Newsweek

Why Oprah Is More Like Religious Figure Than Celebrity

Oprah's enormous following is "like a religious movement," says a professor who studies charisma in politics. Yes, she could really win a presidential race.
Oprah Winfrey accepts the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille Award speaks onstage during the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
Oprah Winfrey Source: Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Oprah for president. 

At first it was a farfetched joke—a distant fantasy. Then, after Trump won in 2016, it didn't seem quite so implausible anymore. And now, in the days following Oprah Winfrey's charged and inspirational speech at the Golden Globes, the prospect is being discussed by Democrats with breathless fervor. Could she beat Trump? Should she run? (Well...Would she? (The television star has not expressed any campaign plans, though her partner, Stedman Graham, has heightened speculation by saying that "she would absolutely do it.")

After watching the Globes speech, Jeremy Young turned to his wife in a state of vindication: He had been talking about Winfrey's presidential potential for years. Young is a historian who studies charisma in American politics. (His book, The Age of Charisma, examines the rise of charismatic leadership between 1870 and 1940.) In a fascinating tweetstorm, Young argued that Winfrey is the single most charismatic person in America, a rare celebrity who has "the kind of cultural cachet usually reserved for saintly figures such as Mr. Rogers or the Pope." (Even President Obama "seems like a potted plant next to Oprah's star power," Young observed).

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