Politics: popularity contest

Students identify character, policy as common motivators for this year’s election.

Micah Lim, Staff Reporter

Illustration by Gabrialla Cockerell

Between current president Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presidential race has mirrored somewhat of a popularity contest. It is now a race of who can diminish the character of his opponent the most and who can be most liked rather than who is best fit for leading a country. 

As the election approaches, some students at Seattle Pacific University draw the line between personality and politics.

Freshman psychology major Wesley Ju claimed that oftentimes critique goes to the candidate, not their political views.

“People pay attention to where [candidates] stand morally rather than where they stand policy wise” said Ju over the phone. “When voting, I’m more leaning on policy over personality. Everyone has an agenda. Electing a Democratic president would help push those ideas forward.”

Freshman Cookie Yitbarek explained that though policies shape the state of our nation, the character of our leadership must be ethical as well.

“The way you hold yourself speaks louder than words, like actions louder than words. If you are constantly behaving derogatorily towards people of color or [minorities], it sits bad,” said Yitbarek.

The way candidates treat people says a lot about how they will lead. An educated decision requires an all-inclusive perspective. Considering one aspect of the candidate without considering any other aspects hinders the holistic view that is needed.

“Both policy and character have an equal footing in my life and decision making,” Yitbarek said.

As a federal constitutional republic, sovereignty is split. Both Ju and Yitbarek recognize that between a president and his policies, the importance is divided equally. However, online media does not reflect the same story.

Ava Liebendorfer, a freshman social justice major, described traits of presidential candidates the media tends to focus on.

“They 100% focus on character over policy,” said Liebendorfer over the phone.

In voting for Biden this year, Liebendorfer’s social media feed catered to her political beliefs with negative information targeted at Trump.

“I see a lot of political information on the internet. Most of what I see about our current president are his tweets and it always shocks me when I see them,” said Liebendorfer.

Students are aware that the dramatization of politics can lead to narrow worldviews and celebritization of leadership.

Freshman fashion merchandising and design major Ruth Addisu described the negative consequences of an inflated political perspective.

“People tend to idolize politicians when we shouldn’t. I feel like we should be critiquing them the most we can. Of course they’re not gonna be perfect, but you shouldn’t let something slide because you idolize a political figure,” said Addisu.

The idolization of presidential candidates has expanded into merchandise and lifestyles more than simply voting for a new leader of the United States.

“Bye Don” and “Make America Great Again” are just a couple of the multiple slogans and phrases being plastered on t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, and more. Trump and Biden are household names just as Taylor Swift and Russell Wilson are with exception of these presidential candidates holding much more weight in conversation. 

The tension between fans of differing NFL teams is just a taste of the tension between fans of differing presidential candidates. The value placed on the lives of Trump and Biden in the minds of Americans falls directly in line with what celebrity culture has been defined as.

Sociologist Ellis Cashmore defines celebrity culture as “characterized by a pervasive preoccupation with famous persons and an extravagant value attached to the lives of public figures.”

The weight of the upcoming elections is undeniable, but the question remains: are citizens voting for their favorite personality or who they believe will lead the country well with the right policies? This celebrity status has led to misconceptions and dramatizations of candidates.

 “President Trump has gotten to idol status. People look towards him like a prophet and are complete die-hard fans. I don’t understand the idea of idolization in general, so seeing this, no matter the candidate, has given me more awareness,” said Ju.

President Trump has had four years in office to build a reputation surrounding his character and support. For future steps, students want to consider politics holistically, creating perspectives that recognize policy and legislation while also critiquing authority to avoid celebrity culture.

“There’s so much minutiae and important details to politics that I wished could be focused on other than the very performative binary system we have,” said Liebendorfer.