There is a time in the yearly news cycle commonly known as "the silly season," a period in which people do stupid but often harmless things that make for amusing copy. Usually, this occurs during the heat of summer, or when there’s little actual substance to examine, such as two wars, an economy wrestling itself out of recession, and uncertainty in the Middle East.
One can only hope that is the reason why New York real estate magnate and professional self-promoter Donald Trump is talking about running for president. Why Trump fares alarmingly well in a poll—coming in at just three points behind President Obama—is a more disturbing question.
Has the country’s low-rent romance with reality TV finally deprived people of the ability to distinguish between actual reality and made-for-TV "reality" (which was created largely to avoid paying writers, anyway)? Has the celebritization of politics dangerously dulled the lines between people who are famous for smarts and experience and those who are famous for making spectacles of themselves? [Take the U.S. News poll: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination?]
Perhaps it’s The Donald’s wealth that trumps his short-comings. There is, among a substantial part of the electorate, a sense that rich people must have something going for them, or they wouldn’t have made all that money. One would think the performance of Wall Street moneymen and mortgage bankers—the same people who helped bring you a painful recession—would have disabused people of that notion. [See editorial cartoons about the economy.]
There is also a false premise that having money gives a candidate a huge advantage in campaigns. It’s true that campaigns, especially presidential runs, require large amounts of cash. But self-funded candidates very rarely win the general election. Ask California’s Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina. Or Connecticut’s Linda McMahon. Or Blair Hull, who lost to someone then a relative unknown—Barack Obama—in a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. [See a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
Politics can be entertaining; some days, it’s all that keeps us paying attention. But entertainment value alone does qualify anyone to lead the country—no matter how much fun it would be to read the WikiLeaks cables detailing foreign leaders’ comments on Trump’s hair.