At a time when the US seems to be wracked by divisive policies, TV’s most famous woman presenter, Oprah Winfrey, nicknamed “O”, delivered an inspiring speech during the 2018 Golden Globe Awards recently. Her speech addressed the state of the American nation past and present, while focusing on her humble upbringing during a time of racial discrimination against African-Americans in the United States.
Judging by the large number of sexual harassment cases that surfaced in the US in 2017, last year could easily be dubbed the “Year of Sexual Harassment”. In her speech, Oprah applauded the women who had come forward and pointed the finger at those in the US entertainment industry who had taken advantage of women, such as film producer Harvey Weinstein. Oprah called upon women in the United States to stand tall and fight for an equal place in the world along with men.
The speech was received with a standing ovation from the celebrity attendees, many of whose lives and successes Oprah has played a part in. The speech also seemed to inspire the whole American nation, and there were calls to nominate her to run on the Democratic Party ticket as president in the 2020 elections. As much as the idea seems enticing to many, from a political standpoint it has a lot of shortcomings that its advocates are overlooking.
The fact that a celebrity can motivate a nation does not alter the fact that politics works within a different set of rules. Whereas an activist places the cause they are fighting for against all other considerations, and most are unwilling to see the other side of the equation, a seasoned politician is obliged to do exactly that.
Being president of the United States involves a lot more than adopting great causes such as women rights, civil liberties and social justice. Since World War II, no American president has been spared the burden of having to order covert operations in a foreign country, a military strike or even declare a fully-fledged war with all the consequences that this has. The US is not a small European country that can afford to be neutral while sharing little or no involvement in the world political theatre. Despite recent recessions in the economy and military spending, the US remains a superpower with all the burdens that comes with it.
Moreover, just like many other celebrities before Oprah who have got involved in politics, the moment she decides to step into the political battle for the presidency she will lose half of her fans who support Republican Party or other candidates. During these divisive times that America is witnessing, people tend to be overtly emotional about the causes they adopt to the extent that they are willing to part ways with their own friends and family over political disputes. There have even been reported cases of divorce over the disputes about presidential nominees.
Furthermore, if it was not for the lack of other Democratic Party candidates Oprah would not have been considered to run. She is an outsider in political circles despite her great status and achievements. However, as the Democrats suffered from a critical blow with the victory of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in the last presidential elections, when Clinton looked the obvious winner, the party is now scrambling for more options, including unorthodox ones such as Oprah Winfrey.
Many believe that if a controversial billionaire such as Donald Trump, whose fame stems not simply from being rich but also from being a TV personality, can win the presidency, why not a billionaire like Oprah, who has been a TV personality over the past three decades and has engaged in many humanitarian and social activities.
Alas, it is highly unlikely that Oprah will be the woman who can win the United States presidency, even with her humanitarian side that surpasses many other activists. This does not mean that a politician should not possess a humanitarian side — it would be great if this could be combined with pragmatic political skills. However, in the case of Oprah, her humanitarian nature would impede her ability to take drastic measures during times of war or threats against the country.
Would Oprah launch a retaliatory attack on another country if the US was attacked? As president she would hold the codes for the US nuclear arsenal. Would she know how to use them?
Over the past two decades, the American political spectrum has been suffering from the implications of radical shifts between far-left and far-right political rhetoric. This rift has narrowed the ground for moderates and centrists to work effectively together nationwide. The two ends of the spectrum vilify each other, leaving the majority of the nation in distress and oblivious about what the future may hold for them.
Oprah would serve her country and the world in a much greater fashion if she decided to continue her path as a great philanthropist, humanitarian and activist who inspires women and men alike in the United States and beyond.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly