DhakaTribune
Thursday February 22, 2018 12:06 AM

The battle of the TV stars

  • Published at 06:17 PM February 10, 2018
  • Last updated at 01:44 PM February 11, 2018
The battle of the TV stars
Who gets the presidency?REUTERS

Will America want another celebrity in the White House next time?

President Trump once said that he could beat Oprah if she ran against him in 2020. But the question is: Is she even up for the fight?

Back then, no one in their wildest dreams thought that the question could be anything serious. But if 2016 has taught us anything, it is that the famous catchphrase “impossible is nothing” stands true.

So, here we are in 2018, with people discussing with all seriousness (some even hoping for) a showdown between the two former TV stars.

If someone were to ask me: Does Oprah have what it takes to be POTUS?  My answer would be that there are three selling points to that end: One is that she is a woman; she would appeal to women voters.

The second is that Oprah Winfrey will appeal to African-Americans as well. It’s pretty clear that if African-Americans had turned out to vote in 2016 in the same proportion they turned out in 2008 and 2012 in certain swing states, Wisconsin in particular, we would not be looking at Donald Trump in the White House right now.

Third, referring to the clip titled “Oprah won’t run in 2020, but I could beat her” — there’s an interesting moment in that clip which shows the difference between Trump and Oprah, because when Trump spoke, one can easily notice it was all about him. Conversely, in her signature show, when Oprah spoke, it’s all about the American people.

The statistics

Undoubtedly, she does have tremendous influence over public opinion. It’s called the Oprah effect — it’s the power of her endorsement to influence public opinion. Three examples (among many) to testify to the Oprah effect are as follows: a) What happened to beef prices after she said she’d never eat another hamburger again because of the mad cow disease? Prices sank to a 10-year low (1996); b) Toni Morrison’s book got a bigger sales boost for Oprah’s endorsement than from being awarded the Noble Prize for Literature; c) the Weight Watchers stock doubled when it was announced that she was buying a 10% stake.

Trump has been unable to get any significant legislation passed. He does not know how to work with congress because of his inexperience and personality, and that in itself is extremely problematic, since the system is designed in a way that requires the president to work with the legislature and be checked by the court system.

Oprah Winfrey does not have such constraints.

Kingmaker or king?

One can recall her ultimate endorsement, which was for Barack Obama when he first ran for president. Oprah said: “The reason I love Barack Obama is because he speaks to the potential inside every one of us, each one of us has a calling and a potential here on Earth to do the good and great thing, and he knows that.”

To that end, I ask: Would she be better placed as the kingmaker rather than king?

It depends.

Linking the past with the present, we all know when Oprah endorsed Obama as she was passionate about Obama’s work and plans throughout his eight years of presidency.

Now, if there is someone who comes out of the Democratic Party, a rising star like Kamala Harris, for example, could be a very powerful combination if she were to be endorsed by Ms Winfrey. But, if no one comes out from within the Democratic Party for presidential nomination, then it means that the party still remains unsettled and divided.

A race at the top

America has always been a country where there is plenty to speculate about celebrities. Even so, it’s not entirely the fault of the celebrity culture that Winfrey’s name is on the cards for the next US presidential elections.

In fact, with the advent of social media, news and fake news travel so fast that illusions are now powerful and common, the audience and spectators in the social media are left confused and hoping for a “Winfrey” presidency.

I do think that when people can’t get a grasp on issues, it opens up the space for illusions to linger. Bearing this in mind, another important aspect I must add regarding Oprah and a potential presidential run is the elephant in the room: Race.

Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed too many unhealed wounds in the US’s race politics — and if Oprah Winfrey was to consider a presidential run, she’s going to have problems with the demographic that brought Trump into office.

Finally, America may get tired of entertaining their news headlines with showbiz presidents.

I suspect the next president voted into power would be more of a technocrat. However, it is still uncertain as to which party is on the rise right now.

Although it is too early to say now, it will certainly be a figure who has demonstrated that he/she can work across the aisle — and, that being said, if Oprah were to run, the Democratic establishment would be salivating to get her on board.

Md Sharif Hasan is a commentator on international politics, and is currently working as a field researcher on behalf of Centre for Genocide Studies (CGS), University of Dhaka.

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