All this breathless, borderline hysterical enthusiasm about Oprah running for president is, sadly, doing a great deal to help me understand how Trump became president.
It’s different demographics to be certain, but in each case these two exceedingly wealthy pop culture icons make a living telling people what they want to hear, a combination of platitudes and “you’re great” bromides, backed with little action (in Oprah’s case, the fact that she made super-charlatan “Dr. Phil” famous is sufficient reason to disqualify her as a serious person). I’m sure some ardent fans can list the myriad wonderful things she’s done, but in terms of the money and influence she brings to bear, her single greatest accomplishment, spanning decades, seems to have been refining, obsessing about, and marketing her brand (O magazine, anyone?). Of course, in 21st Century America, perfecting one’s brand, and making millions doing it, is regarded as the apex of human achievement. (That Trump, a laughable failure in virtually all his business endeavors, did, undeniably, succeed bigly as a reality TV star is instructive here.)
To be 100% clear, I’m not implying Oprah and Trump are different sides of the same coin: in terms of intelligence, experience, and empathy, not to mention competence (on one hand we have Oprah, a truly self-made billionaire, compared with a foppish quisling who, by all accounts, squandered his inheritance or, at the very least, lost money running a casino, which would seem only slightly less impossible than drowning in a desert), Ms. Winfrey would be a most welcome replacement for the buffoon currently disgracing the office. Then again, so would virtually every sentient person I know, not excluding some toddlers, who I’m certain could govern—not to mention tweet—more sensibly and astutely.
To the haters and celebrity-smitten, I certainly feel your pain, to a point.
Yes, watching the Democrats try to govern is an often painful and occasionally pitiful spectacle. (And our desire to select our next candidate and get busy is nothing if not understandable.) Of course, in their defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly as our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves (or even better, the stance of those taking their faux-intellectual marching orders from Ayn Rand: just leave us alone and the world will govern itself…but if my house catches fire or a burglar breaks in or the roads need to be plowed or the country is attacked, some non-tax funded enterprise better be at the ready to protect me!). In short: MAGA resonated for myriad reasons that can’t be summed up by or dismissed as the enduring appeal of racism, country-wide.
Put another way, if we’re going to settle for (or aspire toward?) another celebrity, why can’t we have whomever we choose next time around?
We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat (and then pay someone like Dr. Phil to fix us). Our collective atrophy, of course, has long been a work-in-progress, but reality TV has upped (or, lowered) the stakes to a considerable degree. Now, it seems, we want—and need—to anoint ready-made panaceas for whatever ails us, ranging from weight-loss to public officials. Governing is often hard, boring work, and it should be. It’s supposed to be, and it’s designed to be, not unlike excellence in pretty much any endeavor, be it political or athletic or artistic, requires countless hours of practice, failure, sweat, and deliberately-earned expertise. Deploying troops, signing laws, overseeing the economy, and, yes, having one’s literal hand on the figurative button, is something we should sanction only after significant reflection. Or, failing that, the quaint notion of having a resume and references might be considered a necessary step toward Making America Great Again. Better still, perhaps we can focus on making Great American, again.
This hopefully fleeting, and very ill-considered fantasy of Oprah as Savior, proves that in America, celebrity outstrips qualification, and rich people get a pass we’d never grant regular folks, and the more obscenely wealthy they are, the more we suspend anything resembling discernment. (Since when did wanting to do the job; in Oprah’s case, coming down from the mountaintop to do the job, replace being able to do the job?)
If Oprah is genuinely interested in using her prestige and pocketbook for the greater good, let her fund some campaigns, hit the trail in support of any number of worthy men and women, or, perhaps, contemplate work on the city council. For starters.
Plus, if we’re looking for a brilliant, morally sound, experienced, and inspirational woman to lead us, we could do a hell of a lot worse than Elizabeth Warren.