I am not a fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Let me clarify.
I admire RBG’s tenacity, her brilliant legal mind, her unwavering commitment to human rights, and her incredible achievements.
But I am not her fan. I do not idolize her, follow her workout routine, or wear a replica of her famous dissenting collar. (Full disclosure: I do have a Notorious RBG t-shirt. It’s great for irritating my conservative neighbors.)
In fact, I believe that none of us should be fans of public officials, elected or appointed. The people in our government are chosen to be servants, not rulers. They are meant to stand in our stead, representing our needs to the best of their abilities. So we need to engage with our citizen representatives critically, not follow them blindly.
By treating our politicians or appointees like idols, we have created cults of personality around them, and it makes it impossible for them to get the job done. How much of Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss in 2016 was due to voters disliking the media image created of her rather than opposing her policies and plans? She was less adept at crafting the perfect sound bite and navigating the morass of celebrity than her opponent, and so we ended up with a shallow media-hungry monster as our president rather than a thoughtful statesperson capable of complex reasoning. Trump is a better celebrity than Clinton, but that is a very shaky ground on which to build a nation.
It’s so easy to fall into the fandom trap in our world today. Celebrities are made and unmade daily on YouTube, Tik Tok, Instagram, through memes, on reality shows, and so on. One of the few cultural commonalities we have left in the U.S. is politics. And as celebrity becomes ever cheaper and more sound-bite accessible, our politicians are expected to follow suit, proposing ideas in memes or sound bites and promoting personality over policy. Whether it’s Hillary’s savage Twitter burns, Biden/Barack bromance memes, the cast rotating back and forth between the White House and Fox News, Pete Buttigieg’s Dank Meme Stash on Facebook (oh yeah, it’s a real thing), or the former White House Press Secretary’s appearance on Dancing With the Stars, we’re constantly encouraged to idolize civil servants in the same way we squee over our favorite celebrities, and our politicians have to go along with it or fade from public consciousness.
We have a prime example of the dangers of blind partisanship and passionate fandom in front of us daily, in the current White House occupant. By continuing to buy into the Reality TV “us vs. them” mentality he promotes so much more vigorously than he does any actual issue, we let that competition, rather than the actual problems we face, guide what happens next.
Engaging critically is hard – much harder than following and liking. It requires that we are informed and engaged with the governance of our city, state, and country, and that we allow our politicians room for error and disagreement. But it’s crucial to making our government function for us. Politicians are not better or worse than us; they ARE us. We need to allow them the freedom to make the wrong decision at times, to compromise in order to serve all of us.
So please, instead of simply putting on your Feel the Bern t-shirt or watching videos of Beto in his punk band, spend some time reading their policy proposals. Look at how Elizabeth or Amy plan to address the issues that impact your life. Find out how candidates plan to work with their opponents. Read up on the cases coming before the Supreme Court. Figure out where you stand and how to communicate that to your representatives in Congress.
Then, if you want, buy those RBG Dissent Collar earrings. You deserve a break.