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NOprah 2020: Oprah is not Obama

Oprah’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globes captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans. In an important moment for both gender and racial quality, Oprah became the first black woman honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for outstanding achievement in the entertainment industry.

Her speech was then diced up and given new life by millions of viewers reading into her acceptance speech. While recanting her memories of sitting on the linoleum kitchen floor as a child and watching Sidney Poitier winning the Cecil B. DeMille award, and referring to the accomplishments of civil rights activists like Recy Taylor, she was a vision of egalitarianism.

Oprah’s cadence sounded vaguely presidential, at least in terms of what what was seen as “presidential” until November 2016, using long, poetic sentences with utopian imagery, along with something Obama often employed – hope. She sounded presidential in the way that President Obama always managed to – cognizant of past mistakes, but looking towards the future, humble, yet proud.

Condemning sexual misconduct and the patriarchy that allows it, social justice warriors across the globe and across the political spectrum tweeted fervently: “#Oprah2020.”

Who else, they mused, would make a better opponent to Trump in 2020 than Oprah? Immediately, the internet sprang into action with the Oprah2020 hashtag which, in an instant, took a life of its own. Within minutes all of social media was atwitter about a Trump v Oprah race in 2020.


Will we be choosing between a billionaire philanthropist v billionaire businessman in 2020?

The progressives who roll out the same circular anti-Trump arguments of “he’s racist!” “sexist!” “homophobic!” “islamaphobic!” and “collusion!” – rejoiced at the notion of a President Winfrey. Few others, could carry on Barack Obama’s legacy of doing no wrong to his progressive base. Under President Oprah, they hope we would likely see a flourishing of civil rights: an end to the military transgender ban, stricter gun laws, tougher environmental regulations, fewer imposed death penalties – all wins to the everyday progressive.

But, many of us forget that politics encompasses far more than social issues, and the Presidency is a whole lot nastier than the #Oprah2020 folks would like to acknowledge.

Obama had something important that Oprah does not: experience.

Before running for President in 2008, Obama was an Illinois Senator from 2004-2008. He give up his seat to pursue the presidency. Before serving in the Senate, Obama was a member of the Illinois legislature.

Along with his legislative duties, Obama balanced teaching several classes of law at the University of Chicago Law school. He taught courses like ‘Voting Rights and the Democratic Process;’ and ‘Current Issues in Racism and the Law’. He took cases as an attorney during the summer when neither the legislature nor the University of Chicago was in session.

Obama was not a career academic either, and had a strong record of public service in addition to his academic achievements. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, he worked briefly as a financial analyst. When he found that work dissatisfying, he found purpose in community organizing in Chicago for years before going to law school.

But even with 20 years of political experience under his belt, Obama was an outsider in 2008. America was bracing for two solid decades of a Bush or a Clinton in the White House, but Obama promised change and beat out Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. Obama’s victory was carried by the wave of populism that emerged with his candidacy. You could say, America’s been caught in that same tide ever since.

As the nation’s first president with an air of populism around him, Obama sowed division, as populism often does. Obama became a topic central to people’s everyday engagements with one another. Supporting or opposing the President became something of a personality identifier for the first time.

For better or worse, 2016 was the year for outsiders. With Obama, America got a taste of change, but still believed in the limitability of presidential power. We saw the end to decades old political machines in the spotlight: the Bush’s, the Clinton’s – thought to be front – runners in the 2016 election, defeated. 

Suddenly, the insular bubble of neoliberal American politics burst leading to an unforeseen shift in populism again, bringing characters like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders into the political arena.

Trump dominated the right by appealing to the wide conservative white base, and Sanders ignited a frenzy of interest groups, students, and political outsiders – though he failed to win the Democratic Party nomination. The Democratic Party was late to realize the importance of the alienated and disgruntled middle america and they lost the election – and we all became subjects of a Trump presidency.

But how would Oprah stand the nastiness of politics, a Senate which can’t work together and faces a shutdown every year? How would she face a bombing in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, or another country where the US plays war games which kill civilians alongside its terrorist targets. What does Oprah know about global trade, balancing a budget, diplomatic policy, game theory, or healthcare? My guess, very little.

Now the typical anti-Trumper will, by now, feel a little heat rise in their chests, and will stifle the urge to shout at their computer or phone screen – ‘But what does Trump know about any of that, huh?’ And they’re right too.

The the rumors of a Winfrey Presidency may be nothing more than internet chatter. Oprah herself is still denying intentions of running. But the world is a far different place than in 2008, and a Winfrey Presidency doesn’t even seem that unlikely anymore.

Donald Trump proved that Presidents don’t necessarily have to act Presidential, but that doesn’t mean unconventionality or celebrity status should be a qualifier in the presidency.

The strongest candidate against Trump in 2020 will be a political outsider, a populist, like Trump – but Oprah? Do we all really want or need another celebrity candidate? A Trump v Oprah 2020 is not a future I wish to see.


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