It was the speech heard round the world. Award ceremonies are like that. But this was much more. After Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, the Washington Post, and social media, raised the possibility of Oprah as the next US president.
ABC News anchors proclaimed her speech (in early January) “the speech of 2018” and interviewed a US political scientist about her chances of beating Trump in 2020.
The ability to string a coherent sentence together while opposing gross sexism was enough to distinguish Winfrey from Trump. “In a nine minute speech, Oprah was more presidential than the current occupant of the White House has been for an entire year”, according to Khary Penebaker, a member of the Democratic National Committee.
Winfrey’s affirmation of the need to “maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights” could have been written to describe the Democrats’ predicament.
Averaging 39 percent over the year, Trump’s approval rating is the lowest of any president in their first year in office. And yet the Democrats struggle to get poll numbers any higher than that. In November, they reached their lowest approval rating in 25 years.
The Democrats are desperate to find someone who can defeat Trump. Journalist Micheline Maynard, in an opinion piece for the ABC News website, argued: “The task that Democrats must face [is] finding a seasoned, respected politician who can fire up American voters enough to dislodge Trump from the White House”.
You might have thought that Bernie Sanders’ ability to fire up millions of predominantly young people on an explicitly left wing basis in 2016 would have fitted this bill. But the Democratic machine around Clinton made sure that couldn’t happen, even if it meant they lost the presidency. Winfrey lent her star power to back Clinton.
Oprah fits the Democrats’ framework of providing a safe “B team” for the running of US capitalism much better than Sanders could. As Helen Razer wrote of Winfrey’s speech: “As far as political speeches go, it was empty of politics. Which, perhaps, does make her an ideal Democratic candidate”.
She is qualified in more ways than a “presidential” speech. Oprah has built a fortune (net worth $US3 billion last year) through encouraging us to “live our best life” and “discover our best self”.
As with all self-help gurus, the downside is that failure to do so means you individually haven’t thought positively enough, tried hard enough and so on. All of which is very useful in hiding the structural inequality of capitalism with the rhetoric of individual empowerment. Don’t change the world; change yourself.
As for anything else, vote. The past year in the US has shown remarkable resistance and solidarity against Trump and the emboldened far right. But the first anniversary of the millions-strong Women’s March has been dominated by a national voter registration drive, the #PowerToThePolls campaign, focused on building support for Democratic candidates.
The real power to challenge the right lies with many people taking a stand, not waiting for politicians and liberal organisations to act. And not waiting for Oprah to become president in 2020.