Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Cult of Personality

A couple of weeks ago I was flying from Minneapolis to New York, and several individuals caught my attention because they were wearing shirts with large pictures of Obama. Two weeks ago, walking around Union Square there were two tables selling buttons and T-shirts with the pictures of Obama. A table in front of the Metropolitan Museum was selling the same merchandise. In Miami a street was renamed after Barack Obama, on Long Island a school was renamed for the president elect. And so it goes across the nation. Now there is talk of a Barack Obama Day.

Most Americans do not seem to be bothered by this phenomenon. For me, however, having grown up in a country that for many years was under the grip of dictators, the pictures on clothes, buttons, streets and institutions, this represents a development that makes me feel very uncomfortable. I still remember the pictures of Peron and Evita in the first pages of textbooks, notebooks and on the walls of all schools and governmental institutions. The day at school started with the singing of the national anthem and the Peronist anthem. This example can be multiplied many times. Mao, Stalin, Idi Amin, Sadam, Ayatollah Khomeini, Mugabe, just to name a few.

The cult of personality is something that is seen in totalitarian regimes. There seems to be a rule that the number of pictures of a leader increases in proportion to his grip on the country. Have you ever seen a picture of North Korea without Kim Jung “mentally” Il?

I understand the historical significance of the last election and I am not comparing Obama to any dictator. My concern is with reaching a degree of comfort with the adulation of the individual that is incompatible with a democracy. I only hope that in the United States this is just a passing fad. The problem is that certain fads tend to become engrained in the fabric of society and become part of our traditions.

If presidential pictures become ubiquitous, then in the next election I will have no choice but to vote for Charlize Theron; and she is not even American!

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