Odyssey

Jenna Gyimesi | Oberlin College

Donald Trump’s successful campaign relied largely on social media and name recognition. Since his election, many famous public figures have expressed interest in aiming for the Oval Office. Many have floated the possibility of their candidacy through social media, evocative speeches, and subtle hints and some have received a positive response. Citizens appear increasingly comfortable to entrust the Presidency to television and social figures - many of whom who've rigidly opposed Trump. 

The long list of potential 2020 wildcard candidates includes Oprah Winfrey, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Zuckerberg and Howard Schultz. A common trend tethering these celebrities to one another is extensive access to capital and a massive social media following. In the past few elections, the power of social media in influencing elections has proven to be significant. For example, according to research conducted at Northwestern University, Oprah’s personal endorsement of Barack Obama is estimated to have generated Obama an additional one million votes in the 2008 election. And Russia's meddling with our election manifested itself in the propagation of fabricated news, which bombarded Facebook users in 2016. 

Some celebrities are no longer endorsing certain figures, but using their influence to endorse their own ideas and competency - irrespective of their plans to run. Social media allows the instantaneous, informal and ostensibly intimate interaction between celebrity and individual. Furthermore, trending hashtags and Twitter topics often receive amplified media coverage - pinning social media sharing as a way to spread a message exponentially faster. Public figures can skip the legwork of announcing a formal stance substantiated by rational policy, writing a press release, or networking and still gain better access to the public than most established politicians are able to achieve. 

Another trait that the mentioned potential candidates and Donald Trump share is name recognition. Many politicians struggle to gain national attention because those outside of their state, or even in their home state, cannot differentiate the name of a potential president from the various other names they encounter. Several successful politicians owe part of their success to their familiar names. For example, Hilary Clinton and George W. Bush both capitalized on the power of association both of their last names hold. With no name recognition, it is difficult to gain national consideration or public trust.

Finally, pop-culture figures like Oprah, and Kanye share another key trait with Trump; they are all not politicians. The public has been growing more and more averse to the very mention of Congress and its inability to make what the population deems as tangible and effective change. Politicians are, of course, well-versed in outrage politics, and some figures may have tried to weaponize citizens dissatisfaction with government to gain political power. For example, it is theorized that Newt Gingrich embodied a “goal of causing voters to feel enough disgust at the entire Congress they would throw out the majority” per Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein. Nevertheless, celebrities naturally enjoy a clean slate when it comes to legislating and lack the reputational baggage politicians must combat regularly.


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