Trump refuses to acknowledge American culture and the arts because these institutions are out of step with his mindset and his agenda. There will be no popular play that lionizes Trump’s hatred of immigrants and his vicious diatribes against those who oppose him, unless, of course, it runs on Fox News. As we enter his third year of pretending to be a president who serves all of the American people, it’s no wonder that the arts are feeling like they are in the midst of a dry era:
President Trump skipped the Kennedy Center Honors in 2017, publicly stating that he wished to avoid marring the celebration with a "political distraction." A year later, his absence at the event -- held earlier this month, and now being televised on CBS -- merely reinforces the disconnect between the commander in chief and key ceremonial aspects of America's cultural life.
The Kennedy Center tribute joins other touchstones -- like NBA championship teams visiting the White House -- that have fallen by the wayside since Trump's inauguration. And while such matters aren't necessarily important in the bigger scheme of things, it does feel as if there's a donut hole at the center of all this pomp and circumstance.
Perhaps more than most, the Kennedy Center has always been a kick in that respect, seeing Washington luminaries get in touch with their inner fan, dancing and singing along (often poorly, but so what?) during rousing tributes to stars in various artistic fields.
This year's music-centric honorees offer a fair amount of opportunity for such good vibrations, with the showiest segments devoted to Cher, Reba McEntire and the creators of "Hamilton," joined by jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter and composer Philip Glass.
Even with Trump's absence, both sides of the political aisle were well represented, just based on who the cameras find in the crowd. Attendees included soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jeff Flake, and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Members of Trump's cabinet, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, were also on hand, with a conspicuous shot of the latter during the "Hamilton" tribute, which -- given Alexander Hamilton's contributions to monetary policy -- felt like somebody's idea of an inside joke.
There were so many great honorees this year and last year, and it’s a shame that he couldn’t lend the prestige of the office to their ceremonies. However, nothing could be more at odds with Trump’s agenda than honoring Cher, who, during the Iraq War, used her celebrity to deliver badly-needed specialized headbands for soldiers so that they could hopefully avoid traumatic brain injuries. Trump couldn’t even show up this year for Reba McEntire, whose fans probably voted for him. I doubt very much that Trump even know who half of them were, given his disconnect with American culture.
During the Bush years, the one area he could count on for support was found in the Country Music establishment. Trump won’t even honor them, much less deign to spend time with the stars of that genre. He is too toxic for them, save a few of the artists who simply don’t count on ever selling downloads or concert tickets outside of the Deep South. Kid Rock and Ted Nugent are about the extent of his crossover appeal outside of Country.
The diversity of American popular culture guarantees that there will always be a Kanye West who will support Trump in some favor; someone will always be contrarian enough to show him the respect he does not show to them. I can’t imagine what the movies will look like, or how Trump will be depicted for the next fifty years. Anyone who shows him as thoughtful or caring will not be taken seriously. He has already cemented his legacy as a buffoon, and that’s how he will be shown from now on.