Could we really be looking at a President Dwayne Johnson in 2020?
In May, The Rock was on the cover of GQ to promote his two blockbuster films of the summer — the record-shattering The Fate of the Furious and the, er, less-than-record-shattering Baywatch adaptation. But whatever he had to say about the two films was overshadowed by the news he made in the story: that he was seriously considering the idea of running for president of the United States. Immediately speculation blew up. National political polling firm Public Policy Polling ran the numbers, and the result was surprising to anybody who hasn’t paid attention to how much Americans love electing celebrities to high office — The Rock outperformed Donald Trump in a head-to-head poll by five points, including 15% of voters who supported Trump in 2016. All of which made a proposition that had seemed ridiculous on its face suddenly, shockingly relevant: Could we really be looking at a President Dwayne Johnson in 2020?
The idea that there’s anything left to be genuinely absurd in American politics was fairly left behind in 2016, and Johnson’s public appearances and statements since the GQ interview did little to quash the idea. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to talk about the idea further and sounded like someone who’d been in touch with a handful of consultants about how to begin managing his persona for politics. On Saturday Night Live a week later, Johnson announced that he was running — albeit with Tom Hanks as his running mate, and he clarified that at that point the announcement was a joke.
Still, while for the time being Johnson is merely flirting with the idea, he’s also talked about it as a “real possibility” for the future — and trying to predict politics at this point is a sucker’s game.
So let’s say Dwayne Johnson does run for President in 2020. The current president’s approval rating hasn’t topped 40% since the middle of May — numbers not seen since the days of Gerald Ford. The idea of a deeply unpopular celebrity-turned-president facing off against a wildly popular celebrity seeking to become president will probably disturb serious political thinkers — and that’s a group I like to consider myself a part of. But also: I love The Rock and can imagine a scenario in which I convince myself that voting for Dwayne Johnson isn’t just a move to satisfy my affection for the greatest cinematic action hero who ever lived but also a responsible, rational political decision.
I’ll probably start my process of justifying supporting Johnson when there are humans with actual political experience in the ring (such as it is) seeking a job for which they may be qualified by citing our divisive politics — and noting that The Rock might be the only person capable of defusing our budding civil war.
Right now Americans are as divided as they’ve ever been in the past 150 years or so. We don’t just disagree with each other; we have open hostility toward people whose media environments tell each of us that they don’t even live in the same world that we do. And the question of how to bridge that gap is one that even the most experienced, soberly minded political thinkers don’t have an answer to. Bipartisanship is a dirty word. The GOP mostly governs with an eye toward staving off primary challenges from within their party, while Democrats seem to feel that relitigating the 2016 primaries is the most productive use of their time.
But what if the answer is electing someone everybody likes?
For Democrats, opposing Donald Trump is politically popular right now. For Republicans, opposing Barack Obama was popular. Had Hillary Clinton won in 2016, opposing her every move would be like catnip to the GOP base. Should he run, Johnson is likely to run as a Democrat, since his opponent is a Republican — but it’s hard to imagine that publicly trashing a beloved figure like Dwayne Johnson would be a move that carries the same red-meat quality as opposing Obama or Clinton. Combine that with the fact that Johnson sure sounds like the most moderate of moderates (when asked about how he’d handle political disagreement in the GQ interview: “The first thing we’d do is we’d come and sit down and we’d talk about it”), and it’s possible to imagine a scenario in which the cold war between America’s left and right flanks begins to thaw, at least a little. I expect I will say this to my friends of all political persuasions many times as my first argument when they ask me if I’m serious.
I know myself well enough to know I won’t attempt to conflate Johnson’s on-screen persona with his capabilities as a person. I won’t find myself arguing that he can deflect missiles with his bare hands (as he does in F8) or singlehandedly punch out an earthquake (basically the plot to San Andreas). Rather, the next thing I’ll probably end up saying when people ask, “Wait, are you serious about that?” is that the Rock seems like a genuinely decent person.
America wasn’t founded on the idea that we need a generation of celebrity rule to lead us, but if you’re stuck voting for celebrities — and we might be! — you could probably do a lot worse than Dwayne Johnson. He balanced his need to promote Baywatch and F8 to readers of all political persuasions with a willingness to stand for his values in GQ, telling the magazine, “I completely disagree with [the Muslim ban]” because of the “heartache,” “pain” and “confusion” it caused among people. “I believe in inclusion,” he said, but he wasn’t so desperate to be inclusive of people with whom he disagreed that he didn’t say what he believed. For someone whose job is to make everybody like him, that speaks to an integrity I’d probably end up referring back to when defending my inevitable support for the guy.
He also talks about the military in a way that goes beyond the usual flag-pin-on-the-lapel lip service. It’s easy to believe every soldier’s death that came under his command would haunt Johnson — which means he’d probably be extremely cautious about asking them to risk their lives.
It’s impossible to know what truly lives in anyone’s heart, of course. Maybe The Rock has some reprehensible views on things I care a lot about, or maybe he just disagrees strongly about, say, what role the government has to play in ensuring everyone is able to access health care. But he’s gone above and beyond any call of duty when it comes to caring about the troops, his fans, even the reporters who cover his career (he officiated a film critic’s wedding in 2015 as a surprise!). These aren’t big statements, but that’s kind of the point. Someone who exhibits decency in small ways throughout their life is probably a decent person, and that would be a nice thing to say about the president.
Given his ability to unite people (the Fast & Furious movies became record-shattering global box office draws only after he joined the franchise, after all), the fact that he seems to be a deliberative man prone to cautious decision making (starring in Baywatch notwithstanding), and the decency he’s exhibited both in standing up for the handful of issues he’s brought up since he started talking about this and in small ways throughout his career, America could do a hell of a lot worse than Dwayne Johnson for president. At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself over and over again as I defend him online and at parties to people who ask, “You’re not seriously voting for The Rock, are you?” I dunno, man. Maybe I am.