Critic's Notebook: Oprah Fails to Heal the Country on '60 Minutes'

In her first segment as a '60 Minutes' contributor, Oprah Winfrey conducts a focus group featuring Trump supporters and opponents.

For her debut segment on 60 Minutes, Oprah Winfrey conducted a focus group evenly divided between Trump supporters and Trump opponents. The results weren’t pretty.

The meeting took place in Michigan, and despite the hope that it would demonstrate the truthfulness of the expression “West Michigan nice,” it failed to bridge the seemingly intractable gap between the two groups. This may have been a microcosm of what’s going on among the electorate, but it was telling.

The group included voters of different genders, races and ethnicities. Each was paid $100 for their troubles, which goes to show that Trump is indeed helping to reduce unemployment. It probably won’t come as a surprise that his biggest supporters were mostly middle-aged white guys.

“I love it!” one said about the first eight months of Trump’s presidency. “Every day I love him more and more. I love what he’s doing to this country.”

“We wanted someone to go in and flip the tables,” another chimed in. “He’s speaking for people who are sitting at home in Iowa, or Oklahoma, or Montana that just want to say it that way.”

Several women begged to disagree. “I feel like he’s a horrible president,” one said despairingly. “When he’s off the teleprompter, he makes me sick to my stomach.”

“He’s terrible,” an African-American man agreed.

One woman who described herself as a lifelong Republican recounted how difficult her life became when she decided to vote for Hillary instead.

“I got persecuted by my own family,” she told the others. “My dad was trying to force me to vote for Trump.”

An Asian-American woman who called herself a “moderate” stuck up for Trump. “We haven’t given the president a chance!” she declared. When Oprah made the point that it seemed appropriate to judge the president by his words and actions, the woman stuck to her guns. “Can we give him a chance?” she pleaded.  

Oprah asked the group to choose one word to describe Trump voters. The answers included “angry,” “frustrated,” fed-up,” forgotten,” misinformed” and “wounded,” which sounds like the least appealing dating profile ever.  

When asked if they thought that the Russia investigation was valid, you can guess who kept their hands glued to their sides. Despite months of damaging news reports (admittedly delivered by the fake media) detailing suspicious ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign, his supporters played deaf and blind, and certainly dumb. “I don’t want to hear one more word about Russia!” one complained. “Where is the crime?” asked another.

The group was similarly divided about Trump having blamed “many sides” in his comments about the violence in Charlottesville, Va. “Many sides did not kill that woman,” someone pointed out, to which another countered, “The KKK wasn’t fighting with the KKK. There were two groups.”

Oprah then cut to a post-session interview with pollster Frank Luntz, who had recruited the focus group. Luntz has seen a lot of anger in the course of his work, but even he looked shaken. “When you raised Charlottesville, the group broke down,” he told Oprah. “They became tribal.”

To be fair, the Trump supporters weren’t unstinting in their praise. They all seemed to agree that his tweeting was a problem. But several pointed out that Obama and the Pope are on Twitter as well.

“What’s keeping you up at night?” Oprah asked. The torrent of answers illustrated why binge-drinking is on the rise.

“Nuking North Korea!” one shouted.

“If I wake up tomorrow without health care, my life is over!” cried a woman with a history of severe migraine attacks.

Sensing that things were about to devolve into a Lord of the Flies scenario, Oprah began to wind things up. She probably was looking for something hopeful when she queried, “What does the future look like?”

The answers included “I’m fearing civil war,” “I think we’re going to be more divided than ever,” “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel” and “We’re talking different languages.” When a lone man said that he was hopeful for the future, Oprah looked like she wanted to give him a car.

At the segment’s close, Oprah announced that the meeting had gone on for three hours and that afterward, it continued in a nearby restaurant. She also said that since then, several members of the group have kept in touch and that some had even gone to a shooting range together. She tried to spin it by explaining it was an effort to understand different opinions about gun rights. But it seemed more like training for the civil war that now seems so inevitable. Because if not even Oprah can heal the country, then we’re all screwed.