Political idolization is becoming a threat to American democracy

Ava Mac ‘21, Editor-in-Chief

When we think of extreme political idolization, or the blind adoration of politicians as holy figures, the first modern-day case that comes to mind is that of Kim Jong-Un. In North Korea, where freedom of speech is oppressed and worship of their leader is required, it is clear that idolizing those who run the country is dangerous and only leads to corruption and indoctrination of the public as a whole.

As a democratic nation built on the ideals of liberty and equality, we like to think of the United States as a distinct contrast to totalitarian societies like North Korea. However, even in America, the pitfalls of political idolization can still come to exist, and many even argue that it is becoming a larger threat now more than ever.

It is not new in election years such as 2020 that presidents be marketed as “saviors,” being the only ones to save our country from whatever current crisis is at hand. This notion is practically integral to any kind of campaign after all, as Colorado Restorative Justice Council member Jessica Dancingheart said, “We are socialized to look for saviors and heroes outside ourselves.” 

If we are always looking for someone to save us, believing in just about anything that anyone says, we fall into the same trap everytime, constantly on the search for someone to actually follow through on their lofty promises. By this heroic image, we are set on a never-ending cycle of disappointment. Best put by journalist Bonnie Kristian, every sanctified politician is “doomed to insufficiency as recipients of our hope and trust; and that settling into a stark, ‘good vs. evil’ mindset with our political opponents… makes it all but impossible to do anything but deepen that division.”

It does not help when that divide is worsened by politicians feeding into personal biases. Using hot-button issues like gun control and abortion stirs an emotional response in voters, and by taking the stance an interest group favors—whether or not previous actions of the politican fall in line with this opinion—the politician receives undeniable allegiance to that group. 

Gaining allegiance means gaining power, and when a group is rallying so intensely behind a candidate, especially one that confirms their own bias, they turn a blind eye to any of the candidate’s dishonest or corrupt actions. This politician becomes perfect in the eyes of their followers, and rhetoric of “greatness” and “salvation” becomes commonplace in discussing the figure at hand. 

We see this with candidates on both sides of the aisle. From celebrity Jamie Foxx addressing President Obama as “our Lord and Savior,” to President Trump’s spiritual advisor, Paula White, who said, “to say no to President Trump would be saying no to God.”

 In both instances, politicians are propagated as divine figures worthy of worship and exempt from criticism, when their actions are far from holy. With Obama’s drone strikes in the Middle East destroying countless civilian lives, to the number of deaths due to reckless COVID-19 regulations under Trump, we cannot ignore our leader’s faults and let them go uncondemned. 

At the end of the day, we are all bound to the same confines of human nature and we will forever be imperfect and contradictory to ourselves. But when those that lead us demand to be seen as anything else, we endanger the ideals our very country is based upon. Voters must remember these ideals as the election goes on, and carry this sentiment in their minds: we choose a leader not to reign over us as an idol, but to represent us as a fellow American.

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