Motley’s Niamh Browne takes a look at the schadenfreude of the US Presidential election. 


I love reality TV. Give me complete and utter trash and I lap it up like a rat in a landfill. Ultimate Beastmaster, Come Dine With Me, and the ironically named Celebs Go Dating, I love it all. The Decline of the West however? I could never have fathomed it being so cringe-worthily watchable. I guess this is what happens when you elect a reality TV star for President- and the world can’t turn their eyes away. 


Without running the risk of sounding too much like a “woke” college student – the US is bad. It takes all the worst excesses of humankind and amplifies them exponentially. The 1987 film Wall Street said: “Greed is good” and this seems to be the ethos of American culture. While capitalist Western countries such as Ireland can’t take too much of a moral high ground here, the United States of America rewards avarice, egotism and the aggressive advancement of self. In many ways, America is Frankenstein and has sewed together all the aspects of their culture and made a monster. It just so happens that this monster is the President. 


Schadenfreude, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others”. It’s a complicated emotion and not a very nice one, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a secret smirk when Trump says bullshit such as we should ingest bleach to rid ourselves of Covid. He then notably didn’t subject himself to this remedy when he unsurprisingly tested positive for the virus. Instead of then locking him up in order to protect his staff from contracting the virus, Trump was allowed to run around the White House licking doorknobs it seems. The pandering to the overgrown toddler seems to know no end. There is a tragi-comic element to the whole fiasco.


The institutions surrounding the President are in part to be blamed for facilitating this circus. How can we expect fair and policy-orientated discussions if the moderators of Presidential debates are journalists interested in creating a good story? Every Presidential debate leading up to this one has been focused on who can create the best sound bite and throw verbal punches. Not about discussing their respective agendas for addressing crippling problems that are facing America. Politics has never before been so glamorous, and never before so non-policy driven. If we expect American presidents to have presidential Spotify, Twitter and Instagram accounts, or to appear as talk show guests, why are we then so shocked when celebrities who have amassed these huge cult followings, move into the realm of politics? It seems for a long time now, the US has elected people based on star-power and not on merit. Whether it was JFK who started this trend with his beautiful family and all American lifestyle, or Reagan with that million-dollar movie-star smile and the twinkle in his eye, we can’t deny it, America loves celebrities. 


Whatever way we dice it, America’s love affair with reality TV has gotten them into this pickle (to put it lightly). Edmund Burke, Irish philosopher, statesman and quasi-tan said: “Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver, and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings”. The fame and notoriety that America so highly values has done little to serve them. Trump is a natural by-product of this.


And we never learn, every time an election comes around, there’s a new media-savvy political movement, and we jump on that bandwagon like a flea from dog to human. We are consistently, time and time again disappointed. New Labour and Blairism eventually led to the illegal invasion of Iraq, Aung San Suu Kyi’s spectacular fall from grace was due to her genocidal government and dreamboat Justin Trudeau has not delivered the progressive ideas he promised. 


To paraphrase The Perks of Being a Wallflower, we elect the presidents we think we deserve.