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Influencer-in-Chief: Considering the Future of the American Presidency
The line is beginning to blur
I used to care about politics a lot. Until about my junior year of high school, I was pretty sure I wanted to pursue a career in law that would eventually lead to a career in politics. The 2008 election dissuaded me from such career interests.
My interest in politics continued to bubble up in me, however, until the 2016 election when everyone lost their minds (myself included), and since then I have virtually eliminated American politics from my mind. Does this open me up to being an irresponsible, uninformed citizen? Perhaps. But if I’m going to err, I would rather err on the side of being the uninformed version of an irresponsible citizen rather than the over-informed version, which is what I used to be.
One of the angles of the American political system that does fascinate me still, however, is the interplay between social media and politicians. Especially when it comes to the Super Bowl of American politics: the United States presidential election.
Mercifully, I plan to not be writing this newsletter during the upcoming presidential election season, but I saw a tweet a number of weeks ago that I think is worth noting as we head into this season. One you may want to keep bookmarked as a reminder for when the crazy stuff really starts happening.
I think Broderick is unfairly picking on Republicans here as there is arguably no politician as good at appearing to be a modern internet influencer as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but his point is a good one nonetheless.
American presidential candidates are just internet influencers now. It’s why Donald Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016. It’s why he’ll win it again for 2024 if he isn’t disqualified before he has the opportunity to do so. He’s better than anyone else on that side of the aisle at “owning the libs” and other Republicans in the War of the Memes. That isn’t to say I think he’s fit to be president—I don’t—but Donald Trump and the people who run his digital content strategy are a picture-perfect example of how important it is to wield the internet well in order to win elections (or at least nominations).
John Wesley is often credited with saying, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” In some sense, this is what it means to be an American presidential candidate today. The people who engage in the most outrageous online conduct are bound to get the most attention and the most votes. This is why, frankly, I was sort of shocked that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden. The Trump campaign was just so much better at social media than the Biden campaign was.
As participants in the American experiment and the internet experiment, we need to ask ourselves what this means for us.
What does it mean for us that presidential candidates are basically activist influencers? How does that affect our perception of them?
What does it mean for the future of government leadership that one’s status as an internet influencer will only become more important?
When will we have our first president who came up through the ranks of Internet influencer and then learned politics? In some sense we’ve had that already in Donald Trump. But when will it be Logan Paul, MrBeast, or Charli D’Amelio? Logan Paul is 28-years-old. He could run for president in the 2032 election. This sort of thing is not only possible. I would go as far to say that it is likely.
Right now we mostly have career politicians cosplaying as internet influencers. Eventually, I think, we will have internet influencers cosplaying as politicians.
The line between leader-of-the-free-world and successful-internet-influencer is beginning to blur, and I am just beginning to wonder how long it will be until it simply isn’t there.