Heather Mallick: 'Oprah 2020' fever proves the U.S. hasn’t learned its lesson
Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech on Sunday night was a blast of feeling, writes Heather Mallick. She would make a splendid preacher— but that's not what the U.S. needs.
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The notion of “President Oprah” — after the former talk-show host made a rousing speech on one of those endless Hollywood awards shows — is a solid whack at the belief that Americans are actually learning the hard lessons of having elected President Trump.
That belief was precious to me. It was my secret dream, my treasure, my little coddled egg. Don’t impeach him too fast, my American friends, I thought. Like an alcoholic, you may have to hit lower than rock bottom — the Proterozoic Era perhaps — lest you again elect a populist with a talent for coating money-hunger in cheap phrase-making and emotional honey.
People I read and respect are actually saying of an Oprah candidacy, “Hmmm, it’s an idea.” That’s what a toddler thinks before she swallows a disc battery. I’m ashamed for them. Canadians don’t like ostentation, but Americans do grovel before the rich and gaudy.
Despite Winfrey’s on-air skills, her genuine acting talent, and her rags-to-riches life story, she is a huckster much like Trump, albeit one with emotional intelligence and great personal charm. Her show was lowbrow, daft, and often dangerous, displaying Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccination campaign and handing out free cars to a studio audience that was later stunned to discover the gift was taxable.
Her worst campaign was for The Secret, a 2006 self-help book by a Rhonda Byrne that posited that wanting things very badly makes them appear. “We attract into our lives the things we want,” Byrne said. Think positively because, as Oprah.com explains, “our thoughts are the most powerful things we have.”
What Winfrey’s guests wanted, apparently, was to get fantastically rich and/or lose weight. Her audience lapped it up. The book sold 20 million copies, making poor people want very badly to be rich, failing, and being told it was their own fault for not wanting it enough.
Winfrey is worth $3.9 billion. She is “living her best life,” owning at least eight palatial homes and a private jet. Her Montecito, Calif. mansion on a huge estate, worth $110 million, is called The Promised Land, after Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration the day before he was murdered, that “we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” She took a stirring phrase and turned it into “we’ll get invited to Oprah’s house.”
For all that I enjoyed Winfrey’s grand Golden Globe speech, it was dotted with therapyspeak — incredible, speaking your truth, empowered — and more crucially, it misunderstood what #metoo is. It’s not really about “speaking your truth,” it’s about surviving at work and earning equal pay while not being demeaned or assaulted.
In fact, I would urge individual women not to “speak their truth,” I want them to speak “the” truth, and maybe not if it will get them fired, to use Trump’s favourite word. American women need a legal approach to sexual harassment, one that makes it a crime and offers redress.
Winfrey’s speech was a blast of feeling. She would make a splendid preacher but that is not what the U.S. needs.
It needs an intelligent, highly educated, understated president who understands both the general and specific nature of governing and who will redesign tax rates to lessen inequality.
She or he must know how to cope with or even fight climate change, manage immigration chaos, restore and expand medical care, fund pharmacare, find $4.6 trillion to repair decayed infrastructure, mandate paid family leave, restore women’s health funding, apologize to the nations Trump insulted, appoint judges and hire government workers and make thousands of other repairs that chat-show hosts won’t have dreamed of because they’re boring and meticulous.
Trump is an idiot regarded by his base as a fountain of common sense. He sends out daily threats along with messages of fragility, incoherence and hate. His staff is now desperately figuring out how to please him by waging a teeny nuclear war on North Korea.
Winfrey, on the other hand, is a positive thinker mistaken for a sage. She would offer the U.S. a vast surge of emotion rather than thoughts, and a motley collection of crackpot theories. The main difference between her and Trump is that she is a nicer person. But so is Ivanka, so is that little rat Sean Spicer, so is a Maine lobster.
President Oprah is a terrible idea and I will try to wash it from my mind.