In (reluctant) defence of Oprah 2020

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
Meanjin /
January 10, 2018 /

Click here to view original /

In 2015, there was a cashed-up candidate driving around the poorest areas of Mexico in a Batmobile. Not that the tenancy of a reality TV star in the White House doesn’t aptly illustrate the politics/celebrity-fusion scourge, but there’s something particularly captivating about the involvement of a Batmobile.

It’s been a long while since we were encouraged to vote for our betters. For people who are wiser than us, who are greater visionaries. Postmodernism has won and apparently there are no longer agreed-upon definitions for words let alone wants.

Today too many of us are entering the polling booth with the bizarrest of laundry lists. How familiar are we with a candidate’s name? To what extent does this person entertain us? Can we imagine enjoying a beer/coffee/turmeric latte with them?

We’d be hard-pressed agreeing on appropriate criteria to evaluate a candidate—on how much policy acumen we demand—and we’d be equally hard-pressed settling on the best kind of candidate CV. In Australia, lawyers and union officials have long dominated elected office. Are such backgrounds more suited to public service than, say, professional skiers? News anchors? Footballers? Does being good at business translate to being good in politics? Does being good at politics equate to being good at running the country? Can we even agree on what a well-run country would look like?

The celebrification of politics has—among other social and cultural calamities—led to Donald Trump’s ascendency to the White House. There’s plenty wrong with this but if I were to pick the worst bit, it’s that American progress on gender and race issues has gone backwards. A neo-sexism and neo-racism have come into vogue, cushioned by shoddy data and well-groomed lady spokespeople. And sure, consequently we’ve seen a kicked-in-the-pants Left become more mobilised, but that’s one pretty inadequate concession prize.

I am of the belief that Trump needs to go. While I’d delight in impeachment, institutionalisation or even alien abduction, the US Constitution dictates that should such a wonderful occurrence transpire, we’ll just get Pence. Be careful what you wish for: the current VP stirs a faith-based ideology into all that is Trumpian. Jesus. Christ.

Trump needs to be voted out in the 2020 election. Which means that the candidate with the best chance of trouncing him needs to be selected.


I’ve never been a fan. I’m not sure if it’s Oprah the woman I dislike so much as Oprah the enterprise, Oprah the juggernaut. Oprah the endorser of ‘doctors’ Phil and Oz. Oprah with all the weight loss journeys and all the bloody yelling. The self-help industry—one that has long had Oprah at its helm—has forever made me roil.

So why am I championing the possibility of such a run?

I’ve been in the US for a couple of months. Whenever I feel my safety is not in jeopardy, I initiate conversations with locals about politics. An Uber driver recently talked me through his 2016 decision-making process. His values aligned with Hillary’s. Completely. So very sure he was that she’d win he voted for Trump. Just to see what would happen.

I was one of the majority of political scientists who didn’t predict the 2016 election result. In my defence, how on earth do any of us account for voting behaviour that is, to put it mildly, batshit crazy? This fact underpins my support for Oprah.

A slew of Americans are harbouring heightened anti-government and anti-intellectualist views. American exceptionalism is as fervent as ever. The yen for politicians who entertain us—who are interesting and newsworthy and who offer up ‘genius’ cliff-hangers—is as potent as ever.

And I could sit here and ask Americans to take a greater interest in civics, in history, in the world outside their own towns. But the poison is in the well, and telling Americans that they need to damn well swallow some bitter medicine is unlikely to get Trump out of the White House. Au contraire.

The nature of the US political system means that there is no Opposition Leader. In the absence of one, there are ongoing attempts to elevate someone—anyone—informally to that role to personify The Alternative. I could sit here and champion Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or even Bernie Sanders as potential contenders for 2020. Except that they’re all politicians. They’re all part of a manufactured ‘class’ that a swathe of Americans don’t think speak to their concerns. I can’t select one of these folks as the bitter pill that Americans—for their own bloody good—should swallow. I can’t advise Democrats to take the higher ground–to articulate a resounding no to celebrification and no to allowing the least experienced candidate get the job–and sacrifice four years to some grand political statement. If getting Trump out of the White House is our priority, then Democrats need to give themselves the best chance of achieving this.

Just as Hillary and Trump were never equivalent candidates—all the ‘bad as each other’ malarkey was just one hell of a filthy cop out—Oprah is miles ahead of Trump in terms of intellect and capacity to inspire.

Oprah has been in the homes of more Americans than Trump ever will. No candidate will ever achieve Oprah’s level of name recognition. If voters need a genuine ‘American’ pulling-oneself-up-by-the-bootstraps straps story, Oprah’s self-made-billionaire tale is one that’s both real and which doesn’t come with a hefty inheritance from daddy, nor for that matter, white male privilege. Oprah’s ability to give a stirring, soaring speech reminds us of the appeal of those politicians who we quote with reverence rather than mock mercilessly in memes. And Oprah’s philanthropic track record happily doesn’t centre on buying paintings of herself for her golf courses.

Not to mention that the time for a female American head of state is long overdue and there’s probably no climate more perfect—nor greater enthusiasm—to put women to work cleaning up the detritus left by men.

In light of the current state of American politics, in our desperate need to trample Trump in 2020, I’d argue, with a heavy-heart, that Oprah gives us our best chance.

© Lauren Rosewarne 2018