'Oprah Could Win' Derangement Syndrome
People familiar with my work know that I've written for Bernie Goldberg's website (among other publications) for quite a while. What they may not know is that I also help manage some of his social media. Well, "help manage" only in the sense that I share some of the latest columns featured on his site through his official accounts.
It's a simple process that requires little effort.
With that authority, however, comes a source of personal amusement: the spontaneous flooding of my email inbox with social-media notifications whenever Bernie appears on national television to weigh in on whatever political stories are occupying the current news cycle.
These emails are spawned by people's online real-time reactions to whatever Bernie had just said. And as you can probably guess, the sentiment isn't always along the lines of "Bernie, you are awesome!" and "I'm going to name my first born after you!"
No, as is often the case with the Internet (especially when the topic is politics), people make their voices heard to express outrage. Outrage over someone they like being criticized. Outrage over someone they don't like being credited. Outrage over hearing viewpoints that don't reflect their own. Outrage over not having their partisan biases confirmed. Outrage, outrage, outrage!
In Bernie's case, the vast majority of that outrage (at least in the past few years) has come from loyal supporters of Donald Trump.
It was at its worst during the 2016 election, when Bernie was a frequent guest on Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor. Bill O'Reilly's show was the highest-rated cable-news program for many years. So whenever Bernie spoke, somewhere between three and five million people were listening. And if he so much as offered even a mild criticism of Trump (mixed in with other thoughts on other news items), hundreds — sometimes thousands — of Trumplicans would race to their computers or pick up their smartphones to deliver immediate online retribution.
My poor inbox. But like I said, it was kind of amusing.
Unsurprisingly, these people rarely argued against (or even addressed) the substance of Bernie's points. Instead, their inclination was to issue personal insults, or call into question his professional credientials. Many of the responses were remarkably similar in nature, to the point where I decided to pin an "Angry Trump Fan Reference Guide" to the top of Bernie's Facebook page. Its purpose was to serve as a comprehensive response to the Trump Train, as well as a catchall for the most profanity-laced comments (so I could later delete them in one spot, as opposed to from under each individual posting).
In fact, the chart is still in place, where it continues to function as intended:
Once Fox News dropped O'Reilly, and Bernie switched over to the network's daytime shows, the deranged fervor of keyboard assailants subsided quite a bit. After all, with fewer viewers and a more laid-back format, it stands to reason that you're not going to get as much feedback in general.
But last Friday morning, something big happened. My inbox exploded with notifications. Bernie's Twitter mentions went though the roof — we're talking Factor-level zeal! Someone even told me that Bernie's name was trending for a while, though I missed it.
Nearly every response was from a Trump supporter.
Mixed in with text descriptions of maniacal laughter, screams of "liberal!", and demands that he be fired, were lots of charges that Bernie was mentally unstable.
"Bernie Goldberg has lost his mind."
"Have you gone MAD?"
"Bernard is extremely delusional. He needs meds right away!!"
"I think this guy has dementia!"
Your brain has turned completely to cabbage you're ready for a facility with steel doors and no windows."
It seemingly went on forever.
One guy was even so upset by what he'd heard that he endorsed physical violence against Bernie:
"You will be beat up by someone someday for your stupidity. You just don't understand what you did. It's best that you run and hide. Where you are going is putting you in a bad place no one really comes back from or recovers. Enjoy this advice. It's real. It's not me you need to worry about. It's them."
'Wow, what did Bernie say?' I thought to myself, before reporting the dopey commenter to Facebook.
As it turned out, the big hullabaloo wasn't even over something he'd said about Trump (not directly anyway). The remark was about Oprah Winfrey.
Appearing on America's Newsroom with Bill Hemmer, Bernie said that he doesn't believe Oprah will run for president in 2020, but if she does, he thinks she would win.
Yes, that was the statement that caused an Internet riot. Oh, the humanity!
It's almost as if there wasn't any precedence (at least that these people had heard of) for a charismatic billionaire businessperson/television-celebrity, with no political experience, running for president and actually winning.
Let's state the obvious: a successful Oprah presidential run may have been an outlandish notion prior to the 2016 election, but now? How can anyone who's paid an inkling of attention to recent U.S. history find the utterance of such a scenario to be grounds for mental evaluation?
Fortunately, a number of people responding to Bernie included their rationale for exactly why his proclamation was off-the-charts wacky. Here's one of them:
"I'll tell you this, if she were to run, she'd already be toast. Too many pictures of her and Weinstein are existent on the Internet, plus she'd be a miss for the 'family groups' ('Why won't you marry Stedman?')."
In fact, quite a few Trump supporters cited those photos of Oprah and Harvey Weinstein mingling at different events (and have been doing so all over social media), while claiming that the association would keep Winfrey from running. Strangely, however, none of these people mentioned anything of the photos out there of Trump himself (and members of his family) yucking it with up Weinstein at similar events. Do those not count for some reason?
Maybe the issue is that Oprah was closer to Weinstein personally than Trump was, which is demonstrably true. But didn't Trump have his own sexual-assailant buddy in Mike Tyson? After all, Trump was a friend and advocate for Tyson even after the former boxer was convicted of rape. Heck, they might even still be friends.
And let's not forget that it was Trump himself who bragged about sexually assaulting women in that infamous Access Hollywood tape. Was that really just "locker-room talk," as the president suggests? Maybe. Either way, the incident didn't hurt him with supporters, nor did his endorsement of a credibly-accused child molester, named Roy Moore, who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama last year.
As for family groups being up in arms over Oprah's unwed relationship with Stedman Graham, it's probably — again — worth exercising some perspective.
Trump is on his third wife, and has bragged repeatedly about cheating on past ones. And according to a Wall Street Journal report, our president — just prior to running for office — paid a former porn-star $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter that occurred while he was married to his current wife, Melania. Through all of this, evangelical leaders and organizations have stood by Trump, and defended him at every turn.
So... I'm thinking that the absence of a ring on Stedman's finger probably won't cause much of an uproar from the "family values" crowd. And if it does, the number of simultaneous eye-rolls on this planet may very well result in problems with the earth's gravitation... which would not be good.
Another popular response to Bernie was that Oprah couldn't win because she's a racist who once declared that 'old white people' should die:
"Oh yes, and it doesn’t matter that Oprah has said she would like all old white people to die because they are all racist."
"I think the whole country will see her video on how she be leaves white have to die."
"He apparently didn’t see the video yet of her saying older white people should die"
"Oprah, 'Old White People just need to Die.' Is that a winning quote?"
Of course, Oprah never said that she wanted 'old white people' to die, nor did she declare that all old white people are racists. The reference in question goes back to a 2013 interview Winfrey did with the BBC. When asked if she believed the problem of racism had been solved, Oprah answered this way:
"I’m saying problem not solved. I’m saying that, you know, that’s the beauty of a film like The Butler, and it’s the beauty of a film like 12 Years a Slave, and it’s the beauty of what we’re seeing on stage with Scottsboro Boys … it allows people to see where the root of the problem started. It allows people to see, 'Oh, that’s where it all started, this is how far we’ve come, and now this is how much farther we need to go.'
Of course the problem is not solved. As long as people can be judged by the color of their skin, the problem’s not solved. As long as there are people who still… And there’s a whole generation — I said this for apartheid South Africa, I said this for my own community in the South — there are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die."
Her obvious meaning was that for those inflicted beyond hope or recovery with generational racism, their beliefs will last with them to the grave. And when they pass away, so will their bigotry. By no means was she calling for old white people to die. Heck, she didn't even use the term "white people." It's also worth noting that her statement wasn't felt — even by conservatives — to be controversial at the time.
Imagine though if Oprah had demonstrated a stunning reluctance (on multiple occasions) to condemn overtly racial-supremacy groups that supported her. Imagine if she had declared that an American judge could not perform his job due to his ethnicity. I mean, such a person would never stand a chance of becoming our president... Right?
Now, before some of you start responding to me with the predictable "You're for Oprah!" assertion, let me assure you that I'm not. Though I haven't heard Oprah define a platform, I'm assuming that if she did, it would be far to the left of what I would be compelled to sign on to.
At this point, my view of Trump vs Oprah echoes Juan Williams' school of thought, which he recently voiced on Fox News: "What's the attraction [to voters] of people who don't know what they're doing?"
Yes, I'm still of that old-school belief that those running for elected office owe it to the American people to understand important issues and policies, and have a vision moving forward that goes beyond platitudes and catchphrases (and in some cases, personal insults).
Like Trump during the 2016 election, Oprah wouldn't be able to present any political experience or leadership on her resume. And thus far, she hasn't demonstrated any knowledge of the kind of things that have traditionally been deemed important when running for elected office.
Then again, it didn't matter last time. And one could make the argument that it didn't matter a whole lot in 2008 either. The trajectory over the past decade has suggested that the less qualified an individual is, the more attractive of a candidate they are... as long as they're blessed with that increasingly important asset of charisma.
Policies and experience? They both play second fiddle to personality.
A Trump/Oprah match-up (which I don't think will happen, because I don't think Oprah would pursue it) would give the electorate something we haven't seen before: two non-politician politicians (and charismatic celebrities to boot) representing the major parties. But this time (unlike in 2016), one of those candidates would be generally likeable.
As Bernie Goldberg said in that same television segment, the power of likeability can not be underestimated. If the terminally unlikable Hillary Clinton had been equipped with some semblance of personal appeal, her 3-million vote lead would have widened, and she would have assuredly picked up some of those vital swing states.
A year into Trump's presidency, our country's economic indicators are very strong, yet the president's overall job approval still sits below 40 percent — in large part because he's unlikable.
Oprah, on the other hand, is likable — probably not to most Trump fans, but to most Americans. And that's not a situation that would favor our current president in 2020.
So, if Oprah's greatest attributes rival Trump's, and her greatest weaknesses are at par with — or pale in comparison to — those of Trump's, how on earth would she not be a highly formidable presidential candidate?
One has to wonder if much of the derangement over Bernie's statement comes not from Trump supporters who found the premise loony, but from those who are understandably frightened by it.