Before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump became their parties’ nominees for the presidency in 2016, I wrote a column about how delightful it would be to see a Donald Trump-Oprah Winfrey smackdown. Television personality versus television personality. Lack of government experience versus lack of government experience. Wealthy business person/celebrity versus wealthy business person/celebrity. It would have been a mano a mano contest, but with huge fault lines running along race, gender and, dare I say, character and compassion.
I wasn’t all that serious about it, but over a year later, here we are: Trump will be up for re-election in 2020, and serious people are discussing Winfrey as a viable candidate to run against him. Who’da thunk? We really have become a celebrity culture, through and through.
I believe that Trump might very well be a moron, and I do like and respect Winfrey. But I am uncomfortable with this trend of salivating over people – who have charisma, and who connect well with audiences, no doubt about it – to run our government. I’m not saying they are completely unqualified. I’m just saying that I wish they were more so.
Being something of a politics junkie, I am continually surprised by how little I know about how government operates: arcane Senate rules, the role of staffers, what various agencies and departments are responsible for, etc.
It’s a labyrinth of policies and procedures, norms and customs, dos and don’ts. I sound like a small-government advocate bemoaning how overly complex, bureaucratic and bloated the federal government is, but I’m not. I believe the role government plays in our collective lives is valuable and important. But it is also diverse and tricky, and, in my view, being likable or well-known isn’t enough to manage the whole enchilada.
The election of Donald J. Trump proved that anyone can become president of the United States. In a general sense, I suppose that’s a good thing, and it certainly opens the door for someone like Winfrey to put her hat in the ring.
But Trump’s election proved only that anyone can win the presidency. He has yet to prove that he can effectively assume the role and the responsibilities that come with it, and in the end, he may become the poster child for how reckless we Americans were to have put our faith in a political outsider who had no idea how to wield – with dignity and discernment – the immense powers he was given.
Winfrey would be different. She reads, she is demonstrably thoughtful and compassionate, and she doesn’t have any children to whom she can offer plum advisory roles for which they are completely unqualified.
But not having President Trump’s personal attributes is a low bar for such high office. And yet, Democratic heavy-hitters like Joe Biden who have spent their entire adult lives in politics and government might place only a distant second next to Winfrey’s megawatt star power in a primary race. That doesn’t seem right to me. What other industry – business, sports, academia – would actually want its CEO, coach, manager or president to have the title precisely because (and not despite the fact) he or she is a neophyte?
Politics mirror the times we live in, and who we are as a nation. Currently, we are in a state of flux, maybe even transforming into something new and unheard of. If the Trump-Winfrey showdown does indeed occur, it will be a showstopper. Interest will be intense, ratings will be huge. Is that a good thing?