Let’s slow our roll on Oprah 2020

I listened to Oprah Winfrey’s speech during the 75th Golden Globe Awards. It was indeed a powerful and inspiring speech. Oprah had just been awarded the Cecil B. de Mille Award for her impressive career in television and film, and she used her moment to send a powerful message about female empowerment and equality.

And it was a really good speech. In fact, her speech was so good, many are now pondering the prospects of an Oprah 2020 presidential campaign.

Oprah as counter-punch to Trump.

Make no mistake, I think she would be several orders of magnitude better than Trump if for no other reason than she has spent a large portion of her career listening to and then evaluating what others are saying, but I think we would all be wise to take a look at what’s going on here.

Oprah is a TV star. Trump is a TV star. While they both have managed to make an incredible amount of money branding, and then using, their names to promote their business interests, those are not necessarily the skills that translate to good governance in a democracy.

The laundry list of Trump’s flaws is too great to rehash in this post and I’ve written about them already here and here, but Oprah has her own set of issues, particularly her ability to suspend rational thought when it comes to science. From her enormously popular show, Oprah promoted a considerable amount of pseudoscientific quackery and, like a strange pyramid scheme, launched the careers of other pseudoscience peddling quacks.

In addition, Oprah has made that classic theologians’ mistake of presuming to know better than you, how you feel.

A case made starkly clear in 2013 when Oprah challenged her guest, the author, motivational speaker, and long distance swimmer Diana Nyad, on Nyad’s ability to feel wonder and awe. During the Super Soul Sunday interview, Nyad explained to Oprah that belief in god claims is not a prerequisite for experiencing the awe and beauty of the natural world. Oprah then let her prejudice slip through by saying:

“Well I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder, and the mystery, then that is what God is. That is what God is. It’s not the bearded guy in the sky.”

It’s a strange and illogical leap to make, yet one made by many. If Oprah is going to change the meanings of words around to suit her own narrative, then we all need to be on guard. But if that’s the worst of what she does, we would still be in far better shape than we are now.

All of that said, can we not just take a breath? Is it too much to ask that we elect a president who has real policy experience, who is scientifically literate, who understands how government functions, who is not an oligarch, and who is not a brand in and of him…or her…self? Is it too much to ask?

We don’t want to replace one cult of personality with another cult of personality. We should all tread carefully.