10 January 2017

Celebrity and statesmanship

Many people find it ironic if not hypocritical for Donald Trump's fans to question celebrities' right to criticize the President-elect, since he seems to many people no more and no less a "celebrity" than the people he Twitter-feuds with. The latest round pitted Trump against Meryl Streep after she denounced him (without speaking his name) at the Golden Globe awards show. Naturally, Trump saw fit to challenge Streep's standing in her own profession, in a form of ad feminam attack, by calling her an overrated actress. Perhaps he had in mind her impersonation of him at some event last year, admittedly not one of her finest moments despite the fat suit and wig, and perhaps impersonation (see also Alec Baldwin) makes him especially angry. For his fans, it's sufficient to note that Streep is a mere entertainer and thus without credibility on political subjects. Again, it's ironic given that a great part of Trump's appeal with such people is his lack of political experience. As opposed to the dreaded career politician, Trump and Streep are equally outsiders, and if we're to reject the platonic premise that statesmanship requires specific expertise not acquired in commercial life, then there's no reason to conclude automatically that Streep, for example, has more or less credibility than Trump -- who, despite whatever his fans may claim, would not be where he will be later this month without first appearing on The Apprentice.

Of course, Trumpists will remind us that Donald Trump is a "successful businessman," but even were we to concede his success, as many do not, how is that a qualification for political office? It may be true that the Founders did not want the country run by the sort of career politician we see today, but I doubt whether many of them wanted it run by the sort of businessmen Donald Trump has been.  The rural Jeffersonian types certainly would not have conceded that Trump's sort of businessman had special qualifications for political leadership. Nor would anyone living today, were they honest, argue that business expertise or "success" entitles anyone to serious consideration for political office. At bottom, Trump's vocation matters less than what he says and what he claims to stand for. After all, would his fans feel that they owe any deference to Warren Buffett, due to his business success, when he says the wealthy should pay more taxes, or to George Soros, whom many on Trump's side see as almost the Adam Weishaupt of our time? And history shows that a mere actor, one who to my knowledge created no more jobs in private life than Meryl Streep has, can become the idol of those same people, or their fathers, simply for saying what they wanted to hear. So the argument that mere celebrities have no business imposing their political opinions on us is pure bullshit or, if you prefer, a smokescreen covering the real wish never to hear from liberals anywhere, ever. That doesn't mean that the celebrity of the moment isn't an idiot, or simply wrong, but whether their opinions are wrong or stupid really has nothing to do with who they are or what they do. Complaining about celebrities is just a way to avoid actually answering what they say, which is probably convenient for people who can barely articulate their own beliefs and most likely envy entertainers' ability to do so.  But who are they to have opinions on anything, one might ask, much less any ambition to express their opinions? The answer might suggest a golden rule of discourse to people interested in anything besides imposing their will or silencing everyone else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The problem is that celebrities have a much larger public podium to speak from. Why should a Streep be allowed to voice her political opinion through mass media which most have no access to? Even when I considered myself among the left, it still rankled me when some celebrity like Bono or Streep would shoot their mouths off on some issue or other. Not because I feel they have no right to an opinion, but that they should have the dignity and public conscience to keep such opinions out of the public spotlight. Quite frankly, the whole notion of "celebrity" irritates me.