Why game show hosts should be banned from high office
- Credit: FilmMagic
MITCH BENN on how former TV personalities such as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump should be banned from becoming politicians.
Okay, how's this for a semi-serious suggestion: anyone who's ever presented a TV game show should be barred for life from running for high office.
What do you think?
I'm sorry if this nips in the bud the possibly nascent political ambitions of Ant and/or Dec, but imagine where we'd be right now if such a rule had been in force ten years ago.
It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Boris Johnson owes his public profile in no small part to his first appearance as guest host of Have I Got News For You back in 2003. The journey from slightly disreputable columnist and 'colourful' backbench MP to national public figure began there, and his chosen public persona – the lovably scatter-brained young fogey – was defined during that half hour of television.
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It's not even a slight exaggeration to say that Donald Trump owes not just his presidency but his continued existence in the public eye to his having been hired as host of NBC's The Apprentice back in 2004. Prior to that he was mainly remembered for having been rich in a vulgar and obvious way back in the 1980s and for turning up in occasional cameos as himself in other people's movies and TV shows.
Being reinvented as 'the guy from The Apprentice' allowed Trump to cement his (entirely unmerited) image as an indomitable business leader (this is a man, need I remind you, whose casinos went bust) and provided him with the fame and glamour that he would go on to weaponise in his campaign for the Republican nomination. I remember writing at the time that it was chilling to observe the slow realisation of his rivals, including serving governors and senators, that for all that they couldn't believe that they were being left in the dust by a TV personality, there was simply nothing they could do, in an age which prizes celebrity above all else, to compete with the sheer raw famousness of the You're Fired guy.
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On a side note; that lesson does now seem to have been learned by the Republican Party if it is indeed the case that GOP operatives are encouraging the shambolic presidential ambitions of the increasingly eccentric rap superstar Kanye West, whose presence on the ticket (assuming it goes ahead) seems principally to be a bizarrely patronising attempt to damage Joe Biden's chances by splitting the black vote, now that president Trump can't even pretend to appeal to non-white voters any more.
The trouble is, while being a celebrity furnishes one with the kind of public profile anyone running for office now requires, it doesn't provide, or even encourage, the kind of qualities one needs to serve in that office.
In a piece for Byline Times a few days ago, Jonathan Lis pointed out that Boris Johnson's apparent bewilderment and half-arsedness in the face of the various crises currently afflicting the country is best explained by the fact that Boris Johnson wanted to become prime minister rather than actually be prime minister. The point was to win the game, and the game now having been won, he's lost interest.
I remember writing in this newspaper back in 2016 that Donald Trump didn't want to be president; he wanted to be 'Mister President'. It's the same thing: he craved the office because his ego demanded nothing less; he doesn't want to have to do the actual job now he's got it. Mainly because, as the current slew of 'former Trump insider tells all' books concur, he was annoyed to discover that the job was 'president' rather than 'king' and that it didn't – technically at least – allow him to do whatever he wanted and to lock up anyone who annoyed him (although that second part might yet change in a second Trump term now that he has the unerringly compliant Bill Barr installed as attorney general).
It will be interesting to see if the aforementioned deluge of 'tell all' books by Trump's relations and ex-confidants (we've had the Mary Trump book, Michael Cohen's is out this week, more are promised before November) will have any noticeable effect on the forthcoming election.
It's been long apparent that Trump's base – diminished and diminishing these last few years, but still a substantial percentage of the electorate – either refuse to believe anything bad about him or indeed approve of it. And as the American writer Sarah Kendzior (who predicted much of what's happened since 2016 back in 2016 and is someone that more people should be listening to) Trump doesn't care about getting caught, he just cares about getting punished.
You can't shame someone for whom shame is an alien concept. All you can do is actually stop them. The Americans have a chance – maybe – to stop their shameless game show host leader in a couple of months. We are – probably – stuck with ours for a while longer.