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It is quite obvious that there is currently something fundamentally wrong with American politics. Some bemoan the divisive rhetoric of politicians like Trump or corporate influence on political decisions. PBS reports that 77% of Americans are dissatisfied with the state of politics — quite an alarming amount.
However, with the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a rarely-discussed political problem has been laid bare: the anointing of politicians as infallible figures. Although it is a problem as old as large political structures themselves, the rise of video and television, ease of access to printing and social media over the past century have created a space for political idolatry to flourish. President Trump is unequivocally a product of this.
Ginsburg’s political career was marked by this kind of political deification. You would not have to be on St. Edward’s campus for too long before seeing a sticker with her face plastered onto somebody’s laptop or spend too much money to purchase a “Notorious RBG” t-shirt. Granted, Ginsburg is one of the least egregious examples of this. Ginsburg was deemed a progressive hero after spending a career furthering women’s rights. She was a staunch defender of the Roe v. Wade decision and fought to end instances of systemic discrimination against women.
But the problem with viewing her, and any other politician, as anything more than a servant of the public can lead to uncritical support, and it is this exact uncritical support that keeps the status quo moving forward. Holding all of our politicians accountable, not just the ones who don’t align with our ideologies, is the key to shaping a better future. How can we look back on the Obama years fondly when he dropped 26,171 bombs throughout the world during his last year in office? Why does our country look back on the Bush years with a false nostalgia for ‘civility’ when he spearheaded the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?
It seems this problem is a factor in other political problems Americans complain about. How can we start to move away from a two party system when it is almost required to uncritically support a party’s candidate if they are elected? If we create a space to challenge and check these politicians, it may help to end the unshakeable feeling that each vote is a vote for a lesser evil.
Mediocre politicians are the most common manifestation of this problem, but politicians like Trump are the logical end to this practice. Normalizing the idea of creating a celebrity out of a politician eventually leads to a celebrity politician. To many Trump supporters, Trump is nothing more than his personality, and it seems that choosing to examine personality over policy is leading us down a dark path.