On Sunday—less than a week ago, which somehow feels like 10 years ago—Oprah gave a nice speech at the Golden Globes, and people lost their fucking minds.
Though Winfrey did not say that she was running for office, or that she had some public policy ideas, or that she was planning on giving other, similar speeches, the media reacted with the adrenalized zeal of a lovesick Rom-Com cliché, who makes eye contact with a handsome stranger across a room and, within minutes, has already mentally picked out their wedding china. What would her imagined campaign look like? What would her imagined victory look like? What’s an imaginary way to argue against her imaginary candidacy? TV stars running for office have already screwed the country up; she should be imaginary ashamed of herself.
Oprah is a singular figure, a black woman who has made billions from nothing and managed to do it without pillaging the environment like a Koch brother or trapping millions in hopeless poverty like a Walton. She traffics in inspiration. Having a president who doesn’t drive every late-night comedian and journalist insane with rage would be nice.
But at the same time, the embrace of Oprah’s imaginary candidacy ignored some key parts of Winfrey’s career. It hasn’t been all car giveaways and favorite things. She’s also introduced the American public to some questionable science and quackery during her long career.
Oprah championed Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book that touts the value of positive thinking and claims that its readers can attract wealth to themselves by imagining it. At best, the book is little more than a way bored people convince themselves that they are magically attracting good fortune. But at its worst, it can cause real harm. One devoted fan of both Oprah and The Secret decided she would use the book’s magical thinking to cure herself of cancer. Even after Oprah had her on her show in an attempt to talk her out of foregoing western medicine, the woman died of cancer in 2010.
Oprah’s show provided a platform for Jenny McCarthy to spread falsehoods about the link between vaccination and autism, a pervasive and dangerous myth that has led to small outbreaks of such old-timey diseases as the whooping cough.
And the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls in South Africa made headlines shortly after opening in 2007, when an administrator was accused of physically and sexually abusing girls.
None of these things disqualify Winfrey from being President, but they are serious concerns that a serious press should have considered before losing their shit after a Cecil B. DeMille award acceptance speech.
I’ve thought a lot about why the press and public went so nuts on Sunday. I’ve thought about it as I’ve mopped up tracked-in muddy sidewalk snow from my kitchen floor, as the nights seem endless and the days seem short, as I’ve ordered my first ever seasonal depression lamp from Amazon and tracked it online, impatient. (After I got it, I never opened the box. It’s just sitting there. The promise of one day opening it means that no day is completely without purpose.) I’ve thought about it as my normally voracious appetite for the self-serious stupidity of news and politics has waned and turned to a tightness in my chest, a sour taste in my mouth.
I’m not alone. On Thursday, the Boston Globe’s Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Matt Viser echoed my ennui, tweeting “President Trump wakes up. He watches TV. He tweets. Everyone not paid by Trump goes, ‘Huh!?!’ White House: C’mon. The tweets don’t actually mean what they actually say! Everyone spends the day discussing how absurd WH claims are. Sleep. Wake up. Repeat. Day after day after day.”
The news hasn’t been fun in the traditional sense for a long time. But it seemed like, for awhile there, I had gotten used to the stink. But I’m so tired. We’re all so tired. Paying attention to this president is like being on a Merry Go Round that never stops, and keeps turning faster and faster, and the only thing I’ve ingested in the last 24 hours is cotton-candy flavored vodka, which, in this metaphor, I have drank on a dare. I’m sick of looking at all the horses, I’m sick of the other people on the ride.
Or how about this: this presidency feels like being forced to watch the worst movie in the world, written by the stupidest writer and acted by the least likable actors and worst-dressed actors playing the same scene over and over again, but I have to pay attention, because at the end there will be a test, and if I don’t pass the test, I’m convinced that people will die. It’s both stupid and terrifying.
Which brings me back to Oprah. The public’s desire to run conjecture all the way to the end zone didn’t come from a place of ignorance. I don’t believe that it’s naïveté either. It’s a form of self-preservation.
I think we’re all so fucking sick of thinking about our stupid lump of a president and his squad of ingrates, so tired of conjecturing all the possible ways in which he will hurt people or screw things up, that we need Oprah. We need something, anything, to give us temporary relief from the slog. Spending a few days debating a fan theory about Oprah was to the general public what a mirage is to a man dying of thirst in the desert. We know it’s probably not real, but we need its promise to keep going.
It’s easy to pooh pooh over-earnest takes on why Oprah would be a great president, or why Oprah represents everything wrong with American democracy. But everything that has happened since the Winfrey-driven news cycle—sh*thole-gate, Stormy-gate, a frazzled Paul Ryan explaining FISA warrants to Congress in the same tone I use to tell my cat not to drink out of the toilet—has been so much dumber.
I hope Oprah further stokes rumors of a nascent political career. We all desperately need a new thing to worry about. If I hear one more cheeto joke or self-righteous pundit monologue that reads like a shitty Sorkin script knockoff, I will shatter my SAD lamp with my fist.