When Oprah Winfrey took the stage at the Golden Globes to speak about the evils of sexual assault, pundits began to spread rumors of a 2020 presidential candidacy. The speech was so well received that we just might forget Oprah is a longtime friend of Harvey Weinstein.
Rich Lowry, editor-in-chief of National Review, warned conservatives to take Oprah seriously. According to Lowry, President Donald Trump’s election proved “that a celebrity with charisma, performative ability, and gobs of free media can, in the right circumstances, stomp conventional politicians.”
Ben Shapiro bemoaned that “electing the president has become the equivalent of voting for the royal family, rather than voting for a person to implement policy.”
Eugene Scott wrote in The Washington Post that conservative arguments of inexperience against Oprah are invalid in light of Trump.
But Scott, Lowry, Shapiro, and others do not acknowledge the arguments for Trump. He won, not because he was a celebrity outsider, but because he challenged a decades-long bipartisan consensus on three key issues: immigration, trade, and foreign policy. Though erratically and imprecisely, Trump presented a renewed understanding of citizenship, nationhood, and sovereignty. The idea that the American government ought to serve the American people animated his campaign.
This is not to say his outsider status hurt him. Trump himself is a sort of paradox to the flyover state Christian; he’s a rich, irreligious, coastal elite. But at the same time, of all those in the political sphere, Trump appeals to them the most. He talks like he just sat down on the barstool next to you. Although he is no political philosopher, he recognizes truths that seem blurred when looked on from above. Truths that can only be seen, as Machiavelli says in the preface to “The Prince,” from the place of the vulgar.
Former Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were also political outsiders. Where was their automatic support? And Trump was far outspent by candidates such as Jeb Bush. It wasn’t about the money. This is why the thesis of Lowry, Scott, and Shapiro falls short; it attributes Trump’s meteoric rise to his celebrity status, his bombastic tone, the myopia of the masses, really anything but his message.
Trump ran a fairly conventional campaign. He picked a few major issues and stuck to them. As it happened, those issues were important to the American people. By championing these common sense “America First” policies, Trump demonstrated prudence and courage. Although his past may not be spotless, he must be evaluated on his ability to rule.
Plato points to prudence, not chastity, as the virtue of the statesman. Indeed, look to our own American history: Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were both instrumental to the American Founding. Neither was known for his sexual restraint.
Trump also displayed a certain courage on the campaign trail. He called Hillary Clinton an enabler and lined up her husband’s accusers by the debate stage. He advocated for a total shutdown on Muslim immigration until we have adequate vetting measures. He spoke uncomfortable truths on crime and immigration. He challenged the “fake news” media head on. The list goes on. But most importantly, Trump denounced the inability or refusal of the political class to serve the American people.
Can one imagine a Jeb Bush or John Kasich openly humiliating North Korean tin-pot dictator Kim Jong Un? But only after Trump’s “unpresidential” tweets did “Little Rocket Man” open talks with South Korea for the first time in more than two years.
Shakespeare’s acerbic pen rings right: “Truth is truth to the end of reckoning.” And Trump, for all his crassness, seems to have the courage to speak the truth. Courage, as Solzhenitsyn warned the West in his famous “Harvard Address,” is in short supply. It’s only gotten worse since he uttered those prophetic words in 1978.
Oprah may be in a position to run for president. Ironically, one of Trump’s first inclinations toward politics was an interview with Oprah herself in 1988. He told her he probably wouldn’t ever run for president — unless things got really bad. In Plato’s “Republic,” Socrates describes the just ruler: he “drudges in politics,” not out of a desire to rule, but because he does not want to be ruled by someone worse than himself.
Trump was tired of being ruled by people worse than himself. But his outsider appeal only gets him so far; stances, not status, catapulted him to the White House. He is doomed in 2020 if he abandons those core issues. If all he brings to the table is his celebrity status, he’ll be any old billionaire — like Oprah.
Garrison Grisedale is a junior studying politics.