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The Celebrity Candidate Controversy

Trump, Oprah, and why celebrity politics need to stop

Image credit to The Washington Post.

Image credit to The Washington Post.

Oprah Winfrey accepting the Cecille B. DeMille award at the 2018 Golden Globes awards.

Kira Downs, Satellite High School

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The 2018 Golden Globes ceremony was many things at once: an awards show, a protest that signaled that “Time’s Up” on Hollywood’s blasé attitude towards sexual misconduct, a celebration of the strong and talented women in the industry, and, as some perceived it, the rise of a new presidential candidate. Widespread frustration with the choices made by President Donald Trump and awe for the speaking prowess of Cecille B. DeMille award recipient Oprah Winfrey sparked an online revolution, with headlines ranging from “Oprah Winfrey Golden Globes speech fills presidential void” to “Oprah for president is a preposterous idea.” While the thought of an Oprah presidency was first introduced as a joke by host Seth Meyers, along with his vice president pick, actor Tom Hanks, the movement has gained legitimacy through those who genuinely endorse Oprah as a candidate, and the fact that Oprah’s longtime partner, Stedman Graham, told the Los Angeles Times that “it’s up to the people. She would absolutely do it.” This national attention towards her presidential chances begs the question: Would an Oprah presidency, or the presidency of any TV personality or celebrity, be a good idea for the future of the United States?

On the one hand, you’d be hard-pressed to find people in America who genuinely dislike Oprah. Her numerous philanthropic endeavors, activism, outgoing nature, and inspirational speaking combine to form a woman who should be revered and celebrated by our country. Furthermore, her impassioned speech at the Golden Globes touched the nation and rightfully earned a standing ovation, with her ode to the late Recy Taylor, her anaphoric repetition of “their time is up,” and her battle cry to young girls affirming “that a new day in on the horizon!” Yes, it is certainly hard to deny that likable, well spoken, and influential are all boxes that Oprah Winfrey checks off, and boxes that any presidential candidate should check off. However, this is not where my opposition to an Oprah presidency lies; it lies in the notion that being a well known celebrity can serve as a prerequisite for holding the highest office in the nation.

It was entertaining when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kanye West teased the idea of running for president, simply because of how improbable and ludicrous their chances seemed. But, the election of Donald Trump, former host of Celebrity Apprentice who, prior to his actual presidency, fit the definition of celebrity much more closely than the definition of politician, was a wake-up call to America that yes, with a well-targeted campaign, a celebrity can be elected president. Because Trump has aligned himself closely with the Republican, conservative side of the country, a faction of liberal Democrats have latched on to Oprah Winfrey as the one person who can take the country by storm the way Trump did in 2016, ultimately defeating Trump in a 2020 race.

As someone who is looking toward the future of the country, I find this notion to be entirely hypocritical. By throwing our hypothetical votes behind the first charismatic TV billionaire that shares our values, are we not ceding the position that many critics of Trump’s presidency have maintained: that said billionaire TV personalities are not automatically qualified to serve as the head of the United States government? Is the bar truly so low that charisma is the golden ticket to the White House?

Because the position of president is a combination of the roles of both Head of State and Head of Government, it is easy to forget that the ceremonial chief public representative is the same person who possesses the nuclear codes, has the ability to declare war, and can veto laws. Are these responsibilities we are willing to bestow upon a celebrity lacking any political experience? If Oprah, or any other celebrity, for that matter, desired a career in politics, I would not be against them beginning their career in a less important position, and building their way up to an executive position through hard work and learning the ins and outs of politics. But, by supplying a direct link from celebrity to president, we are disqualifying the importance of this position by indicating that it can be earned on fame alone.

Fervor for Oprah to run on a Democratic ticket also stems from the perception that the Democratic Party will be experiencing a dearth of strong candidates to oppose Trump’s 2020 reelection bid, or desire for a woman to finally break the proverbial glass ceiling, especially a feminist woman of color. I point these skeptics towards the up-and-comers within the Democratic Party. With numerous comparisons to the early career of former president Barack Obama, California senator Kamala Harris is widely regarded as a possible frontrunner, along with New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey senator Cory Booker, and many others. The difference between these candidates and Oprah Winfrey? Years of political experience that celebrity candidates like Oprah simply cannot provide.

This is not an attack on Oprah Winfrey. Oprah has been a staple of our culture since I was born, and her speech was masterfully crafted and delivered with aplomb in the most relevant political climate. Simply put, I admire Oprah immensely and think she is one of the most respectable celebrities today. This is not even an attack on Donald Trump. This is an attack on the political landscape we have created, in which we feel that just because a wealthy, famous celebrity with a knack for oration shares our values, they are automatically presidential material. 2020 will be the first year I, along with hundreds of other Satellite students, will be able to cast my vote in a presidential race, and the thought of casting my first vote on a Trump/Pence vs. Winfrey/Hanks ballot is not a pleasant one. What America needs in the future is an experienced candidate equipped with the knowledge and skill to guide the country through the highs and the lows of their four years in office, regardless of party. Not a celebrity.

Read the original column here

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