Politicians aren’t elected to gain celebrity status — they’re elected to work for us. Opting to “stan” politicians can make us lose sight of the obligations our leaders hold as public servants, and prevent us from holding them accountable when necessary.
A lack of accountability is inevitable when we provide unwavering support to our politicians regardless of what they do, whether or not they fulfill campaign promises or make large errors in judgment. Thus, we must avoid idolizing politicians and recognize the wrongdoings and missteps of those that we support.
National political figures have long held high symbolic status in American culture, but with the rise of social media, idolization of politicians has intensified. Many of our political leaders have impassioned bases who can connect online and explore new ways to show their support.
The most obvious image of political idolization is former President Donald Trump’s extremely committed base of supporters. While the MAGA hats and bumper stickers have plagued our vision in recent years, the most damning display of unwavering support for Trump came at the insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Citing baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, fervent supporters of the former president stormed the Capitol building hoping to overturn the election results and prevent President Joe Biden from being installed.
These Americans felt so strongly about their favorite political figure that they put themselves and others in harm’s way over a desperate ploy by Trump to delegitimize the election with no evidence. This single event perfectly encapsulates the danger of unquestioningly committing yourself to a politician who should instead be held accountable by their constituents.
While the Capitol insurrection provided a very public image of this dynamic for conservatives, there is plenty of political idolization occurring among liberals as well.
For instance, after New York’s COVID-19 situation improved significantly in the spring of 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo began receiving national attention and an outpouring of support, with celebrities going as far as humorously calling themselves “Cuomosexual.” Cuomo became an idol for many, ultimately contributing to the dismissal of allegations that his administration had underreported COVID-19 deaths and later, that Cuomo himself had sexually harassed numerous women.
While Cuomo was eventually forced to resign, his supporters frequently refused to recognize the validity of these allegations, with many responding by pointing the finger at Trump and his numerous sexual assault allegations.
Elsewhere in the Democratic base, Biden’s fervent supporters on Twitter have harassed members of the free press. Upon Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden for a cabinet position and subsequent resurfacing of her mean tweets towards Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim questioned the senator regarding the tweets. This moment was captured by a colleague, leading supporters of Biden to harass Kim with racist, sexist attacks. The vitriol was so widespread that the Washington Post felt compelled to release a statement in defense of the reporter and her commonplace journalistic tactics.
Members of the “Squad,” a left-wing group of members of Congress, are also frequently idolized by their supporters. Whether it be shown through fancams or t-shirts, a strong attachment is built by many supporters toward these newcomer politicians.
Those on the political left may justify their fervent support for members of the Squad by pointing out that they are the best representation of progressive leftism in Congress, and that their support is for their policies and not so much for the individuals themselves. Yet, it’s important to recognize that all politicians are working within a political system that is commonly gridlocked due to a wide array of ideals and corrupted by the influence of the wealthy.
This doesn’t mean that we should be more lenient with our leaders, but rather understand that they inevitably have made and will continue to make poor decisions.
In those times when our preferred leaders make poor decisions, calling them out and holding them accountable will be much easier if we don’t view them as untouchable idols and feel obligated to immediately come to their defense.
When monetary interests and other spheres of influence strive to make our political system work for them, we must always remind ourselves that our leaders are public servants, and being such, we can and must hold them accountable when they fail to uphold the public’s interest.
Nicholas Black PO ’24 is from Rochester, New York. He will only purchase political merchandise ironically.