In the words of Enlightenment thinker Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The thought behind this simple, powerful phrase echoes beyond solely the concept of freedom of speech. I disapprove of Donald Trump running for president in 2016, but I will defend to my death his right as an American citizen (of at least 35 years of age) to do so. The same applies to Kanye West’s upcoming presidential run in 2020. Why do I not find their presidential ambitions amusing; why am I so concerned? I believe that the integrity of American democracy deserves more respect from the people it was built to represent and protect.
When I am told by my peers to “calm down” about Kanye’s presidential aspirations, I cannot help feeling exasperated. Our generation, that of the 21st century, is notorious for being politically apathetic. But regarding Trump and/or Kanye, our impassivity has reached new levels. Now, regardless of Trump’s numerous slurs against the female and Latino communities, regardless of Kanye’s explicit and degrading song lyrics, their candidacies are supposed to be seen as funny.
American politics should neither be taken as a joke, nor made into the latest brand of reality television. The political process is meant to be arduous, complicated, full of compromise and intellectual discourse – it is not meant to be purposely outrageous. Presidential candidates (or any candidates, for that matter) should not be chosen based on entertainment value alone. The efforts of ridiculous, inexperienced characters (such as Trump or Kanye) to gain the highest position in all the land should not be encouraged by popular passivity or taken lightly. Such efforts should spark outrage, worry, and perhaps even fear of America’s extreme partisanship and inability to take things seriously in the hearts of the American plebiscite.
My worst, most paranoia-driven fear is that Trump’s example may spark a trend amongst the ultra-wealthy. Rather than monetarily controlling elections behind-the-scenes, celebrities and the 1% may begin to run for political office. These candidates may have limited knowledge or experience in regard to the intricacies of law, governance, history, the military, etcetera, but they would have the funds to self-advertise. Why would they not take advantage of a chance to gain more power? After all, it has seemed to work well enough for Trump, who is currently leading in GOP polls regardless of his various acts of misconduct.
For once, I find myself a fan of the thought process behind the Electoral College. The founders feared unlimited direct democracy because they could not trust the mob. Although I usually have faith in the power of the people and in the integrity of the commonwealth, maybe the Constitutional Convention had a good point. Maybe we cannot fully trust ourselves even when choosing our joint representation if the mob chooses to raise and support such figures as Trump or Kanye. Our city upon the hill deserves better than the laissez-faire attitudes of the American people regarding who represents their political, economic, and social issues in our government.