Meryl Streep calls out Trump: Having Bully-in-Chief Coarsens whole Culture

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Occasionally entertainment and politics intersect, often hitting a false note. You never want your screenplay to be, as they say in Hollywood, “on the nose.” You have to step sideways away from ordinary news and address some dimension of the human condition to make art.

But in moments of national crisis, stars feel a need to speak out. Nick Gass has reviewed some of the major such incidents at the Academy Awards. Jane Fonda used ther moment on the stage at the Academy Awards in the 1970s to denounce the Vietnam War. Marlon Brando declined to appear and had a Native American activist accept for him, making a statement about Indian rights.

Robin Corey tells the story of how in 1978 Vanessa Redgrave was picketed by the Jewish Defense League because of her support for Palestinian rights, and when she won her category anyway, she said, “I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks you’ve stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.”

Michael Moore denounced the Iraq War.

So we now have another such moment, as Meryl Streep tearfully addressed the stars assembled at the Golden Globes about her anxieties and distress at the advent of the Trump era in the United States.

“Meryl Streep Speech The Golden Globes 2017”

She pointed out, as Hugh Laurie already had, that those assembled at the Golden Globes award ceremony (put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) were Hollywood, foreigners, and the press, the very sort of people who have been vilified for the past 18 months by Donald J. Trump. (Laurie had wondered if last night’s ceremony would be the last, as all the foreigners were kicked out of the country).

She pointed out the diversity of the origins of the actors in the room, saying that Amy McAdams, Natalie Portman, Ruth Negga, Ryan Gosling and Dev Patel were born abroad: “Where are their birth certificates?” she asked. The essence of the acting art, she affirmed, is to get inside a character who is foreign to us and make us feel what they feel. “And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.” She was making two points against the xenophobia, the irrational hatred of foreigners, at the center of the Trump campaign and at the center of his Neonazi fringe, such as the Breitbart thugs. One is that key American industries, including the entertainment industry, often attain their excellence through openness to talent from abroad. The second is a far more subtle and powerful point, which is that no human experience is really foreign to us as human beings if only we can find the tools to understand it, emotionally and intellectually. She was standing up for her craft, acting, as xenophilic, as involving a love of the foreign, insofar as the falling away of strangeness is the goal of great acting.

Her most powerful intervention, however, referred to Donald J. Trump’s mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who is challenged by a congenital joint condition.

trumpkova h/t KTLA & thx to LunaPic

By the way, the mocking was provoked by Kovaleski’s having stood up to Trump over his false and monstrous claim that large crowds of Muslim-Americans celebrated the September 11 attacks in New Jersey. She called Trump’s antics a “performance” but lamented that it was in “real life.” She thus drew attention to the similarity of the political speech, which spins a narrative and often involves some mugging for the camera or even doing impressions of people, to the actor’s performance. Her complaint is that when Trump bully Kovaleski in public, he gave permission to all Americans to be mean to the weak, to become a nation of goons.

CNN: “Trump mocks reporter with disability”

Streep is in tears because a Fascist is about to take the helm of our country. And her apprehension over how the tone set by the White House could coarsen the fabric of everyday life is well-placed. Her call on the press to confront these tendencies may be a bit forlorn. The television media, at least, appear to view Trump as a cash cow because he attracts eyeballs, which allows them to earn more from advertising.

But I think the situation is even more dire than just a president who encourages bullying by example. I think there is a danger that Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and other such gangs may start beating up Jews, and Muslims and Latinos and African-Americans. I think there is a danger that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will encourage this racialized violence, and that local police will be encouraged to wink at it. I fear a tear in the fabric of the rule of law. Fascism doesn’t begin with a big military machine, it begins with gangs of brutes.

Ms. Streep left us with the most wonderful advice, relayed from the late Carrie Fisher: “the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Art yes. But also resistance.

Transcript of Ms. Streep’s remarks:

“Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places.

I was born and raised and created in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central Falls, Long Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Italy. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia, raised in — no, in Ireland, I do believe. And she’s here nominated for playing a small town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania.

Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, we were going to work through supper, or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor. Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art. Thank you.”

32 Responses

  1. Like many famous stars of stage and screen who are dripping with money, Steep can afford crocodile tears at one of these mutual admiration society actor’s get together. Perhaps if she was an unemployed worker trying to survive in the waste lands of Detroit etc she might not find Trump’s rallying call to get the jobs lost to America back again so very terrible. I always find theses “loveys” who use their fame to pronounce on political matters rather disingenuous.

    • What the hell does the content of your comment have to do with Prof Cole’s post? — And, is there any logical reason why a person who has money cannot empathize, or strive to empathize, with people who are disabled? Trump can rally calls for jobs to return to the US — nobody is calling him out on that. Streep called him out for being a nasty, evil, uncaring person, which he is. — You’re the one who is being disingenuous, not her.

    • Do you really think comrade Trump is going to help the suffering people in this country? I have a strong feeling that the only people who will benefit will be the Trump family, Trump cronies and Vladimir Putin.

      But it’s ok for famous, reality TV star, Trump, dripping with money, to use his fame to “pronounce on political matters” why? Pussy grabbing? Racism? Collusion with hostile governments? Not paying taxes? Not paying his contractors? You tell me.

    • Did you listen to her damn statement? Read the text version that Professor Cole provided?

      If you find that disingenuous, you are utterly unable to discern human sincerity. And, failing that, have missed a powerful, beautifully made point.

      Please, also tell me what Meryl Streep finds so ‘terrible’ about more jobs in the United States??? I’m pretty sure she would be way more in favor of it than Donald Trump is.

    • OK, so this is a classic deflection, having ZERO to do with the issue raised by Ms. Streep.
      It’s like the denialists’ claim that the science has to be wrong because Al Gore lives in a large house.
      John’s post is stupid and insulting.
      Or, to give himself a bit of credibility, can John enlighten us on everything he has done to make the world a better place ? . . No, I did not think so.

    • Do you realize that trump is a liar?

      Those jobs are never coming back and in fact many more jobs are going to disappear under trump because robots are cheaper than humans.

    • What does it say about you that you think mocking disabled people and minorities does not indicate to that unemployed worker that he’s probably next on the chopping block?

      And Trump is president solely because he is a celebrity TV star, not because of a single act of public service ever performed in his life of refusing to run for any political office that would put him below the authority of anyone else. He’s another actor who’s an asshole – but one who promises to destroy the people you apparently want destroyed. Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr and many other German artists and intellectuals who fled Hitler could tell you a few things about life and death political matters.

  2. While it’s true that the Republicans, spearheaded by the Trumpista vanguard, are doing all they can to turn the diversity, richness, and humanity of modern America into a sewer of vituperation, we are in fact in a kind of honeymoon period. In two weeks will have the actual power to destroy and, and as they thrash and fumble, tonal questions will become secondary.

    I hope we will be able to do more than make noise, but as in the great dark periods of the past — think of the massive, futile resistance to the Vietnam slaughter — it’s not clear that we are more than hapless onlookers.

    • Futile resistance to the Vietnam slaughter? Where were you from 1965 to 1975? We brought down two presidents. And we had better sex, drugs and rock and roll along the way. What you lack is a counter culture. It starts with that. Not with the Streeps — or what they’ve become anyway.

      • But look at the size of the backlash to that counterculture: George Wallace leading to Richard Nixon leading to Ronald Reagan five years after the war ended.

        I think most Americans knew the war was pointless by ’68, but they kept voting for Nixon so he would eradicate, not North Vietnam, but their own kids, for committing the ultimate crime of pointing out that they were suckers and conformists. Every protest after that was met with more public support for mass suppression of dissent – until the moment when Nixon said we were no longer at war and suddenly his crimes were no longer acceptable. He was no longer needed.

        • Not quite accurate. Nixon was driven so crazy (or so much crazier) by the anti-war movement that he consented to burglaries at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and the Watergate — leading to his downfall.

    • Please do not include me in the ‘we’ who are ‘hapless onlookers.’ Look – you can choose to be one, by limiting your concern to online laments. However, a great many of us will be fighting, bringing dark things into the light, putting ourselves directly in the path of the worst of it, when we must.

  3. Think skinned Trump, has predictably responded in the only way he knows how – by twitter, calling her an overrated actress, and that she is a Hillary flunky. What a “classy” President we are going to have for the next four years.

    Meryl Streep is a far more classy, dignified, and much admired in the world. Trump is a clown, and the joke around the world.

  4. Things like this would be so much more meaningful to me if the celebrities weren’t wearing $5,000 gowns. The celebrity culture produced Trump. I don’t think much of them as role models or leaders. When the new leaders we need begin to emerge, my bet is they will come from the streets, not from Hollywood, TV or Madison Ave.

    • “$5000 gowns”? Are you serious, Mr. Glad? What do you think Mr. Trump’s suits cost? Moreover, this is the Golden Globes Award ceremony, for which Ms. Streep is accepting a Lifetime Achievement award – and you begrudge her dressing up a little??

      Please – get a life.

  5. The citizens who voted for Trump are not graced with Meryl Streep’s exceptional talents, nor have they access to her economic environment, perhaps if they had they would not have done what they did.

    • Read her BIO – she worked very hard a to get where she is and ANY of the dummies that voted for trump could do the same thing, but most have chosen to remain uneducated and racist. The reason why trump supporters are where they in life is because of extremely poor lifer choices on their part and a complete failure to understand how the world works.

      Note that every month millions of good USA jobs go unfilled because most Americans in the rust belt and coal country are unwilling to do the hard work to be able to do the unfilled jobs and are unwilling to move to where the jobs are.

      All they do is whine instead of taking “personal responsibility” to make themselves employable.

      If I can get an engineering degree and then go on to help design some of the high-tech stuff you use every day, then pretty much anyone can. No one handed me my degree, my wife and I worked hard to pay for it (and her degree after mine). Note that my son that is now a federal judge and my son that is getting his masters degree in the healthcare both entirely paid for their education.

      Instead of voting for trump, get off their rears and prepare themselves for another job because no matter what trump “promises” those old jobs are NEVER, repeat NEVER, coming back and the rust belt and coal country will continue to have no jobs and depopulate.

      Heck, Google and several other groups provide FREE comprehensive, high quality programming classes via the web – the exact reverse of trump university where people paid for useless training.

  6. Trump’s well-documented mockery of a disabled person and his subsequent denial, clearly demonstrates the PEOTUS possesses a mind which resides in an alternate reality. Trump can be sent into a Twitter rage by a “second-rate actress,” when Meryl Streep spoke truth to power.

    Fellow CEO Trump which the CEO-ridden Electoral College elected contrary to the popular vote is a deranged megalomaniac with no sense of reality. What pharmaceutical keeps someone up until 3AM to Twitter at adversaries?

  7. It was heartening and you are correct, a bit forlorn. Yet, trump responded with more idiocy to be logged in our memories, as well as the public record. His attacks are so frequent , so off the wall, and so wrong, that at some point they will no longer pack a punch. Really, calling Meryl Streep an overrated actress was pretty absurd. I cried with her.

  8. “Ethics lawyer” – What an oxymoron.

    lawyers should never be allowed anywhere near a legislative process due to their own conflicts of interest.

  9. Her speech was beautiful and full of wisdom. It is, however, easy for regular people to look at somebody like Streep and say “her problems are not my problems”, or, “her life is not like my life.” Can not the same be said about Trump? Has he ever logged an honest day of work? Streep creates, enriches the culture, literally, and with her thoughtful performances. Trump is at best parasitic; at worst a predatory (most likely judging from his team, a parasite traveling in a pack of nationalistic throwbacks). He represents every ugly stereotype about America and every child’s worst nightmare. Will he be the the man who broke up our family? Will he be the man who let the bank take our house? The question about his presidency will be how long before his numbers are as low as Congress’s. And will there be any America left at that time?

  10. Mr. Kovaleski maybe handicapped, but unlike trump, he’s not mentally handicapped, with many insecure children’s habits that he just can’t keep under control! Sad!

    Psst . . . Meryl is truly what this country needs at the top!

  11. Meryl Streep’s comments are fair enough, but like so much political commentary in these times it has more than its share of hypocrisy. There is a great deal about Trump that is deplorable and ominous, but Streep was on Hillary Clinton’s bandwagon and, if anything, she is worse than Trump. Streep explained at a women’s forum why she supported Clinton. Apparently, she heard three women from troubled areas give Clinton credit for saving their lives. Saving three women’s lives is truly admirable, but how many millions of women have had their lives destroyed through death, maiming and displacement because of policies Hillary supported or pushed for from The Balkans through sanctions and a war on Iraq, and on to regime changes in Libya, Honduras and Syria?

    We are all familiar with Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement saying “We though it was worth it.” The first “it” referred to the sanctions on Iraq that cost an estimated half million Iraqi children their lives. What the second “it” referred to is beyond the comprehension of any civilized person. “We” would certainly have included Bill Clinton and his two-for-one partner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Trump and the Clintons – a pox on both their houses.

    • In the USA, every election is a BINARY election. That is, You ONLY get to choose between TWO candidates. BASIC MATH says voting for any other than the offered binary is simply a vote for the “winner,” regardless how much you dislike the “winner.”

      Ranting about Clinton being a less than ideal candidate is just plain delusional.

      If you did not vote for Clinton, you chose trump by default, it is as simple as that no matter how you try to justify your action or inaction.

      Would I like to have better candidates – you betcha. BUT that is NOT how the USA political system works (which is actually slightly better than the other systems that are used around the world). There is no one with the ability to change the USA political system in any meaningful way, so we have to play by the current rules.

      Given the current racist, low intelligence, religious, media driven culture the USA has, it is unlikely we will ever get better candidates. Due to many drivers (technology, racism, capitalism, greed egos, etc.) America is going through a MASSIVE social upheaval with massive power shifts where there are going to be lots of losers and some “winners.” The losers will not give up power willingly and will literally fight to the death no matter how ridiculous their fight.

      If you want better candidate, you are going to have to change the minds of millions of people who have no desire to expend the amount of energy it would take to become informed, thinking voters. The low energy way of voting is to just leap on whatever band wagon FEELS good in the moment.

      In reality, Clinton was a “better” choice than trump and the other people running were a waste of time and energy.

      • As the old saying goes, “You vote for the lesser evil, you still get evil.” As recent history has shown the evils have become progressively worse with each quadrennial presidential charade. It is long past time for people who care to say, “Enough” and change course.

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