This week, America endured two new developments in the continuing chaos of our politics: Donald Trump’s reprehensible slander against the 54 nations on the African continent and the people of Haiti; and the floating of Oprah Winfrey as the 46th American president. The two seem unrelated. I would suggest they are not.
Trump’s inability to contain his racist tick once again exposed the crude xenophobia and fear of the future that his political movement represents, and the downward moral drift of the Republican Party. It also struck yet another Trumpian blow to America’s soft power.
Trump is reviled around the world, as is the U.S. under his leadership. The United Nations high commissioner on human rights denounced his vile remarks. Haitians rose in mass fury online. The African Union, which cooperates with us on anti-terrorism efforts that include some 6,000 U.S. soldiers deployed on the continent, demanded an apology. What country would welcome the American president to their capitol today? Surely none in Africa, where country after country issued withering condemnations of Trump on Friday and where China is already being welcomed in as the new global economic hegemon. Not Great Britain, whose Commonwealth includes several countries that would make Trump’s “shithole” list and which had already so rebelled against a presidential visit that it finally frightened the American bully away. And not even Norway, Trump’s go-to source for fresh, white immigrant recruits, whose citizens took to Twitter Friday to pour on the Trump loathing.
Trump cannot exert the moral authority normally commanded by the American president. His few international friends have their own fiendish reputations. Israel is led by a perennial cynic who when he’s not stomping Palestinian hopes into the ground or being embarrassed by his ironically alt-right son, remains under a criminal corruption investigation. Tayyip Erdogan allegedly colluded with the disgraced former National Security Adviser of the United States to kidnap a Turkish émigré and rendition him to Ankara to answer for a 2016 coup. Trump has humbled our country under the shadow of China’s autocrat Xi Jinping. He pals around with the proud butcher Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. And he continues to both emulate and worship the thuggish kleptocrat Vladimir Putin.
In the epic Netflix series “The Crown,” a young future Queen Elizabeth takes her studies, such as they are, and is instructed by her tutor that the British government operates best when there is harmony between its two parts: the “efficient,” which makes and executes the laws, and the “dignified,” which legitimizes the enterprise through the moral authority of the Crown. The American presidency combines elements of the efficient and the dignified. The president presides over governance – not making legislation but proposing it, cajoling the co-equal federal legislature and then signing and executing the laws. But he – and so far it has always been a “he” – also gives the national government its face, its image and its global reputation. Donald Trump, perhaps because as Michael Wolff posits in his opus, Fire and Fury, is in the grip of mental decline, clearly cannot execute the efficient. He is like a child king being plied with chocolate cake and led around by a gaggle of self-serving regents including Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the other congressional suck-ups who use their outward sycophancy to bend Trump to their legislative will. But it is his inability to fulfill the dignified that has been the most stressful, humiliating, and indeed dangerous for our democracy.
Which brings us to Oprah Winfrey.
Now, I will admit that I was merely having fun when I tweeted on Golden Globes night the now well-worn meme, “nothing but love for my president,” in reaction to her powerful speech upon accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. I even threw in a little dig at the other seemingly absurdist 2020 presidential candidate Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whom I demoted to Bizarro World V.P. But apparently, people across this Trump-exhausted nation are taking the idea of a second consecutive celebrity POTUS seriously.