Tomorrow, the United States of America heads to the ballot box for what is certain to be a day that no one reading this will ever forget.
After four years of one of the most divisive leaders in World much less American history, we as citizens get to participate in the most American of ideals: choice.
This election, similar to others in which an incumbent runs again, is mostly describable as a referendum on the past four years. And while I have no doubt that you have strong opinions about whether or not America is as great today as it was in November 2016, I am not here to hear them much less debate or validate them.
But there is one thing that I can say has certainly changed between today and four years ago, Donald Trump has become the most famous man in the history of the world.
Fame: “the state of being known or talked about by many people, especially on account of notable achievements” -OED
Put aside all the comments you may make about what constitutes an achievement for one moment, and think. Through the proliferation of media (social and traditional alike), the ubiquity of the internet, and the status of America as (at least for now) the de facto leader of the global economy, more people know who Donald Trump is than any other person, ever.*
Yes, perhaps individuals like Jesus or Caesar had a larger impact or even became more famous after their death, but the scope of their fame while alive was simply limited.
Here we are, ready to decide whether or not the most famous person ever gets to keep his job.
And this is what I can’t get out of my head….just how important is it to be famous?
Occam’s razor leads me to believe that it’s the most important thing. Brand awareness is the most fundamental metric that one can evaluate when it comes to marketing. The more people know who you are, the better.
The current President, quite simply, is a virtuoso at this. And it’s a two-pronged masterclass: 1) He’s able to create a cult of personality around himself with those who love him most and 2) He manages to stay top of mind to the billions of people against or who are relatively unaffected by him.
No matter what he says or does, the world is an audience.
Put simply, this has to be good for him. The most famous man in the history of the world should be able to win an election.**
Fame: “Widespread reputation, especially of a favorable character; renown; public eminence” -Merriam Webster
While the magnitude of the President’s fame is not debatable, the “favorability” of it certainly is. He has made a living on the “all publicity is good publicity” mantra, which of course has some negative consequences.
His approval ratings, according to Gallup, peaked at 49%. If you look at the history of the poll, the lowest peak rating prior to Trump was Nixon at 66%. That’s right. Trump’s peak is 17 points lower than any other President’s peak.
The reality is, he’s just not well-liked and never has been.
Being popular matters! When it comes to engendering trust amongst others, you need people to like you!
It’s simply hard to imagine a person so disliked getting rehired for the job.
(It should be noted that it’s not lost on me that I am as subjected to his fame as anyone else so much so that I can get through most of a pre-election thought without even mentioning the person trying to unseat him!)
So here we are America, with a choice.
Will it be the most famous man in the history of the world?
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
― Abraham Lincoln
Postscript — As I send you this note, I have travelled to Philadelphia. Almost poetically, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution is back under the spotlight at an American crossroads.
I’ll be headed to the streets to encourage people to vote, to express their opinion, to choose. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this, but I reckon it won’t be the last. It feels good to use your feet for change sometimes. They’re almost certainly the part of the body that yields the highest return. (And perhaps COVID means they’re the most out of practice.)
No matter what your election day looks like, I wish you and everyone you love and care about both meaning and peace. I truly hope that no matter what cavalcade of emotions awaits you over the next day (or weeks or months), that you find time for some deep breaths.
From Philly with love,
*Normally, I am known for more analytical writing than these musings, so I apologize for not defending my claim. I look forward to the comments I get on this article refuting this, as I can’t find any evidence that this is wrong.
**Now, you may argue that every U.S. President is the next most famous person in the history of the world. Which is an argument I will concede. And unsurprisingly if this is true, we haven’t had a single term party President since Carter lost in 1980. That’s 40 years ago. And, even better, the last time the Presidency was limited to a single Republican term was 1892! That’s 128 years!