Imagine you’re a business owner looking to hire new employees. One of your potential prospects has worked in your field for 16 years, slowly making their way to the corporate level. The other applicant is new to the field, completely inexperienced and known to make disparaging comments about others. Who would you most likely hire? Now, picture those same two candidates running for U.S. office. Your choice likely isn’t so black and white because experience is no longer the be-all and end-all of politics.
The election of Donald Trump proved that voters no longer valued government experience in a president. If they did, they wouldn’t have voted for him over his opponents. They chose him over his primary rivals who had all been (or where) elected officials, and they later chose him over Hillary Clinton who was (on paper) the most experienced candidate to ever seek the presidency.
Experience used to matter to Republican voters. According to a March 2015 survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of voters valued a theoretical candidate with “experience and a proven record” more so than “one who had new ideas and a different approach.” In just six months, however, those numbers changed to 55 percent of voters believing a candidate with new ideas to be more important.
In those same survey results, the numbers for Democrats remained stable with the percentage of voters valuing experience had grown from 46 to 50 percent.
Inexperienced candidates have found their way into state capitals as well. Most notably, former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like Ronald Reagan, Schwarzenegger served two terms (eight years) as California’s Republican governor after only being an actor. Former pro-wrestler Jessie Ventura also served as governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003 with no prior political experience as the first and only Reform Party member.
In 2018, we’re seeing something similar in New York. Former Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon is running in the New York primary against incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo (D). Should Nixon win, she’ll almost certainly be New York’s next governor. Even though Nixon’s career in politics has only just begun, rumors are circulating of her presidential aspirations.
Since Trump’s win, it seems as though anyone can be president. Famous people such as wrestler/actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and rapper Kanye West have openly said they are thinking about running.
The cult of personality is by no means only isolated to the right. Cue rumors of Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey. Oprah’s possible run has gone so far as to become a topic of mainstream conversation, especially following her 2018 Golden Globes speech. Her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille award immediately sparked the question. People claimed the speech was “anti-Trump” in nature, as she floated the potential campaign slogan: “A new day is on the horizon.” After the speech, her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, furthered speculation by saying, “She would absolutely do it.” In a March interview with InStyle magazine, Winfrey put the speculation to rest by outright saying, “It’s not something that interests me.”
As our country becomes more and more partisan, experience will likely start mattering less and less. For students going through their college years seeking experience to further themselves, the current political climate is discouraging.
Experience must still be of value, but politics should also still be open for participation by all. Otherwise, the realm of elected office will become even more “elite” and continue to give those in power even more. But, when it comes to deciding who can launch the start of a (nuclear) war, we should leave it to those who know what they’re doing.