By Nabila Ramdani*
Showbusiness for ugly people is how politics was once humorously described. That covers American president Donald Trump, but now that talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is emerging as his potential successor, the debasement of democracy appears to be almost complete. There was certainly a dramatic plunge when Winfrey used a stirring, Martin Luther King-style speech at the Golden Globes awards ceremony to stake her claim to becoming the next leader of the free world.
“A new day is on the horizon,” said Winfrey in relation to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the determination of Hollywood to end sex crimes following accusations that the director routinely abused women.
Referring to the #MeToo campaign against alleged male attackers, Winfrey added: “When that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.”
There is, of course, very little that is ugly about Winfrey. She has largely devoted her career to the positive and optimistic side of life. The entirely self-made billionaire is said to have given away some $500 million to charity, while also supporting those with all sorts of problems, no matter what their racial, religious or cultural backgrounds.
Disturbingly, however, Winfrey was also a long-time friend and backer of Weinstein. She regularly posed for pictures kissing and cuddling him. The pair worked on numerous projects, including Winfrey making an appearance in The Butler, a movie released by the Weinstein studio as recently as 2013. Beyond the arts, they won awards for their collaborations on educational initiatives, and Winfrey was often Weinstein’s guest at social events.
Kadian Noble, one of the women who has filed a criminal complaint against Weinstein for sexual assault, said Winfrey was “swinging off his arm” when she first met him, and this greatly impressed the young actor. This notion of Winfrey having been a kind of enabler is, of course, firmly denied by the presenter, but she does admit offering Weinstein an interview to talk about his current legal problems.
It would be rash in the extreme to judge Winfrey’s suitability to stand for president in 2020 using an active criminal enquiry. All facts are in dispute, but there is no doubt that she has been close to a number of alpha males linked with sexual misconduct, not least former president Bill Clinton. Those endorsing Winfrey are the same type of liberals who ignore misdemeanors in Clinton’s busy sex life while in office, concentrating solely on Trump’s alleged abuse of women.
Critics accuse Trump of being a cynical populist who is primarily rooting for the very rich, along with racists including Nazi sympathisers and white supremacists. They also say he has no experience of government and instead displays a shallow, often fact-free knowledge of pretty much all important subjects. This, they insist, makes him singularly inept at representing America.
Sadly, all the evidence points to Winfrey also lacking expertise on global trade, world conflicts, tax reform, healthcare financing and many other crucial issues. She may be able to project her essential goodness using bland platitudes thanks to her incredible popularity but, as far as the often mindboggling technicalities of modern governance are concerned, she will be found woefully incompetent.
Rubbishing Winfrey as just another dim celeb would be unfair, but her qualifications to manage a superpower are negligible. Admirably, Winfrey admitted this herself seven years ago, telling an interviewer: “I’m not in any position or qualified to run a country, a city, a town hall meeting.”
Beyond the daytime TV chat and human-interest stories, Winfrey is best known for building a media empire that is based on making billions of dollars. If you believe in the American Dream, and the right of everybody to amass a fortune and shout about it, then this is fine, but surely there is far more to effective government than self-aggrandizement.
Pandering to those who want a Trump vs Winfrey contest would drag US politics to a new low. It would show that the political class is so mediocre that the two governing parties – the Republicans for Trump and the Democrats for Winfrey – now rely on showbiz candidates without forensic minds or a track record in public service that might deem them capable of acting on complex matters such as the global financial system or the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
All that the championing of Winfrey tells us is that celebrity culture is now out of control. It is swamping almost every aspect of public life, and creating a world where the trivial and banal takes precedence.
The absurdity of the current situation was best summed up by Trump himself in 1999. Asked by CNN about the choice of a vice presidential candidate in a potential future race for the top job, Trump immediately replied: “Oprah.” He repeated such a sentiment as recently as 2015. When even Trump wants Winfrey to be elevated to high office by his side, it is perhaps safest to conclude that the whole idea is very ugly indeed.
*Nabila Ramdani is an award-winning French-Algerian journalist, columnist and broadcaster who specializes in French politics, Islamic affairs and the Arab world.
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