Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Luke Skywalker Cannot Save Us Now

Oprah Winfrey gave an incredible speech last night at the Golden Globes. She was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” Oprah used the opportunity to connect her experience seeing Sidney Poitier win that same award in 1982 with the experience of young girls who were watching her last night. Oprah was focused, inspiring and, most of all, generous.

We live in a distracted world. Moments when everybody pays attention are rare and getting rarer. Oprah used her moment to direct our attention to the importance of a free press to bring truth to light against corruption and abuse of power. She brought the forgotten life of Recy Taylor out of history and into my attention for the first time. She connected the often unseen struggles of industrial, agricultural, service and military women to the #MeToo movement of Hollywood. She honored the achievements of women while reminding that those achievements are often well-supported by the work of like-minded men. She did it all in under nine minutes.

Predictably, the Morning After headlines read “Oprah for 2020”. I love Oprah. She brings people together rather than pushes them apart. She inspires people to search for the best in themselves and bring that out. More importantly, she inspires people to search for the best in others. She came up through tremendous adversity to become one of the most influential, successful people alive today. Should she be president? I don’t know. I don’t even care right now.

We need to be careful. We have solved or are solving most of the simplest problems in the world. The problems that remain are really, really hard — racial intolerance, global resource distribution, climate change and nuclear holocaust to name just a few. These problems won’t have a single, simple solution and they won’t be solved by a single person, corporation or nation.

And yet, with each passing year, we seem increasingly fixed in the blind hope that electing the right president will save us. President Barack Obama received the Noble Peace Prize just eight months after taking office. The award underscored a phenomenal accomplishment, becoming America’s first African-American president, but the award also seemed to be aspirational, a down payment on expectations that one person’s vision might permanently transform reality. The Nobel Prize was an honor about which Barack Obama himself was conflicted.

Seven years later, slightly less than half of American voters elected the candidate who stood on stage at his party’s national convention and actually spoke aloud the words, “I alone can fix it.” You’ve probably been following the rest of that story.

We keep searching for saviors. The problems you and I face together are scary. They are overwhelming. We keep looking for an Abraham Lincoln, a Winston Churchill or a Luke Skywalker to save us. We won’t find them. Not even Luke Skywalker can save us now.

And so, as we watch Oprah’s eloquent moment, let’s accept it for what it is. An inspiration. A challenge. A call to action.

Oprah for 2020? I don’t know. For the moment, it is just all of us together. If we are inspired, challenged and working together, that can be enough.

Easy Outrage

Let’s stop moralizing with each other. There are no rules anymore. Kathy Griffin did an outrageous thing. I don’t care. Every day since November has been full of outrageous things. Just this week I have woken up to news reports about a Congressman elected to office the day after publicly assaulting a news reporter and a Texas state legislator who threatened to shoot his colleague in the head as his solution to a peaceful but inconvenient demonstration in the state chamber.

Meanwhile, our country is preparing to abdicate responsibility to my daughter’s generation by stepping out of the Paris Climate treaty. New health care laws are coming that no one actually wants or understands. We are staring down a budget that systemically underfunds education, science, and welfare assistance. Nine years after the Great Recession, we are already deregulating the very industries that recently crippled our economy with unbridled greed and excess. Across the country, state legislators pontificate about limiting the role of government in our personal lives while blithely extending the reach of government into the vagina of every woman of childbearing age. Shameful.

Kathy Griffin doesn’t matter. She can disappear. Like all celebrities, she only gets to have the power we lend her with our attention. Our tweeting, celebrity president understands this very well. His rise as candidate was fueled by mendacious assertions that the sitting president was not a United States citizen. Our civic discourse has been downhill ever since.

This isn’t democracy. This is celebrity culture run amok. These people aren’t serious people. They don’t even pretend to address the needs of our time. They hook our attention with sensational acts, inflammatory tweets. We feed them in turn with our easy outrage.

Don’t be fooled. Easy outrage is a trap to keep us constantly dispirited and deeply distracted. Easy outrage keeps us fighting against each other rather than making common cause to fix our dangerously broken system.

Today it was Kathy Griffin. Tomorrow it will be someone else. It doesn’t matter. Keep your seat. Try to stay focused. Save your powder. You are going to need it.