Oprah vs Trump in 2020?

An Oprah vs Trump election season is any TV executive’s dream.

Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey attending the Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks match at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey on June 27 1988 [File: Jeffrey Asher/ Getty Images]
Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey attending the Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks match at the Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey on June 27 1988 [File: Jeffrey Asher/ Getty Images]

Oprah, Democrats have turned their lonely eyes to you.

Still smarting from somehow forfeiting the White House to a popular TV celebrity, bruised and bemused Democrats are longing, it seems, for another popular TV celebrity to win it back soon.

So, the chatter about President Oprah has begun in earnest and could, in time, gather inexorable momentum. It’s fitting that a forgettable evening devoted to celebrating ephemeral stardom may be remembered for launching Oprah 2020.

That Oprah accepted a trinket named after a staunchly Republican film director was an unacknowledged footnote to her acceptance speech that prompted giddy Democrats in Hollywood and beyond, including Meryl Streep, to begin to dream the impossible dream.

To be sure, Oprah’s fluent address at the Golden Globe ceremony earlier this week was an antidote to the daily and depressing digest of crass, illiterate musings of a president who re-affirmed his signature repugnancy by lamenting that the US welcomes too many black immigrants from shitholes” in Africa and Haiti, and not enough from lily-white Norway.


Still, the juxtaposition of an eloquent, African American female TV star contesting the presidency against a decrepit, white, male TV star has now taken on even more political potency and it could prove irresistible to Democrats thirsting to deliver a decisive and ever so satisfying comeuppance to Mr “Grab them by the p****” just over the political horizon.

The clash of TV titans would make, of course, for compelling viewing too. Oprah and Trump – two household brand names who leveraged a keen understanding of the visceral allure of television into fame and fortune – facing off in a gripping series to secure America’s most treasured and illusive rose.

Imagine the celestial-bound ratings. Television executives surely do. The same US cable “news” executives who happily enabled an avowed, but endearingly brash, racist’s ascendency to the Oval Office are, no doubt, slobbering at the prospect of an Oprah vs Trump showdown on the Potomac.

The appetising ingredients of the ultimate reality-TV extravaganza are within tantalising reach. Combine two billionaire cultural icons with marquee-sized personalities and the combustible mixture of race, politics and gender. Then, package the choreographed Punch and Judy show during prime-time across America for month after glorious month. It’s tantamount to a cable news executive’s wet dream.

And the same cable news executives will, once again, camouflage their myopic glee over the prospective battle of the megastars behind sober-sounding tripe about serving the “public” interest and “responsible” journalism.  

Trump greeted news of Oprah’s nascent presidential ambitions with his trademark smirk, while reminding us that she had the Trump clan on her show not too long ago. He snorted that he would beat her soundly.  

Undeterred, Oprah signalled, via surrogates on and off TV, her brewing desire to become president, despite demurring in the past that she possessed the resume to be the head of a television network, not the head of state.  

Apparently and, not surprisingly, her reservations quietly evaporated soon after Trump’s shocking victory.

Oprah has the money, the telegenic talent, a devoted constituency and a stock, inspirational rags-to-riches backstory. With caveats, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton employed the same shopworn playbook to become commander-in-chief.

If you want to become president tomorrow, you better be a TV star today.

The popular, largely, but not exclusively, chauvinist critique is that Oprah lacks the knowledge and governing experience to assume the presidency and that her potential candidacy is, in the pernicious age of Trump, further evidence of the dangerous “degradation” of US politics.

The inherent implication is that the “degradation” of American political and civic discourse that has given “populist” rise to President Trump and the disquieting notion – in “elite” commentariat quarters – of President Oprah, is a relatively new phenomenon. It isn’t.

Noam Chomsky has long and persuasively explained that neo-liberal policies practised and championed by elites along America’s razor-narrow political and media spectrum, have, by design, hoarded wealth and power among ruling oligarchs. Dismissed, denigrated and disenfranchised, the US electorate holds existing discredited political institutions in contempt.

In this cynical, self-serving context, the emergence of so-called “populists” who seek to harness the pervasive anger and discontent for parochial political dividends is a natural consequence.

Oprah would likely position herself as the anti-Trump by simply exporting the kinder, gentler, charitable personality she has cultivated throughout her lengthy and fabulously successful career on TV into the political arena.

An accomplished actress, Oprah would also be adept at fulfilling the institutional prerequisite of any president to “act presidential” when the situation and the times demand it. In this regard, at least, Oprah has oodles of performing experience and know-how.

By these measures, Oprah would, undeniably, make for a formidable political adversary and candidate who could certainly attract broad, enthusiastic support throughout America, perhaps including from her loyal fans, Michelle Obama and her husband.  

Oprah’s detractors, who claim that the presidency is a serious job reserved for “serious” people, not only pine for a return to a time and place in US politics that no longer exists, but have clearly forgotten two presidents who ought to disabuse anyone of this nostalgic poppycock: Ronald Reagan and George W Bush.

The stubborn fact remains: If you want to become president tomorrow, you better be a TV star today.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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