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Paul Vallely: Don’t dismiss an Oprah presidency

12 January 2018

The talk-show host has qualities that Trump lacks, says Paul Vallely


Oprah Winfrey at the 75th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, in California

Oprah Winfrey at the 75th Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, in California

AFTER President Donald Trump, will we get President Oprah Winfrey, serious commentators, here and in the United States, have asked, after her rousing speech at the Golden Globes was interpreted as a barely coded attack on President Trump. Meryl Streep and other Hollywood “liberalati” whooped with delight. Bookmakers slashed the odds on President Winfrey in two years’ time.

It is easy to see the logic. Celebrity got President Trump elected for the Republicans. Now the Democrats need a telegenic and charismatic celebrity for next time. Ms Winfrey, who had formerly scoffed at the idea that she might run, became more ambiguous. Previously, she had assumed that she was unqualified; then Trump made it “clear you don’t need government experience to be elected President of the United States”.

There was once an old-fashioned notion that you needed to have some kind of record of public service to run for President. President Trump disabused us of that myth by campaigning without any evident grasp of public policy or the mechanics of government. Indeed, he turned his ignorance into an electoral advantage.

Ms Winfrey could claim to be a little better qualified. She does not just run a sizeable media empire, which has made her America’s first black female billionaire: her extensive philanthropic donations of hundreds of millions of dollars to build schools and houses for poor people in the US and Africa must have given her some understanding of education and housing policy. And, unlike President Trump, who was given a silver-spoon start in life by his millionaire father, Ms Winfrey has authentic humble roots and a rags-to-riches biography, which have given her the ability to connect with the working-class voters whom the Democrats lost under Hillary Clinton.

President Trump has changed the political narrative in several ways. His brazen lies and boasts that celebrity allowed him to grab women’s genitals clearly did not put off voters who felt that he shared their wider values. If he can be elected because of, rather than despite, his racism and misogyny, why should Ms Winfrey not be elected for the inclusion, tolerance, and social concern that she represents for the US public?

President Trump has made a virtue out of polarisation, but it has come back to bite him in the form of a new book by Michael Wolff claiming to tell the inside story of the first year of his presidency. It is, President Trump says, a “fake book”, in the same way as any critical media coverage is dismissed as “fake news”. He tweeted: “Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book.” Yet, even if some of detail in the book might be unreliable, overall it rings true, critics say; one replied that President Trump’s tweet merely confirmed “the narrative that you’re an impulsive, childish dimwit”.

The notion that the truth somehow triumphs over accuracy is part of the Trump legacy. Perhaps the installation of Ms Winfrey in the White House might just be another.

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