As a society obsessed with superhero movies and raised to talk about our personal heroes from a very young age, it is no surprise that Americans are infatuated with idolizing our politicians. From my experience, Democrats love to idolize certain politicians and figures from the party. Some popular people on this list include individuals such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s natural to have figures who inspire us and influence our vision of the world and ourselves. When we turn our politicians into heroes and idols, however, we fail to see the weaknesses inherent in these ultimately ordinary people.
No one would argue the idea that no average person is perfect, and yet many Democrats treat some politicians as if they are perfect. Like the average person, all politicians have made questionable decisions that may have had dire consequences. By placing political figures on pedestals, we make it difficult to criticize their actions and separate the good from the bad; meanwhile, the communities that suffer from an idolized politician’s actions are ignored.
Ginsburg (also known by her many nicknames like “The Notorious RBG”) is a very popular liberal feminist icon. Ginsburg has become an inspiration to many women as the second woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice. She has worked hard throughout her years on the Supreme Court to uphold the fundamentals of our Constitution and support the rights of many marginalized communities. However, Ginsburg has also spoken out against a popular form of protest within the Black Lives Matter movement: kneeling during the national anthem.
In 2016, Ginsburg said she considered the action when Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, knelt during the national anthem “dumb and disrespectful.” She compared Kaepernick’s very legitimate form of protest to burning flags, calling it a terrible act. Ginsberg did go on to apologize for these statements shortly afterward, but this was still her first reaction to a Black man’s protest against systemic racism in the United States. As someone who is tasked with knowing, understanding and upholding the U.S. Constitution, Ginsburg should have been able to respect this act of civil protest. Still, this single comment two years ago does not disqualify every good thing Ginsberg has done in her life and career. However, if we talk about Ginsberg as if she is perfect, put her on a pedestal and call her our hero, what message is that sending to the Black community? Idolizing someone who dismissed and belittled a protest against systematic racism could be interpreted as a symbol of deprioritizing racial justice, which is the opposite direction the Democratic Party should be moving in.
Another revered politician within the liberal community is Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR served three terms as president, seeing the U.S. through both the Great Depression and World War II. We learned about his career in elementary school history books and were taught to see him as one of the most successful presidents in U.S. history. However, this image completely erases some of the atrocities FDR committed during his presidential terms. Americans find a way to conveniently forget FDR was responsible for the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants. While the United States was supposed to be fighting xenophobia in Europe, it was creating a similar discriminatory culture within its own borders. Many of the Japanese Americans interned in the United States had never lived in Japan and were imprisoned purely based on the fear that their ethnicity would lead them to betray their country. Tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps with their only crime being the fact that they had at least one great-great-grandparent who was ethnically Japanese. By no means was this FDR’s only questionable act during his terms as president, but it was one of the most egregious and is often forgotten completely or ignored by the general public. FDR is one politician for whom we should seriously question whether to refer to him and his legacy positively. By referring to FDR as one of the best presidents in U.S. history or just referring to him in a positive way in general, the suffering of over 100,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants is erased.
There are many politicians and political figures who could be added to this list, if not all of them. As we attempt to become a more inclusive society, we must make decisions as to whether certain figures can be talked about positively after taking all of their actions into consideration. This article is by no means intended to suggest all politicians are terrible people unworthy of our positive opinions or praise. Many politicians perform good public service in the attempt to make the United States a better place for all its inhabitants. However, these good actions do not necessarily counteract decisions that negatively affect their constituents, particularly those of marginalized communities. We must make sure we consider holistically these political figures before blindly singing their praise. Liberals can still respect Ginsburg for her position as the second woman to sit on the Supreme Court and the good work she has done since her appointment. As a party, we must be more conscious of looking at our leaders as humans with both strengths and faults while considering the harm idolatry can cause.