On March 6, Oprah visited The Colbert Report to promote her new film, A Wrinkle in Time. During the interview, the host ran a sketch in which he implored God to convince Oprah to run for president in 2020. Considering the role of celebrities in office now and in the past, regardless of Oprah’s status as an inspiration and a leader, she should not be on the 2020 ballot.
Most people thought it was a joke when Donald Trump launched trial balloon after trial balloon, beginning in 1987 with the promotion of his book The Art of the Deal, which tested his likelihood of success in a presidential election. He was a businessman and a reality television star, not a person with any prior knowledge that would lead him to politics. For many people, Trump’s presidency only seemed like a real possibility on election day itself for the same reason that he won: he was entirely inexperienced in the political realm. But, his celebrity and his devotion to change garnered him votes and a place in the West Wing.
Historically, celebrities and boat rockers have disrupted the political process and landed seats in government. Such figures include war heroes like Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as bonafide movie stars like Ronald Reagan. Other, more traditional presidencies have proven more disastrous than these, but arguably not a single one has been as horrendous as that of Donald Trump so far.
Past presidents who were also “celebrities” understood the basics of the job description. Reagan gained experience through his role as governor of California prior to running for president. The war hero presidents understood basics of leadership, diplomacy and strategy. While one could argue the same for Donald Trump – and many did during his presidency, citing his experience making business deals – others could point to his multiple bankruptcies and failures to show that his success came more from television and hiring the right people to support him than from making good decisions on his own.
Now, with Oprah Winfrey throwing her name into the mix for the presidency in 2020, our country must reconsider what we want for the nation heading into the future. While an inexperienced, fresh-minded and inspired newcomer capable of reworking the system sounds like a dream candidate, it is dangerous to normalize the introduction of unprepared stars into America’s leadership. After all, someone unfamiliar with the system is also incapable of changing it for the better without also destabilizing the foundations of democracy and justice.
Oprah has an amazing record of aiding and motivating Americans; she is known for bringing people together and inspiring them through her media presence as well as her philanthropic work. However, her place is not in the Oval Office. Strong social convictions and advocacy for human rights constitute the mission statement of a nonprofit organization, not exactly a presidential platform. While her political efficacy and ability to get people talking about relevant issues is astounding, she herself has always been less inclined to share strong opinions about politics and hot topic issues. Someone as impactful as a television host and social advocate ought to stay in the public eye and use her platform for good. She shouldn’t go after a position she is untrained to fill only because another person did it first (and largely failed).
I don’t want to underestimate a woman who in so many ways defies every expectation for women of color, exceeds typical bounds of generosity and empathy and is overwhelmingly well-liked by Americans. But at this point her career has not prepared her to make the decisions and actions required of president. Her role in the United States is a cultural one: an important one, but not necessarily one that ought to transition into politics.
In light of future elections and the long term reparations of our country, it would be worrisome to have another term of a president inexperienced with the innerworkings of American government. Long term, the indoctrination of celebrity into the executive branch seems risky, and not only in the United States. Similar incidents have occurred elsewhere in the world: Guatemala elected comedian Jimmy Morales in 2015 and suffered an economic blow and political crisis under his leadership. The fact is, celebrity presidents have never been the political leaders who go down in history for accomplishments in their government seats.
As the line between leader in government and leader in media thins, so does the ability of the nation to discern who is genuinely prepared to make decisions that benefit the country. We tend to trust celebrities more than politicians, perhaps due to the fact that celebrities are trained to manage the content about themselves that they release into the public eye. Celebrities are image-based, which makes them wonderful candidates, but not the best executives, compared to those who dedicate themselves to public service. There are honorable people who have dedicated their lives, educations and experience to public service, who understand and are passionate about democracy, who would be better presidents than Oprah if the public gave them a chance.