Oprah in the White House: Indulging the fantasy, briefly

No, we're not electing Oprah! But imagining her in the Oval Office is a comforting dream for a nightmarish 2018

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published January 9, 2018 6:59PM (EST)


One of the saddest days in my adult life was watching the Obama family leave the White House. Sure, President Barack Obama didn’t end white supremacy or fork out reparations checks like I had hoped he might, but at least he was was cool, funny, played basketball and invited all of my favorite rappers and basketball players to the White House. He was also the first president who made America seem accessible to all. And then that cold day last January came when a wicked orange cloud of pettiness eclipsed the light the Obamas had shined on us for the previous eight years, and here we are.

Will we lose our health insurance? Are we owned by Russia now? Will we be swallowed by taxes? Will we be nuked? Who knows? It’s new question every day under President Trump. I wake up every morning and run to the window to see if America is still here.

But Trump has accidentally given the world a gift he probably doesn’t even know he was capable of giving: His election opened the door to the presidency to any natural-born citizen over the age of 35. Obama softened up one major unspoken yet obvious barrier when he became the first black president, but given Obama's genius, even after 2008 getting to the Oval Office still seemed like a pretty high goal. But Trump, elected despite his sketchy resume and the "Access Hollywood" tape, clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing — he's shown little to no knowledge of foreign or domestic policy and would rather pick fights with media and entertainment figures than focus on his job.

And so the upside of his election — or yet another downside, depending on how you see it — is that being elected to the nation's highest office never seemed easier. Everybody wants to run now, from Kanye West to this guy named Lil Jimmy from my mother’s neighborhood who's making campaign sweatshirts, plotting fundraisers and building his team already.

I already assumed the next race will be a circus, but then rumors about Oprah surfaced after she delivered one of the most inspiring speeches in television history while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes. Here's how she closed her speech:

In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again.

Immediately, speculation over Oprah 2020 began. On that stage, Winfrey looked beyond presidential — and I’m not even talking about the Trump standard of presidential, I’m thinking more like Obama or even John F. Kennedy. And if Americans are set on electing celebrities now, we've shown we can do a lot worse. "Fame has eaten alive our political system," comedian (and prophet?) Denis Leary said on an "Salon Talks" months ago, last fall. "If that's how we're going to elect people . . . Oprah would be great."

So what would America look like with Oprah Winfrey in the White House?

The economy

Becoming a billionaire as a black woman in racist, sexist America is pretty much impossible. You have a better chance of walking through the jungle naked and not getting bitten by a mosquito. So if Oprah says she can create some jobs, she can probably make that happen. I heard she once wrote a check that made a bank bounce; if her plans to fix the economy through traditional means fail, she can just bring "The Oprah Winfrey" show back and end poverty from the proceeds.

Advocating for the oppressed

Oprah is a black woman in America who welcomed Ellen DeGeneres to come out on her show 20 years ago. She has used her platform to uplift and give voice to all sides of every argument. Need I say more?

Foreign relations

One day Kim Jong-un will wake up with destroying America on his mind. He’ll wash his face, brush his teeth and put on his special nuclear button-pressing gloves, and as he approaches his desk and prepares to flip the switch he’ll notice a white envelope on top of the button. Inside the envelope is a letter from Oprah, asking him to check under his chair. The letter is signed with love. Kim will hop down on all fours only to discover a brand-new Vitamix blender, a pasta maker and the keys to a 2021 Toyota Prius with a sunroof and a full tank of gas! Oprah’s favorite things can fulfill even a despot, making him completely rethink his nuclear program.

The Winfrey White House

Oprah is smart enough to really surround herself with the best people, and it's a given that her administration would be staffed with smart and talented professionals. But her East Wing would be as nontraditional as she is. Longterm Oprah partner Stedman Graham as the first First Gentleman — an unmarried one at that — would be much less likely to cause problems than Bill Clinton would have, had Hillary won. Stedman's pet initiatives would have to be good, too — this is the guy who held on to Oprah for all of these years, after all. As for a running mate, I’d like to nominate myself. As long as Oprah promises to keep Dr. Phil away from the White House, I think we can't lose.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Comedy Golden Globes Oprah 2020