Another reason is that Oprah is a convenient shorthand for everything that’s under assault with Trumpism. Her skill is as an aspirational leader, someone who inspires people to think positively, and sometimes to change.
Openness, decency, democracy, fairness, all the shining gifts that make peace on Earth, everything the Republican filmmaker Frank Capra preached about in his movies, everything we claimed for generations to believe, all are under unprecedented assault in 2018. They on the line because those who govern us have rejected them. They have even rejected science, so the fate of human life is also in the balance.
In this battle we say we need a hero, or a heroine, someone with Barack Obama’s rhetorical gifts, John F. Kennedy’s courage, Jimmy Carter’s compassion and Franklin Roosevelt’s gift of media manipulation.
Oh, if they came from Illinois, like Abraham Lincoln, that would be nice, too.
Oprah checks all the boxes. A self-made billionaire from the streets, a woman who has kept her own privacy while shattering the emotional walls the rest of us build, a TV star to set against the TV phony in the White House.
It’s an appealing picture. What might she say, and stand for, we ask?
She says nothing.
Instead, she holds a mirror up to our best selves. Her speech at the Golden Globes encouraged us to act as though we were her, and state our own truths.
This is what my best self would say.
“Life, death, and love don’t discriminate, between the sinners and the saints. We rise, and we fall, and we break, and we make our own mistakes. I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original.”
“That’s the villain talking.
“That’s not the America I see today. Instead I see Les Miserables, a great country where the people rise against barricades, where too many suffer the fate of Fantine, their lives made hell for no reason other than circumstances they can’t control.
“How did this happen?
“Our Founding Fathers were a diverse collection of middle-class men who sought to live the values of the Scottish Enlightenment and practice the economics of Adam Smith. Smith, the founder of modern capitalism, wrote in The Wealth of Nations that personal wealth should be tolerated because wealthy men and women would be inclined toward the common good.
“Some are. Some do. Bill Gates is engaged in giving away the wealth of his lifetime, and that of Warren Buffett as well. Other extremely wealthy people are nice, generous, and kind. Oprah seems to be.
“But not all are.
“Too many of our wealthy practice the values of Friedrich Nietzsche, dressed in the American garb of Ayn Rand. Do what you will, their actions say. Grind others into the dirt without remorse. Grind the world into dust. Rule as Kings, and assure that your wastrel children inherit your wealth and power, as was true before the Industrial or American Revolutions began.
“Here is what I believe.
“It should be as reasonable for a rich man to end life poor as it is possible for a poor child to become rich. Your fate should be based on merit, on what you do with what you are given. Anyone can rise, anyone can fall.
“This social mobility is increasingly rare. Too many of our wealthy have raised the ladder of opportunity into their own gated communities. Wealth and power are increasingly inherited. Some poor children rise, but not enough. The greedy are turning the American Dream into a lie.
“This must change.
“We must insist on as much from those who have much as we expect from those who have nothing. Wealth is not a birthright, it is a responsibility. It’s a privilege, which should demand the best from those granted it. Those too lazy to shoulder this responsibility can pay the rest of us to do this for them.
“Government is the agency for that. Governments instituted among men with the consent of the governed. Government is not the problem. Governments that do not do the work of the people are the problem. Governments that commit injustice are the problem. Governments that waste money are the problem.
“Government does not have to be that way. Government can be honest, it can do the peoples’ business, if we the people take our democratic responsibilities seriously. Voting is a privilege. History shows such privileges can be taken away when we don’t care for them.
“Government can build highways, it can win wars, government can send Men to the Moon. Government is not them. It’s us. Government is only them if we let it become them, if we cease to pay attention, if we start listening to those small voices within each of us that say, ‘No, you can’t. No, change is impossible. No, you are powerless. No, you are black, or female, or poor, or Hispanic, or gay, you’re dyslexic or blind or you can’t walk, or you just don’t give a damn.’
“Was it only yesterday that a black man stood before you and said, ‘Yes, we can?’ And didn’t we? Yes, we did.
“But somewhere we lost our belief. Somewhere, as change accelerated, as PCs became iPhones and as computers became clouds, we became passive, we expected others to raise us up, we became fat, we became lazy, we saw that opioids could dull the pain and we took them.
“The greatest opioid of our time is the feeling of powerlessness. The greatest opioid of our time is the idea that someone else must save us, that a single vote, or simply voting, will Make America Great Again.
“The greatest opioid is TV. I know how seductive TV is. I grew up fixing TVs. You sit in front of it, you listen to it and say amen to it, you expect it to raise your children and you blame it when you do none of the things it tells you to do. You blame the TV if you don’t work, if you don’t learn, if you don’t treat yourself right, if you don’t treat your neighbors as you would treat yourself, and honor the world as your mother.
“We have forgotten the power of change within us. Instead of using that power, we blame others for our problems. We blame the immigrant. We blame those who look different. We blame wives or husbands, our children or parents. We blame the government. No one is left unblamed, in the face of the TV, except the ghost image looking at it.
“Except for us.
“In the game of life most Americans are born on third base. We think we all hit a triple, and it’s up to someone else to take us home.
“But that’s not the way this game works. In this game, we rise or fall together. All of us. We make ourselves great, we make each other great, and that is how we make America great again. We work together, demanding honest government that serves our interests, that educates our children, that looks after our health, that protects us from criminals but treats us all with respect. We demand government that stands for our better angels, a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
“No politician can give that to you. No TV star can make that happen for you. It is rather, for all of us, to start working together, instead of against each other. We all have a responsibility, rich and poor, black and white, immigrant and native, male and female, red and blue, right and left, urban and rural, gay and straight, whatever we’re capable of, we have a responsibility.
“The time has come to exercise that responsibility. To vote at every election, to participate in each level of government and demand it work for us, and to act as citizens of a democracy, instead of serfs before masters, or wannabe masters.
“We are the ones we've been waiting for.”