[Trigger warning: The very end of my commentary is briefly irreverent and crude, to drive home my point, so to speak. Hopefully, readers will glean the sense of humor that I meant to convey in an off-color way. Sometimes, people take themselves far too seriously.]
The following words from blogger and political commentator Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) came my way via a friend’s post over on Facebook:
“I say to Beto fans, Trump fans, all fans of politicians: it is un-American, ridiculous, and dangerous to be a fan of a politician. They aren’t pop stars. Support them if you agree with their policies. Criticize them when they go wrong. They are servants, not celebrities.”
Okay, so let me unpack this. First of all, I think it can be argued that all celebrities are servants. They serve the public in assorted ways, pop stars providing entertainment as a service. Hence, I find his delineation of servant and celebrity rather extreme and not always accurate. Also, what the hell is wrong with fandom, including political fandom where truly earned?
Mr. Walsh’s tone here is harshly chastising, directly contributing to an already over-polarized discourse in the political arena, which is the last thing we need more of in America. Upon sleeping on this statement of his after I first read it last night, what came to me was how intellectually elitist Matt Walsh comes across as being in this statement. Instead of encouraging people to look within towards better understanding their deep hunger for leaders to look up to with devotion, he shames them for their attempts at doing so, as if they/we are ignorant children to be scorned. It’s like he assumes everyone is or should be highly-educated (which many are not), purely objective (when one’s subjective life situation plays a central part in perceptions and judgments), and should minimize or not factor in genuine inspiration-filled, good feelings as part of one’s decision-making process when picking public leaders. The implication is that including this third item is superficial and ignorant, i.e., uneducated and unpatriotic, childish. This is no way to win over people into a more unified electorate to vote against Trump and his ilk, and most certainly not Beto fans, who are a swathe of people we can and should count as allies/fellow voting citizens. Harshly shaming people for trying their best, which inevitably includes their natural impulses and human short-comings, is unproductive. Rather, encouraging people to do better is what’s needed. And please interweave within that encouragement the dissemination of accurate information, combined with underscoring how we are all in this together. Also, devotion need not be completely dismissed out of hand as un-evolved and inappropriate within the political arena. Some people occasionally earn such trust and admiration.
I say that you can celebrate excellent politicians while criticizing them where indicated, as they are certainly not infallible, just the opposite. In other words, be discerning and mindful, not a blind follower and praiser of a politician, or anyone for that matter. I need to know much more about Beto O’Rourke and his policy positions, for example, before praising him/treating him as a celebrity. And what little I do know about his policy stances doesn’t warrant much praise. But, if a political leader is doing a great job, showing bravery and consistently putting their words into good actions, from a place of sincerity and true care — which is a very rare breed of politician– then I feel damn happy and glad to praise and celebrate them. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez comes readily to mind, and not because of her looks, but what she says and does with passion, stridency, absolute sincerity, and compassion. However, let’s be honest here. It certainly does not detract in any way that AOC is also physically young, beautiful, and vibrant. She speaks and works hard on behalf of her constituents and, by extension, so many of us who are not in her Congressional district. From a place of joy and relief in my heart, I celebrate her. I don’t think by doing so that I’m participating in being “un-American, ridiculous, or dangerous,” just the opposite. Rather, via praise and, subsequently, some devotion to her, I wish to reinforce AOC in doing a great job, encouraging the new Congresswoman to stay with it, particularly given the fact that she receives hate mail and death threats constantly. Also, another intention here is to encourage other political leaders to emulate Ms. Cortez in thought and action. She is truly a celebrity because she has earned such status from me and others. Supporting Ms. AOC’s ongoing upward (thus far) evolution as a great leader is truly being patriotic, safe-making (as opposed to dangerous– except for her toxically ignorant opponents), and anything but ridiculous. It is possible, of course, that her integrity could weaken and she could rightfully lose this status. My hope, of course, is that this will not happen.
This post by Mr. Walsh is broad-sweeping, though I do get the point he is trying to make. The phenomenon of creating and maintaining celebrities has been overdone time and again, unmindfully/with little thought, given the aforementioned desperate need in many people to have someone to follow, be it politically and/or spiritually. I get that. But, there is nothing inherently wrong with such a need and efforts to fulfill it. Some discerning celebrity-making is fine and healthy. Devotion isn’t automatically a stupid, ridiculous, un-American thing in all instances. Actually, it’s quite typically American to be devoted to public figures, however uninformed many are in doing so. It’s simply that most people have not duly earned their celebrity, particularly in the political arena. Many individuals are often far too trusting too soon, willing to go with little or no information to back up their first blush gut responses to an appealing persona put before them. Often, this comes out of innocence, though, for even more, just plain ignorance, stemming from fear and initially not knowing any different. Some of us start out in life with more available information due to privilege we are born into and next to, while others are less fortunate, starting with little to almost nothing. That’s not to condescend to the latter in any way– which Mr. Walsh comes across as doing in his post. Those of us who know more need to offer out our knowledge as best and creatively to as many as possible, as often as possible. Share and share alike. Therein lies good leadership.
Along with a weaponizing of knowledge (by both liberal/progressive elites and conservatives alike, albeit generally more calculatingly so by the latter) against those who lack it, there is a paucity of praise to others in the world and way too much harmful tearing down of people instead. I’ve always valued the importance of frequent, thoughtful, honest praise. I find there is joy in giving it where readily earned. Everyone deserves it here and there, be it small or large praise, including to reinforce a quality we may wish to see more expression of from someone.
To my understanding, an origin of giving praise is a spiritual one. We are recognizing the divine or higher, evolved, positive nature in someone when we praise them. Devotion and its accompanying act of praising is an ancient practice done before gods in countless cultures across history. It is a moment of wonder and goodness when we recognize and speak of the good/Goddess/God nature in someone before us. Doing this often is an important part of a healthy spiritual practice or, for those who are strict atheists, simply good mental hygiene.
There is so much cynical judging and divisiveness going around– which is a large part of the problem in politics and elsewhere– and this post by Matt Walsh smacks of more of it to me, his judgments seemingly from a place of informed privilege and arrogance. How tiring. Join the rest of humanity, please, Matt. I think you need to chill out for a bit, perhaps get a long series of deep tissue massages while having what seems like an uncomfortable big stick pulled out of your ass.