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Americans love celebrity.
That’s why TV programs such as “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” “Dancing with the Stars,” and “Celebrity Apprentice” have such staying power. Celebrity has driven talk shows for generations.
We each have our own stories of a “brush with greatness” we love to tell.
Ask me about the six Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame members I’ve met over the years, and be prepared for an evening of tales.
Our U.S. president, however, should not be considered the same thing as a celebrity.
As I write this, the evening of Election Day, we have no clue who our president will be. Even when you read this, which is likely the morning of Friday, Nov. 6, it may not be certain. We do know it will be either incumbent Donald Trump or challenger Joe Biden.
Many made their vote – whether it was for Biden or Trump – with the expectation their candidate would “save” America. And those who voted that way cannot conceive of how some of their fellow Americans could have the opposite view. Many Trump supporters say a vote for Biden is a vote for socialism. Many Biden supporters say a vote for Trump is a vote for fascism.
Too many people view the presidency as an all-or-nothing proposition.
It didn’t used to be that way.
The bold and daring revolutionaries who declared independence in 1776, and then won the war against the British to achieve our cherished independence, did so because they no longer wanted one man – in this case England’s King George III – to hold so much power over them.
Our first president, George Washington, was hesitant to wield too much power. The framers of the constitution expressly built in checks and balances (the House of Representatives, the Senate, the courts) to keep one man or one branch from having too much power.
Today, nearly 250 years later, America’s lust for celebrity, and for magic quick-fix solutions, has us hoping each presidential candidate is “the one” who will make everything better.
At the same time, dozens of major propaganda outlets spend massive amounts of time, energy and money working to demonize “the other one.” That us-against-them approach, from both the left and the right, has left us in a situation where Americans no longer respect the office just because of the office.
The “president as celebrity” syndrome seemed to begin with John F. Kennedy who, not coincidentally, was the first president to be active entirely during the era of television. Kennedy was young, brash, attractive and charismatic. He had the added bonus of being a World War II hero.
Kennedy was a great leader. He was particularly a hero to young Americans. But I also maintain he was one of our most overrated presidents. His tragic death by assassination has frozen him in time and made him a martyr of sorts.
Ronald Reagan was another great leader and, also in my estimation, overrated. Like Kennedy, Reagan had the benefit of celebrity. His was earned as a Hollywood actor.
America may never get over its obsession with the celebrity as president, or the desperate hope that one man or woman will cure all our ills.
And since one man or woman can never cure all our ills, we’re left in a position of being perpetually dissatisfied, with our only, temporary, satisfaction coming from complaining about the one we didn’t believe in.