Opinion: Identity politics furthers the Kardashianization of America

 In this Nov. 20, 2013, file photo, Oprah Winfrey listens in the East Room of the White House in Washington, during a ceremony where President Barack Obama awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom. Faced with the presidential buzz surrounding Oprah Winfrey, President Donald Trump is steering clear of nasty nicknames and colorful insults, though he’s making clear who would win a celebrity showdown. “I’ll beat Oprah,” Trump said at a White House meeting Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

I don’t “keep up” with the Kardashians.

I may still be in my 20s, but I have too much to worry about on a daily basis to concern myself with whatever irrelevant controversy is being generated by some overpaid celebrity.

That is, until those celebrities started playing politics.

Most considered it a long shot that a pop culture caricature like Donald Trump could ever get elected, with many on the left viewing him as the embodiment of greed and superficiality. The political and cosmic reality of the situation, though, is that he is now our president and we are likely stuck with him for another three years.

Now that we are one year into whatever you would like to call his presidency, rumors have started to bubble saying entertainment mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey could throw her name in the ring in 2020.

Winfrey, a Kosciusko native, is a great American and a fantastic ambassador for the state of Mississippi, who has a public image centered on advocacy for certain left-leaning issues. That being said, she represents the antithesis of Trumpian politics and would be yet another toxic choice (like Trump) if she decides to run for president.

Instead of Democrats searching their thin bench and grooming the next rising star of the party capable of bolstering the party’s image, they could quite possibly follow the same 2016 template of their counterparts across the aisle by choosing name recognition and star power over experience and knowledge of domestic and foreign policy.

While on its face, the comparison of Oprah and Trump seems reserved to celebrity status, but one concept will forever link Winfrey and President Trump: the importance of the brand.

Oprah - who is so popular she is known by a single name like Prince, Madonna or Beyonce - is likely the only person owning a brand that could “trump” the president’s own relentless self promotion. And like Trump, Oprah will ultimately put her brand first, regardless of the flowery words she says. It makes for great daytime TV, but it is a terrifying prospect for the Oval Office.

In short, the celebrity worship has to stop. It has already gone too far in our political system and is a symptom of an electorate that is both ignorant of the political process and bored with politics as a whole.

Those not yawning and ignoring Trump’s political volatility from the periphery have been incrementally driven into social corners by putting partisanship and entertainment value before common sense.

Half the country stands by complacent while our current president assaults the First Amendment, while the other half could not be satisfied if President Trump himself literally made gold bricks fall from the sky.

So, I don’t believe electing a far-left celebrity to the Oval Office will prove the remedy for the far-right celebrity currently running roughshod over our unique brand of democracy.

This goes back to the notion of identity politics, where citizens form their political opinions based on social groups and norms they identify with, instead of using reason to govern their beliefs.

The problem with forming an unwavering political identity is it closes all avenues to admit your view of an issue may not be the right one. Your identity becomes so consumed in certain viewpoints that your politics becomes not just an extension of yourself, but your whole self.

In my journalistic career, I have seen a disturbingly-high number of voters who cast ballots based on what their preacher tells them, or what their yoga instructor tells them, or - God forbid - what network news tells them. We have ceased to seek out answers for ourselves, and now, the masses wait for someone to tell them what to believe and how to vote. It’s a problem on both sides and in no way reserved for one set of beliefs.

What I’m about to say applies both to President Trump and Oprah Winfrey: You are not qualified to lead just because you are a successful public figure with millions of dollars in the bank.

We as modern Americans put entirely too much importance on celebrity, to the point we will willingly destroy our political system just because it’s more fun to watch on a high-definition TV screen.

Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes the other night was powerful, I admit, and touched on things that needed to be discussed out in the open in Hollywood. So, do a bunch of carefully crafted words qualify her to take the nation’s highest office?

In this small town newspaper editor’s opinion, it doesn’t.

The most effective politicians are the ones who climb the ranks, pay their dues and know how the system works from the inside-out, not from the outside looking in.

The Kardashianization of American politics did not start in a vacuum, though. The fascination with the commingling of celebrity and politics began with the visual accessibility of President John F. Kennedy and has steadily evolved since the election of former actor Ronald Reagan.

We form our political identities based on popular opinions, then use those often-misinformed opinions to support celebrities when they want to run for office. Millions have died to preserve our right to vote and too many times ballots are cast in favor of who talks the loudest or who performs the best on TV.

At this rate, though, maybe Kanye West will stick to his words and run for president. After all, “The Life of Pablo” was a fantastic album.