Of course Oprah Winfrey doesn’t want to be President of the United States: she’s already Oprah Winfrey. Maybe it’s brought on by the confusion of this topsy-turvy political atmosphere or the fact that Americans are drinking lead-laced water in between bouts of chowing down chlorinated chicken, but some of the planned responses to Trump and Trumpism from across the Atlantic have been, eh, questionable to put it mildly.
Oprah, in case you haven’t heard, gave a beautiful, moving speech on gender, racism and sexual violence at this year’s Golden Globes ceremony while collecting the Cecil B. DeMille Award. I loved it. You loved it. Everybody loved it. Everybody also loves naan bread, but that doesn’t mean we need naan bread writing tax policies for a major economy and strategising trade deals with China. The idea of politics as a performative public display of emotion rather than a constant class struggle for power between workers and capital and Sally Jessy Raphael feels reductive and a bit West Wing (when it should be more like gay cult classic Commander in Chief starring class act Geena Davis).
The Democratic Party stumped up Congressman Joe Kennedy to respond to Trump’s State of the Union address; son of Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, grandson of Former Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, and great-nephew of former US President John F. Kennedy. Now don’t get me wrong; I like Joe Kennedy, and I liked his speech. (I may or may not even have bashed one out afterwards fantasising about the ginger Congressman in a leather jockstrap being spit-roasted by two muscle hunks.) But responding to anti-elite protest politics with literal silver spoon Kennedy feels like a shoddy pathway to go down.
And things aren’t much better here in Europe. Inequality and economic injustice have contributed, among other things (cough, racism, cough), to an emboldened hard-right and intra-party populism, while our institutions have been slow to engage with these gaping realities, far less challenge or contribute to resolving them. In the UK and US alike, a segregated guild of political thinkers, journalists and commentators are bred in enclaves, schooled together and connected via intricate mind-vines are stuck on repeat, jammed, lost in music (caught in a trap).
Our country is leaving the EU arguably because the usual pricks that vote Tory and start arguments with supermarket customer service desk staff for a thrill got together – electorally speaking – with working class rural voters. Working class rural voters excluded from the gains of economic growth in tandem with decades of trade union disempowerment, cultural alienation and misery as our local economies shape shifted in front of our eyes from full-time manufacturing to precarious call centre and service work. If you watch any British TV or film, you would be hard pressed to locate stories set in deprived British communities like the one I grew up in. Working class stories are 6pm news soundbites, not art, and certainly not polite political discourse: no wonder our working class people here and abroad keep crossing the “whatever, fuck everything” ballot option.
The UK Government’s response to these disempowered communities seems, through the daily mist of Brexit bullshit, to consist of further rolling back of the state, disempowering workers by scrapping employment protections and recklessly pursuing the very deregulation dogma policies that almost brought global capitalism to its knees one brief decade ago and contributed to the populist tsunami we’re all now drowning in together with Brexit and Trump and the lack of modern Geena Davis’ movies.
Instead of turning politics in to pop culture, we need to make pop culture political. Engaging in political processes, having thoughts and feelings on the big policy challenges of the era, ought to be universal. Invest in the physical and educational infrastructure of working class communities. Support literature, film and television portraying working class life. Occupy the mainstream. We need to tear down the idea that politics is for bespectacled men who have spent most of their adult life in university quadrangles. British Caucasians fuming about immigration doesn’t mean we have a problem with immigration, it means we have a problem – as a society – with British Caucasians. A cognitively-declining reality TV star reaching the highest office of power in the world does not precipitate the rise of more famous, more powerful TV stars. Sometimes the solution is not to escalate, escalate and escalate again, but to challenge and rectify what went wrong for in our politics for people to begin with.