Among Us,” with her “fans” for three hours. The event immediately became a trending topic on social media, and liberal teenagers became even more infatuated with the woman they think will single-handedly save America in 2024. 

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ll have noticed that teenagers in general are much more active in politics than they ever were before. Social media platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram have provided a platform for the younger generation to voice their opinions on politics. 

On one hand, I think it’s great that young people are becoming more engaged in politics. We are the voice of the future generation, after all. 

However, a certain type of political post I’ve seen has struck me in an unpleasant way. Americans, especially American teenagers, have begun to idolize politicians as if they are celebrities. I’ve seen fan edits of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, a clip of Joe Biden saying, “Will you shut up man?” at the presidential debate turned into a meme on TikTok, and much more. 

When I hear the words “idolizing politicians,” I usually think of Trump supporters donning MAGA hats and screaming “Trump 2020” until their voices go hoarse, but idolizing politicians is a bipartisan issue. 

We tend to see a certain type of politician whose personality is appealing and who shares our basic views and latch onto them without educating ourselves fully on their policies. Of course, political idolization has been around for a very long time, but social media has exacerbated this problem.

It’s very easy now for a person to come across one video of a politician making bold and fiery claims and decide they love them and everything they do. 

Obama is a great example of this. I was only twelve when my fellow classmates and I started saying “I miss Obama” and reposting videos of Obama and Biden running through the White House like the “bros” they are.

We weren’t old enough to realize what was happening when Obama was first elected president, and even in 2016, we still weren’t quite old enough to understand his presidency. And yet, we proclaimed our adoration because of what we saw on television and YouTube. Obama was funny, he was not racist, not homophobic, and not sexist, and his “bromance” with Joe Biden was entertaining.

When we were twelve, we didn’t truly understand the good or the bad aspects of Obama’s presidency. We didn’t really know what Obamacare was, and we also didn’t really know what civilian casualties from drone strikes were.

This issue, of course, has only been intensified during the 2020 Presidential Election. 

It was very easy to fall into the trap of idolizing politicians during the Democratic primaries. We had the gay, millennial Rhodes Scholar, the viral sensation from Texas who could switch between Spanish and English during a debate, and a spiritual, peace-loving hippie, just to name a few. This was a dream come true for some voters. It was like a reality show filled with the most interesting, unique characters battling each other on television purely for our entertainment. 

It was very easy to fall into the trap of idolizing politicians during the Democratic primaries. We had the gay, millennial Rhodes Scholar, the viral sensation from Texas who could switch between Spanish and English during a debate, and a spiritual, peace-loving hippie, just to name a few.”

Young Americans were so fascinated by all these different characters that they forgot to focus on the actual important part: their policies. I saw so many “leftists” on Twitter advocating for Pete Buttigieg, when in fact, if they’d found out he is a neoliberal trying to please his older superiors parading around as a progressive, they would have been disheartened. 

When Joe Biden was chosen as the Democratic nominee for the election, left-leaning teens started jumping ship immediately, clamoring to find a few good things to like about him. After the first presidential debate, support for him from the younger generation on social media enjoyed exponential growth.  After the debate, it wasn’t uncommon to hear liberals saying “He called Trump a clown!” or “He defended his son!”or “He told Trump to shut up!”

Sure, those things were funny and heartwarming, but what do Biden’s insults to Trump and his personal life have to do with what he would do for us as president? 

The media, and sometimes, the politicians themselves are guilty of encouraging this mindset. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was recently unveiled as the cover of Vanity Fair’s December issue. She regularly engages in petty battles on Twitter using Gen Z lingo, and many of her “fans” eat it up. 

Can these people who claim to “stan” Ocasio-Cortez actually name the policies she has stood by? Do they fact check any of the broad claims she makes? No, they just hear “youngest woman” and “Green New Deal” and jump on the AOC train without taking the time to actually educate themselves.

This concern obviously applies to conservatives, too. Trump supporters scream sweeping proclamations such as “Promises made, promises kept!” and ignore all of his shortcomings and inconsistencies. Their willingness to support Trump no matter what is almost terrifying, as it bears the appearance of blind worship. As Trump once said, he could shoot somebody and not lose voters.

Supporting politicians for their policies and supporting them for their social media presence or personality are two different things. Politicians are not to be idolized like celebrities. Both politicians and celebrities have different faces they show in public and in private, and both have dirt that can be dug up on them. Neither are perfect. However, it is okay to idolize a celebrity because their job isn’t to gamble with life-changing policies. Celebrities are here to entertain; politicians are not.

Supporting politicians for their policies and supporting them for their social media presence or personality are two different things. ”

Being elected as a politician is one of the highest honors in the nation. Being chosen by people to represent them and help improve their lives is a great privilege that only a few are awarded.  Public office was never meant to be a media stunt.

I’m not saying I’ve never found a politician funny. I, too, laughed at the ridiculous things said during the presidential debate. I’m also not trying to demean the accomplishments of the politicians I have mentioned in this article. Obama was the first Black president, a historically admirable accomplishment, and he improved healthcare for millions of Americans. I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a bright woman who is an inspiration to many young girls, and I agree with many of her ideals. 

However, I admire these politicians largely because of their accomplishments and ideas, not simply because I find them amusing and cool on social media. 

Political idolatry will frequently lead to disappointment, and it may lead to outright danger. Because of their power, all politicians are susceptible to corruption, and thinking that one person can single-handedly save the United States is ridiculous. 

Additionally, political idolatry encourages citizens to jump on the political bandwagon and cheer on their team, right or wrong. Blindly idolizing one politician makes us susceptible to ignoring the flaws in our society and government today, causing us to miss out on opportunities for true change.  Idolization hinders the way to meaningful debate and discussion.

We need to be able to criticize politicians when necessary and not defend every move they make, as a single wrong move from them could affect the lives of millions of people.

If we truly want to improve America for the better, we need to start looking at politicians as people who are here to serve us, not the other way around. As we go into the fateful night of the 2020 presidential election, let’s try to keep that in mind. 

This story was originally published on The Uproar on November 2, 2020.