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The erasure of politics in Trump’s inauguration concert

Trying to make sense of the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s inauguration performances is like trying to make sense of the election itself; a bit darkly comedic perhaps, but mostly just depressing. Despite Trump’s claim that “we will have the biggest celebrities in the world” at his inauguration, his team had trouble booking major acts for the swearing-in weekend. It’s hard to imagine that anyone was surprised by this, considering the wide range of bands and musicians that objected to Trump using their songs at his campaign rallies, suchas The Rolling Stones, Adele, R.E.M, Neil Young and Queen.

Since Trump’s election, however, the rumour mill speculated on the appearance of a dizzying number of performers. Included on the list was Elton John, who Trump transition team member Anthony Scaramucci claimed would perform. The rumour was vehemently denied, however, by Elton John’s spokesperson Fran Curtis, and by the singer himself, a Hillary Clinton supporter who has said in July that the idea of a Trump presidency “makes him fear for the world,” with regard to the HIV epidemic

While a litany of performers turned down offers to perform, the Trump team did manage to secure four relatively well known acts; country music star Toby Keith, who also performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration; 3 Doors Down, (“If I go crazy then will you still call me Superman?” America asks the rest of the globe) who also performed at President George W. Bush’s 2001 inauguration; Jackie Evancho, a sixteen year old classical crossover singer who was 2010’s America’s Got Talent runner up; and, lastly, (some of) The Rockette’s.

A few of the other, slightly less known performers include the Mormon Tabernacle choir, an 80’s cover band called The Reagan Years and country musician Lee Greenwood. Regardless of popularity, nearly all those performing have been quick to stress that their choosing to perform was “not political.” Greenwood, for example, told Hollywood Reporter “I think it’s in bad taste to say ‘no,’ then clarified “it’s not political.”

Country star Toby Keith was also quick to point out that his decision was based not on partisan politics, and responded to criticism, stating “I don’t apologize for playing for our country or our military.” Adding to his nonpartisan credentials, in an interview in August with the Chicago Tribune, Keith said “I can’t believe there’s 300 million American’s in this country, and we’ve got these two as our final two. It’s absolutely crazy.”

Perhaps the most drama has swirled around the singer of the Star-Spangled Banner, Jackie Evancho. The teen singer and ex contestant of America’s Got Talent has faced media scrutiny both for being the first person to publically announce that they would perform at the inauguration, and for the news surrounding her sister Juliet, who published an article in Teen Vogue on the same day of Jackie’s announcement, titled “How Juliet Evancho Came Out as Transgender to Her Family, and the Entire World.”

As pointed out by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, Jackie Evancho has gone through pains to distance herself from political controversy. Interviewed by USA TODAY, she said “It’s an honor to perform for my country and I don’t really do politics.” Also characterized by Evancho as “not political” was her family’s ongoing lawsuit against their Pittsburgh school district over a bathroom policy that prevents her trans sister Juliet from using the female restrooms.

Given the historically low approval rating that Trump has coming into office (37% according a Fox News survey) and the plethora of people and identities that he has insulted on his way there, it’s not surprising that even those musicians who decided to perform were quick to the distance themselves from the new president. Some performers who came on board, such as Jennifer Holliday, were met with such backlash from their fans that they backed out. Explaining her decision, she wrote in a letter “Please know that I HEAR you and I feel your pain. The LBGT community was mostly responsible for birthing my career and I am deeply indebted to you.”

It’s tempting to write off all the controversy surrounding the performances as just another distraction that can take our attention away from issues like the repeal of the Affordable Act. For better or for worse, however, many people still look to celebrities as a guide in politics, and in this writer’s humble opinion, holding performers accountable for their political positions is one of many valid ways to attempt to enact change. Any performance for a political leader can not be written off as apolitical, despite what said performers may say or believe.

One thought on “The erasure of politics in Trump’s inauguration concert”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    Those in any field that respond to prospective clients by politely accepting or declining, and if they accept, follow through on their commitment, have conducted themselves both professionally and responsibly – no individual obligation to society exists to make a transaction contingent on a client’s policies, or anything about them other than their ability to lawfully make a contract, and to pay or otherwise fulfill their contractual obligations. Indeed, in any case short of the most widely abhorred historical villains (conveniently deceased), or Mr. Trump, or to a lesser extend other populist non-Democrats or conservative Republicans, were someone to make a transaction contingent on anything else, they would be berated or sued for irrational prejudice, or for decisions contrary to the interests of their investors, or the like. Actual living villains have been treated with less contempt, and less comprehensive boycotts, than Mr. Trump and those who performed for him. Performer boycotts have been less comprehensive for far worse than Mr. Trump: performers choosing to appear in apartheid South Africa, or be friendly with Gaddafi, weren’t criticized as viciously as those appearing in the inaugural festivities.

    In my opinion, your most salient point was your quote of Toby Keith, suggesting that both major candidates were deeply flawed. People chose what they perceived as the lesser evil, of person, policy, or both. Except for her base, Hillary was not trusted, even before Wikileaks (none of which has been seriously repudiated, unlike the scandalous opposition research document leaked about Mr. Trump). Mr. Trump’s bluster, some of his past conduct, and some of Mr. Pence’s prior positions were deeply offensive to many. Yet either Mr. Trump, or Mr. Sanders (shut out by the Hillary fix) at least appealed to many that are tired of institutional shortcomings, excesses, or neglect, and wanted an outsider; and many have felt for eight long years the same way about Mr. Obama that many of the left now feel about Mr. Trump, yet only a few pundits, radio talk show hosts, and online posters were nearly as extravagant about their condemnations of Mr. Obama – who was, after all, at least the first African-American President if nothing else, and therefore at least good in terms of evaporating the myth of that particular glass ceiling; and also risky to criticize, lest the criticism be misconstrued.

    At least Mr. Trump is making some attempt to approximate a move toward more dignified expression, and has acknowledged the obligation to serve all citizens and not just his base. And for better or worse, he doesn’t seem to be dawdling about doing what he said he would, an improvement on what most politicians deliver.

    The left lost in part by believing their own propaganda, and by playing only to their base, rather than being inclusive of middle America. If they remain consumed in rabid rage, they will only further compound those errors. While I do believe there is need for more than one political viewpoint, I for one would be quite content with conservatives, libertarians, and populists contesting over their differences. The left is unnecessary for political pluralism, and runs the risk of making themselves obsolete. If they do, I’ll wish them good riddance, and hope that their orphaned constituencies learn not to put all their eggs in one basket anymore. I hope the left implodes so badly that it will take at least a generation before their inherent flaws need to be learned all over again – perhaps time enough to undo some of the damage they’ve done since Johnson, maybe even since FDR. If only we had the trillions now that they flushed down the un-winnable war on poverty (rather than focusing on expanding opportunity, growing the pie instead of re-slicing it), think what we could do.

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