Ben Shapiro: America Needs To Stop Treating Celebrities Like Politicians | Opinion

This week, three major stories broke. First, President Trump canceled a visit to the White House for the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were sending too few representatives, and Trump—angry at the possibility of being humiliated in a photo op—decided to back out of the event. He then proceeded to suggest that the Eagles had avoided his White House because they supported kneeling for the National Anthem, and rescheduled a patriotic event complete with a military choir rendition of "God Bless America" to poke them in the eye. LeBron James and Steph Curry responded by stating that neither of their teams would be interested in visiting the White House after the NBA Finals.

Second, President Trump commuted the sentence of 63-year-old convicted drug dealer Alice Marie Johnson who was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 after trafficking 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms of cocaine. Trump's stated policy is that he would like to consider the death penalty for drug dealers. So what changed his mind here? Kim Kardashian visited the White House and lobbied for Johnson, who received her commutation less than a week later.

Finally, we found out that according to the government, Medicare is scheduled to become insolvent as of 2026, and Social Security is scheduled to do the same by 2034. More than 49 million Americans are currently reliant on Medicare; approximately 63 million Americans are currently reliant on Social Security. These two programs comprise more than sixty percent of the mandatory spending in our annual budget. And if we don't do something relatively drastic almost immediately, we will be faced with serious shortfalls. How big will those shortfalls be? Our current national debt is about $20 trillion; if we included expected shortfalls from these two programs, our national debt would be about $91 trillion.

Now, which of these three stories got the least attention?

It's obvious that the American public has an addiction to celebrity. That's natural, and exists within virtually every society. That's likely an evolutionary hangover, a vestigial trait: every society has dominance hierarchies, in which those at the top are worshipped and treasured and fawned over. In smaller social circles, knowing the importance of those at the top of the hierarchy could help you in terms of social status—it paid to know to whom to cater. Today, with our social circle standing at 300 million, we still have the same drive to follow celebrities and keep up with their movements, as University of Michigan evolutionary psychologist Daniel Kruger points out.

Kim Kardashian/Donald Trump AFP/Getty Images

But our addiction to celebrity is now infecting our politics. When we combine our natural inclination to follow celebrities with the so-called "halo effect"—our tendency to attribute multiple positive qualities to those to whom we attribute one positive quality (i.e. "if he's handsome, he must also be smart")—then celebrity worship translates over into the world of politics. Every culture war becomes a political war.

That's precisely what has happened. Our comedians are no longer just funny people—they're supposed to be thought leaders who respond to "clapter" rather than laughter. Samantha Bee becomes a tribal leader on the one side; Roseanne Barr becomes a tribal leader on the other. We must fight to defend them or to destroy them.

President Trump's thoughts on the NBA are matched by Steph Curry's thoughts on President Trump. And we care deeply about these things, because we tend to believe that important people think important things about important topics. Even celebrities aren't immune to celebrity worship—the same President Trump who has suggested the death penalty for drug dealers commuted Alice Johnson's sentence after Kardashian's White House visit.

The problem, of course, is that there are issues of American governance that require a certain amount of non-tribal thought and non-celebrity expertise. When it comes to solving our Social Security and Medicare problem, for example, we'd be looking to the wrong leadership to look to celebrities. The people who know most about these issues have spent their lives studying them—and those people aren't likely to be Hollywood celebrities or sports stars.

And that's boring. That's unfulfilling. We can't virtue signal based on celebrity allegiance when we're discussing raising the retirement age. Better and more satisfying to keep focusing on the celebrities who give our lives meaning by speaking about issues that strike at our hearts rather than our heads.

Or, alternatively, we could fight our cognitive biases. We could stop treating our elections as referenda on various famous faces, and start thinking about the future of the country. We could stop worshipping prominence rather than expertise. We could try to remember that the future of the country won't be massively impacted by whether the Philadelphia Eagles visit the White House, but that it will be controlled by anonymous, unelected bureaucrats with actuarial tables if we don't take ownership of the issues.

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and host of "The Ben Shapiro Show," available on iTunes and syndicated across America.​

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​