January 2022 marks one year since the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was stormed by insurrectionists who operated under the guise of patriotism. On Jan. 6, 2021, thousands swarmed the historic building in hopes of “stopping the steal” of the 2020 presidential election, in which President Joe Biden was ultimately elected.
The people in that crowd, whether explicitly emboldened by his words or not, were loyalists of former President Donald Trump who wanted to hold his presidency for a second term. Many risked jail and a loss of life to protect a politician they were loyal to.
In this decade, it has become increasingly popular to consider oneself a “fan” of a politician, even if those labels are not said aloud. Candidates in elections across all parties sell
merchandise and aspire to amass large followings on Twitter and other social media platforms. But why? This was certainly not the case in the country’s history.
Whether it is Donald Trump’s famed “Make America Great Again,” or President Biden’s apparent response, “We Just Did,” the country has polarized itself not only in the ballot box, but also in an inescapably societal manner. People are wearing items of clothing that indicate their party preference, far more than just a simple color or donkey symbol. What has happened as a response is a catastrophic divide amongst citizens that makes us question if we are capable of maintaining relationships without bringing up the topic of politics.
Not only does this interesting situation push the parties further apart, but it also reaffirms the bipartisan dynamic that the United States has established in a powerful way. Those who do not feel they agree strongly with either candidate may feel lost in a sea of their loyal fans and ultimately be persuaded to choose one of the two. A country of fans does not bode well for those trying to introduce the rise of a lesser-known party.
Fundamentally, it is important that the country remembers that elections are a process in which we are hiring someone. The president, or an elected official at any level, is essentially an employee of the people that should be willing to listen to the voices of the people. They are paid through our tax dollars and their occupation’s fate rests in the hands of our vote. By emboldening these men and women through excessive fanfare and glorifying their actions, politicians may feel more powerful and less likely to respond to the requests of their constituents.
In a New York Times essay titled “How Fan Culture is Swallowing Democracy,” Amanda Hess writes, “We are witnessing a great convergence between politics and culture, values and aesthetics, citizenship and commercialism.” With the increased popularity of social media platforms as a way to primarily consume media, citizens run the risk of introducing the same fanfare they would give to their favorite music artist or actor to a politician. And politicians, through tweets of their own and personal merch, are not against the idea of their increased presence in pop culture.
When does it end? We have seen two presidents tweet promises about the end of a pandemic. We have seen presidential candidates lean into their popularity on social media. We have seen citizens fight each other in the name of a politician. To reassess the situation, the country must take a step back and realize that, for the good of the people, politicians must be treated as employees of the citizens of the United States. We do not have to vote for the same people, but we certainly do not have to defend those for whom we vote to the point of risking our own lives.