The election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States meant a great many things for America, one of them being the complete obliteration of conventional wisdom about who should run for president. That Trump, a failed businessman and admitted sexual abuser, could pivot off his fame as a bloviating reality star to become the leader of the free world theoretically meant anyone could. Trump’s core strengths were his preloaded familiarity with the electorate, amidst a sea of Scotts and Rands, and his undeniable charisma in front of a crowd. Surely, there might be another popular celebrity without Trump’s inherent loathsomeness who could follow his insurgent model, and run in 2020.
And lo, rumors about these potential candidates have emerged like cicadas from their slumber, as basically every rich person with an ego has openly pondered the possibility. Mark Cuban, Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, and Mark Zuckerberg are some of the more prominent, unconventional options who might seek the Democratic bid in the near future, or mount their own independent campaigns. (On a smaller scale, Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was asked to run for office.) If you want to imagine hell, picture the future 2020 debate between Trump and Zuckerberg, both out-of-touch billionaires who take to the average citizen as naturally as a cat takes to water.
But none of these prospective campaigns have been greeted as enthusiastically as Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock. Following his rise to public consciousness in WWE as a wildly charismatic wrestler, Johnson has since become the most successful action movie star in the world. He’s exceptionally handsome, a great speaker, wildly friendly, charmingly multiracial, and pro-military without being gauche about it. If you conferred those traits upon an average politician, you’d earmark him for future success in the party.
Though the joke of electing the proprietor of the Smackdown Hotel to the highest office in the land has circulated for some time, the conversation crystallized last week with the publication of a new GQ profile titled “Dwayne Johnson for President!” (The right-wing National Review ran a piece pushing the idea before GQ’s story, but they didn’t grab an interview with Johnson.) In the piece, GQ’s Caity Weaver asked the Rock about the possibility he’d run. “I think that it’s a real possibility,” he said. He also gave a diplomatic response about the question of why he didn’t endorse either Trump or Hillary Clinton—”it might sway an opinion, which I didn’t want to do”—and didn’t explicitly critique Trump when asked what he’d like to see from the administration.
“If [becoming the president] is something he focused on,” Ron Meyer, the vice chairman of NBCUniversal is quoted as saying, “he probably would accomplish it. I think there’s nothing that he couldn’t do.”
The news was picked up with a certain type of glee, because the idea is too fun to avoid repeating. The Rock would be the second president to ever take the Stone Cold Stunner! The first to star in multiple Fast and Furious movies! A new PPP poll said he’d beat Trump in a head-to-head contest, 42 to 37 percent. As we speak, there are editors across the world wondering how to plausibly stretch the news into further stories. Who could run with the Rock? Would he be a Republican or a Democrat? (He did speak at the 2000 RNC, and appeared in a non-speaking role at the 2000 DNC) Could he really win?
Already, I can imagine the late night jokes to be told in 2020. “At last night’s debate, during a discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Johnson admonished President Trump to ‘know your role and shut your mouth.’” Pause for audience laughter. But seriously, and I say this without irony: The possibility of Dwayne Johnson earnestly running for president is a nightmare that all serious people should immediately disavow, lest they manifest the joke into reality by talking about it enough.
One of the many depressing lessons from the 2016 election is that enough people would rather roll the dice on a charismatic blowhard with an obviously faulty command of the issues, rather than a relatively stiff wonk who may have been the most qualified presidential candidate in history. Regardless of your issues with Hillary Clinton, no intelligent person on the left or the right can deny her presidency would’ve been a more sedate affair than Trump’s, the controversies a far cry from “President Trump gave away classified intel to Russia because he couldn’t shut the fuck up.” Certain doom-and-gloomers would posit a certain calculus: If the more charismatic doof has a puncher’s chance of beating an actual adult, why not accept how the wind is blowing?
Even if you begin to prioritize charisma over an understanding of the issues, the Rock’s deficiencies are obvious. His opinions on an array of topics from health care to Israel remain unknown; he wouldn’t even endorse a candidate in the most important election of all-time, when the choices were between a boring neoliberal and a moron with a penchant for authoritarianism. (He praised that bland NRO story, too.) Sure, he has movies to sell to fans of all types, and he wasn’t the only celebrity to avoid endorsing someone, but given the stakes for so many people, his silence in the name of centrism seems a little toothless, rather than an expression of the deep moral responsibility he apparently felt.
Strip aside the joy of his work—I love when he takes the Stunner—and the amicability of his personality, is there any doubt it would be like handing the car keys to the family dog? Wouldn’t you rather spend time raising awareness of dedicated public servants—some of them very charismatic in their own way, like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren—rather than encouraging the laughably unqualified famous person? Plenty of politicians outpoll Trump in a potential 2020 race; their elevation to the highest office in the land would give worried citizens a breath of relief, rather than wondering about the learning curve for the next guy with no prior experience.
Finger-wagging at other people’s fun is a fool’s game, and yet the last year should teach anyone this isn’t so fun. Talk about it enough, and Johnson may as well decide to seek that bid when it’s time. Why not a dual ticket of Johnson and Corey Booker on the Democratic side? Or Johnson and Ben Sasse for the Republicans, once Trump steps down? What an idea, right? Do you really think Americans would see through the gag and vote against him? Do you really? Perhaps this is what the country deserves, the accelerationist offers; if we’re already living in a world beyond parody, why not make the pro wrestler the president, and get some good fiction out of it?
That might happen on its own, because of the world we’re in. But come on, don’t encourage it.