Why do Americans seem to love its political royalty?

Many baseball fans throughout North America have had reason to smile over the past couple of weeks because two of the sport’s most decorated franchises lost in the playoffs; neither the Los Angeles Dodgers nor the New York Yankees made it to the World Series.

The Dodgers have dominated their league in recent years, winning multiple division titles and making it to three World Series. They won the title one season ago, and they looked ready to win it again this season. The Yankees have won more World Series championships than any other team. 

Count me among those who believe dynasties are not great for sports. But of far more importance, count me among those who do not believe political dynasties in the United States should be celebrated. I contend that the benefits accrued from being the son or daughter of one of this country’s most financially and politically powerful and well connected families ensure that America retains its own set of royalty who regularly use their influence to open doors for their own and, by extension, close doors to everyone else. 

Before we go any further, let me make clear that I am not suggesting being wealthy is bad. I am also not arguing that rich families ought to be dismissed from the chance at achieving political power simply because their grandfather/father/uncle/brother/son already has been (or wanted to be) president. Finally, I know dynasty is not unique to America; Pakistan and India are two other examples where powerful families have consistently found themselves at the top of government. But neither Pakistan nor India is what America claims to be: the beacon of democracy all over the world.

I am saying that too many Americans fall prey to fawning when they accept and reward the continuous grip on power by multiple generations of people from the same family. As one example, consider how Republicans beginning in the late 1980s nominated a man named Bush four times over five presidential cycles, and how another Bush seemed destined to also make a serious run at the White House a few years after that. This unfortunate emotional response to celebrate American political royalty is horribly ignorant of the country’s history, and it also does not align with democratic norms. I would like to think that George Washington and the other Founding Fathers of this country might agree with me.

At the risk of oversimplifying U.S. history, I remind you that one of the reasons the colonists wanted to get rid of the British crown almost 250 years ago was because they knew the reigning king or queen would eventually be replaced by his or her son or daughter. There was no election; there was only biological selection. How royal, how British, how, well, un-American. 

One of the unshakable myths about the United States was created in this commitment to dismiss the royal family: any child can grow up to be anything he or she wants to be in America. Perhaps that sentence should have included these words: however, the chances of becoming president are highly unlikely unless you come from wealth and privilege. That is because as we take a look back at America’s presidential aspirants or political elite, we find one constant in too many of them: a dynastic family. To save space here, I encourage you to do your own research so that you can see the fabulous wealth and power tied to names such as Acheson, Adams, Bayh, Brown, Bush, Cuomo, Gore, Kennedy, Romney, Roosevelt, Trump and others. Granted, not all of these men come from a family member who had previously made it to the White House; nevertheless, their A-level social and financial status provided an entree into political power that others could never have attained. 

I accept that some presidential candidates can be identified as the self-made man, another myth about America. The names Carter, Clinton, Obama and Reagan are recent examples of men whose family name carried no status in the country when they were elected to the presidency. Americans, no matter their political preferences, would benefit from gravitating to more candidates like this; newer and fresher ideas about domestic and international challenges could follow. More importantly, the refusal to endorse people akin to nobles would send an important message about Americans’ desire to honor men and women who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

America’s first president was the aforementioned George Washington. He served two terms in that role and then walked away. He set a standard that is far more consistent with democracy and one that should be applauded by more people. Unfortunately, the presidency is not in the image of Washington; it is too often in the image of a small number of dynastic families.

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