Even political junkies must agree: it’s time to slow down. From mainstream media to the insatiable demands of cable TV and social media, the news cycle has gone out of control in the age of Trump. Before the public has a chance to absorb one event, disaster or outrage, another wave of information (or disinformation) sweeps over us.
Just a week ago, the news cycle was obsessed with Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which raised anew questions about Donald Trump’s mental stability. And Trump was tweeting a defence of his presidency, declaring himself to be more than qualified, “a very stable genius at that!”
Really? Whatever gave him that absurd idea?
We may never hear an answer. The news cycle turned on a dime from Trump, the self-proclaimed genius, to Trump, the revealed racist. In the course of a meeting with congressional leaders on immigration policy, he let his guard down, asking why the United States couldn’t take more immigrants from (white) countries like Norway instead from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and just about any country in Africa.
This from the President of the United States, a nation that used to pride itself on its diversity and inclusiveness, a nation where so many ancestors came as immigrants from places that today’s president condemns. The outrage was predictable at home and abroad. “Shocking and shameful,” declared a spokesperson for the United Nations human rights office. In Botswana, an infuriated government summoned the hapless U.S. envoy, demanding to know if their country was on the president’s shithole list.
They will probably never find out, because the news cycle moved on – to the temporarily exciting prospect that Oprah Winfrey might run against Trump in 2020. Last weekend, Winfrey made a barnburner of a speech at the Golden Globes while accepting a lifetime achievement award. The Hollywood A-listers at the awards ceremony were thrilled, so thrilled that serious people, some with serious money, began demanding that Winfrey run for President. She fanned speculation by saying she was “actively thinking” about it.
By midweek, an Oprah 2020 campaign was gathering “Oprahmentum,” and CNN broadcast a poll that showed Winfrey with a double-digit lead in voter preference with 50 per cent of respondents saying they would vote for her, compared to 39 per cent for Trump.
This is silliness writ large. On one level, Winfrey appeals because she is everything Trump is not, being black, female, liberal and Democrat, to Trump’s white, male, conservative and Republican. But on another level, they are the same: rich; no background in electoral politics; and products of a superficial celebrity culture.
Winfrey made her name in the wasteland of daytime television where she gave away cars to members of her audience. Trump made his by firing contestants on camera.
But there is one crucial difference between the two. Trump is a dangerous fool who claims to be a genius, where Winfrey seems to be genuinely smart. Her ego may be on a par with Trump’s, but she is not a charlatan. She is smart enough to know that being famous is not a credential or qualification for being president.
She is smart enough to know that experience counts, to understand that running a nation is not the same as being a television personality, and to appreciate that the gamble American voters took when they elected Trump in November 2016 has turned out to be a disaster. She also knows Americans are not about to risk a similar gamble in 2020.
In a better world, Oprah Winfrey would stop “actively thinking” and announce she has no intention of seeking the White House, not now, not ever. She would devote herself to doing what she does well – that’s being Oprah, a voice of reason in tempestuous times – and be content with being better loved than any politician.
She would do what is within her reach – employ her fame and popularity to influence Washington to use its wealth and power to improve the lives of dispossessed people at home and in the countries that Trump so despises.
Meanwhile, the news cycle races on with Tuesday promising to be another bad literary day for Trump. The publication of “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic” by Canadian-American David Frum, a high-profile speechwriter for former president George W. Bush, will push Winfrey aside, at least until the cycle turns again.