President Akon: the Implications of Political Celebrities

Elections, on most levels, are popularity contests. Yes, public opinions on various issues determine whether the educated voter supports a candidate, but for the general populace who are unaware of political issues, it is all about whose name you know. That is why politicians spend hundreds of millions of dollars for marketing and campaigning. Celebrities, being a source of entertainment, have a popular and natural relationship with the public due to their dazzling theatrics and lavish lifestyles. They have no need for signs or banners because their names are plastered all over Page Six. Therefore it is no surprise, then, that the United States has a history of electing celebrities into government positions.

Recently, Aliaume Thiam, an R&B artist popularly known as Akon, announced in an interview with Newsweek that he is “seriously” considering running against President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Though polarizing, this idea is not as far-fetched as it may initially seem.

There have been over a dozen former celebrities elected as politicians in the United States government. Examples include former U.S. Ambassador Shirley Temple in 1967, former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003. The idea of celebrities in office has been a popular one within our government for some time, and continues to persist with Donald Trump’s presidency. With that said, does a celebrity’s popularity give them the sufficient knowledge to lead a country?

Most career politicians gain social and political literacy through their education and training – law, military, activism, etc. Through these backgrounds, they are able to grasp what it means to work in politics, as politics touch every aspect of their respective trajectories. This is not to say that politics isn’t involved in everything because, to a degree, it is. But there are different levels that correspond to different lifestyles. A lawyer is certain to know more about newly-passed laws than the average American. As for Akon, at least in the public eye, he clearly lacks the sufficient experience to handle a potential presidency.

Despite his lack of political experience, Akon has participated in some global activism to help improve the lives of people. He has done some great work by founding “Akon Lighting Africa,” which provides solar energy to various African countries. He also publicly supports philanthropic foundations such as “Clothes Off Our Back,” which auctions celebrity clothing and donates all proceeds to children’s charities. These are just some his remarkable examples of generosity, but does this alone give him the authority and intelligence to run the most powerful office in the country?

No, it does not. If Akon were to enter politics, his less-than-stellar past would be brought to light. For example, in April 2007, he was criticized for mimicing sexual acts on an under-aged girl in a nightclub. This escalated to the point that companies like Verizon removed his music as ringtones from their database. He also claims to have six different children from three different mothers. This does not reflect the “family values” that I would like to see in a president. These details about the rapper in combination with his lack of experience should dissuade him from running because they certainly aren’t appealing to any voter.

Whether Akon runs for the 2020 presidential election does not concern me. I worry more for what would happen if he won. America has already elected an inexperienced television personality into the highest office in the country, and now he is insulting reporters and demonizing immigrants. Clearly our government needs a change in leadership, but we also need a change in how we elect our officials. As Americans, we need to be extremely cautious as to whom we give our power to, because we wouldn’t want another inexperienced Hollywood star leading our country.

Frank Peña is a third-year Journalism and Informatics major. He can be reached at fpenaaya@uci.edu.