Braden: Learning From Our Mistakes: The Importance of Wealth and Celebrity When Choosing a Presidential Candidate


By Paul Braden

The now infamous election of 2016 brought with it a type of tumultuous discourse that continues to resonate in every corner of this country. As a result, it brought with it a level of hate-filled passion, distrust and alarming uncertainty previously unseen in my lifetime and potentially the history of our country’s presidential appointments. A degree of emergent anticipation hoping to rectify the hysteria can then not only be expected but has become what the bereaved consider their moral obligation. Despite the seemingly inordinate amount of desperate pleas for impeachment and nationwide protests immediately following the outcome, this yearning from the losing party to mitigate defeat came no earlier, though it did with greater fervor than elections of times past. Only a week after the election results had been made final and even before the inauguration did news stations start to fill our screens with “hope for 2020” graphics packages followed by enticing rumors of prospective candidacy announcements and their capacity to dethrone a sitting president in four years time. Our country’s obsession with campaigning, in conjunction with the absurd monetary requirement necessary to run a winning campaign, is currently the unfortunate justifications for this feverish mindset, and it’s this incessant bastardization of the entire process that ultimately leaves us with choosing a lesser of two evils.

We now understand that while the current, drawn-out method offers what seems to be an ample vetting process, most of it is spent attempting to mold an otherwise ineligible contender to fit our initial expectations and we are left grasping at straws in our attempts to really reconcile any worthwhile traits.

I’d argue though that while the system contains the lion-share of leading disqualifiers, what we have come to value in a particular candidate and what trait of theirs we deem necessary to adequately lead has changed in recent years for the worst.

The biggest offenders, two that have seen a steady increase since the Obama era, have to be our shameful worship of celebrity and wealth. For some reason, we have adopted a curious connection between the level of fame and the size of a candidate’s bankroll to their expected performance as president.

In 2016, the time-honored expectation that a potential nominee will disclose tax statements as a means of transparency turned into a competition of wealth and its result was a precondition for adequacy. During interviews of voter-aged Americans who took this misinformed philosophy to heart, they would often defend this criterion by stating simply that personal success in the form of wealth equated to high levels of intelligence and an inherent ability to lead.

This sort of generalization presupposes that the converse might also be true: that the less prominent and poor surely have no place in influencing or leading their affluent counterparts.

The recent media coverage of Oprah Winfrey’s potential run in 2020 initially reminded me of this regressive way of thinking. Currently, my general lack of familiarity with her hinders any real position in either direction regarding her ability, but it’s the reasoning for some of the early praise and unfettered espousals that have me concerned. Several news headlines went as far as saying that she is a “real” billionaire, and because of this, she is in some way worthy to run our country. The text of the articles that followed shouldn’t reflect a detailed story of how or why she made her fortune. While her story is inspiring, in no way does it directly qualify her for the highest office in the land. It all comes back to what the voter values, and in the case of worshipping wealth, the perverted understanding of what those values represent. If we decide that someone with her impressive, encouraging history of helping the unfortunate, the poor and the needy deserve to have a voice in politics, this shift from electing the selfish and sleazy needs to be welcomed with open arms. If someone of her financial or celebrity status yet again finds their way to the primaries solely because of our misguided consideration of these attributes, it will be a regrettable, four-year reminder of America’s misplaced priorities.

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