Is Oprah Winfrey any less qualified to be president than Donald Trump? The answer is no. But that is the wrong question. The correct one is she any more qualified to be president? The answer is no.
One speech by one celebrity does not render one qualified and competent to be president of the United States. For many Donald Trump sets a low bar for presidential qualifications–have a famous name and win and you are qualified. But should we not expect some from our leaders than that. The unfortunate story may be no.
Years ago I wrote about the emergence of politainers and politainment. Politainment is the cultural merger of politics and entertainment, and politainers are individuals who blend and use their celebrity status for political and self-interested purposes. It is their celebrity status that gives them the advantage in running for office because of their name recognition and ability to manipulate pop culture media Franklin Roosevelt did it with radio, Eisenhower an Kennedy with television. Nixon appeared on both Jack Paar and Laugh-In to help his career, Reagan was an actor, Bill Clinton appeared on Arsenio Hall, Sonny (of Cher Fame) parleyed his fame into Congress as did Fred Grandy (Gopher from Love Boat), as did Arnold Schwarznegger, Jesse Ventura, and many others. Politainers are personas, not persons, their qualification for office often is simply famous for being famous. People vote for them because of their identity, not necessarily because of their qualifications, stance on issues, or ability to govern or lead.
Trump is a politainer. Like many others he is a caricature of himself. Fame from his celebrity shows and self-promotion. As with many politainers, he used his private persona to enhance his political career and is also using his political career to enhance himself personally. The conflicts of interest are significant in terms of the allegations and reality of how he and his family are intermixing the Trump© business empire with the Trump© presidency. Part of the failure of the Trump presidency is that he and his administrators are novices to government, often clueless to how Washington works, that a Constitution exists, and that the worlds of government and business are so different. Trump’s presidency is a failure so far simply because he lacks the skills and competency to be president.
Far cry from the days when Adlai Stevenson ran as the most qualified to being president. Running for office is not a merit system, ever and especially now it appears. Moreover, being smart does not always mean one will be a good public official, read David Halberstram’s Best and the Brightest about the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies for proof of that.
Say what you will about Secretary Hillary Clinton, by most measures she was qualified to be president of the US. Excluding her stint at First Lady, she served eight years as US Senator and six as Secretary of State. Few if any GUYS who ever ran for president can match those credentials. Clinton ran on competency, but competency is not exciting or, it appears, anymore, a requisite to being a serious presidential candidate. Moreover, competency should be the bare minimum in running for office, at least at the presidential level. Clinton’s failure (beyond the obvious sexism) was that she was a bad candidate who made many mistakes and who embraced a series of policies and proposals that wrote off much of America. Trump’s victory was both a tribute to the power of politainment, the weakness of Clinton as a candidate, and a revulsion against competence.
So Democrats are looking for a presidential candidate in 2020 and Oprah gives a good speech. Does that make her qualified to be president? No more or less that Donald, but that is not saying much. For Democrats and so-called liberals exasperated with Trump because of his lack of qualifications to be president, what are Ms. Winfrey’s? What are her ideas about how to deal with North Korea? Health care? Infrastructure? If there should be any lesson learned by anyone after Trump is that the person who is president should have some knowledge of government, marginally competent as a government leader, have positions on issues, and demonstrate some track record in government service. Ms. Winfrey displays little to none of that. While Democrats and liberals may say she is different than Trump, objectively she is no more qualified to be president than he was. We can and should expect more than that from those who lead our country.