“Hegel remarks,” wrote Marx, “that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
This passage begins a work whose core business was not to depict history as anything less than tragic when we hear its zombie echoes. Instead, it describes the social and political circumstances in which a “grotesque mediocrity”, in this case Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, can briefly come to assume heroic and historic dimensions.
You know where I’m going: Trump as tragedy, Winfrey as farce. You know where I would be going if I made this claim outside a paywall: straight to The Clementine Ford Re-education Camp For Sexist, Racist Sin. To call current serious discussion of Winfrey as Democratic Party presidential candidate a farce is, for some, to call The Handmaid’s Tale a blueprint for utopia, and white nationalist Richard Spencer a bloke with some great ideas. Criticism of what can only be described as a grotesque proposal is scant. And it is grotesque to dream of a president who has long promoted the idea that “the universe” will provide all the wealth that social services won’t, if only you ask it.
As you may be reluctantly aware, an acceptance speech made by Winfrey at this week’s Golden Globe awards has been broadly interpreted as hope for the Democratic Party. One of the very few writers who appears to grasp Winfrey’s greater suitability to the GOP is The Australian’s Caroline Overington. Overington’s piece may be full of the “You Go Girl! Powerful women in Westpac will change the world!” rot one is likely to hear at a finance sector-sponsored International Women’s Day brunch. But this conservative liberal feminist does grasp that The Secret — an obscenity whose popularity is almost entirely due to Winfrey — is just like an Atlas Shrugged for the scented-candle generation. As Overington, sagely, has it, “To me, she’s always seemed more like a Republican: entirely self-made. Back yourself. Back the individual.” As Overington grotesquely has it, Oprah — a neoliberal moraliser whose advice to the many to “visualise” their better fortune is at fundamental odds with welfare spending — Oprah should run for president.
Oprah’s speech was seen as a resume not only by classical liberals of the Overington sort, by the putatively progressive DNC and friends. As talented young US writer Briahna Joy Gray makes clear in a Guardian piece, this is a mockery of Louis-Napoleon size. Even as pro-Clinton writers and others with close ties to a pro-Clinton DNC make the case for the unqualified Winfrey, they hold to the “most qualified” case where Clinton is concerned.
Press held to this so stubbornly, they provoked an investigation; one yet to bring forth compelling evidence of electoral interference — in their view, the truest explanation for a loss by the “most qualified” candidate — but sure to imperil Russia-United States relations for years to come. If the USA’s influential liberal writers and operatives feel okay about taunting a nuclear power on the basis of nothing for more than a year, there’s no reason to suspect they will ever quit endorsing a person who once trademarked the phrase “Get With The Program” until she is dead/reincarnated as a rare butterfly. All on the basis of this speech.
Seriously. Read the thing. There is, as those Americans like to say, no there there. There’s a bunch of stuff about how sexual assault is bad — a claim only loonies would dispute. And then, there’s some brief stuff about “equal pay”. But this is “equal pay” of the sort to ensure that those with vulgar wealth retain it, regardless of sex, race, etc, and those like the female farm workers of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas — a labour organisation canny enough to write a letter of solidarity to the women of Hollywood reminding them that minimum wage workers experience sexual assault, too — get the same shit wages as their male colleagues. The rest of it is all about a new dawn and inspiring our daughters and the fact that Oprah grew up with linoleum floor coverings.
There is also mention of one Recy Taylor, a black woman gang-raped by white men then left for dead. In her speech, the convincing speaker weaves this brutality into the lives of her white Hollywood audience. The commentator Yvette Carnell does not hold back here when she charges Oprah with overlooking the racist weaponisation of rape, and of permitting the privileged and the white, who maybe just had their bum pinched once, to borrow the pain of the truly brutalised. Nice point, in my view.
Look. I’m sure some of those “little girls” on “lin-o-leum” floors Oprah believed herself to be inspiring were mildly uplifted. Oprah’s speech wasn’t bad, as far as award speeches go. As far as political speeches go, it was empty of politics. Which, perhaps, does make her an ideal Democratic candidate. Farcical, grotesque and illuminated not by a true understanding of history, but scented candles.
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