Derek Donovan

Don’t like celebrities talking politics? Have a word with Trump, the showbiz president

Trump is fighting this week over black unemployment stats with Jay-Z. It’s part and parcel of who the showbiz president is.
Trump is fighting this week over black unemployment stats with Jay-Z. It’s part and parcel of who the showbiz president is. AP

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was not amused by one of Grammys host James Corden’s comedy bits Sunday night.

“I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it,” tweeted Nikki Haley. “Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”

It’s unclear whether she was trash talking Michael Wolff’s White House (maybe) tell-all itself, or the faux auditions where John Legend, Cher, Snoop Dogg, Cardi B, DJ Khaled — and most notably, Hillary Clinton — used the book as a script.

Haley is hardly alone in her disdain for artists spouting off. Celebrity bashing is a signature of Donald Trump’s presidency, as it was for years before he took office. This week, it’s his beef with hip-hop impresario Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter over black unemployment. Before, it was Alec Baldwin. Steph Curry. Rosie O’Donnell.

It can be bipartisan. For every set of eyes that rolled as Meryl Streep laid into then-President-elect Trump with her 2017 Golden Globes acceptance speech, another narrowed and glared as Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood took the stage at the 2014 Country Music Association Awards and mocked President Barack Obama and the Democrats who had lost the Senate the night before.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The right’s complaints about getting beaten up in popular culture are justified. Trump’s presidency has kicked the GOP target practice into overdrive on the late-night shows, in particular — but don’t forget that most Republicans were united against his takeover of their party just two years ago. Part of it is the man, not the “R” after his name.

In “The Birth of Tragedy,” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche identified two opposing but complementary aspects of classical Greek society: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Apollo was god of medicine, knowledge and truth. He was the voice of sober reason and rationality. Dionysus, on the other hand, was god of wine, festivity and theater.

Guess which side of that fence most actors, musicians and writers fall on. Art is about telling the story of the heart, and not so much about balancing the books. There’s a reason Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens dismissed “dancers and artists” in vetoing state money for UMKC’s planned downtown arts campus. They’re not his voters, mostly.

In 2015, app maker Verdant Labs compiled campaign contribution data from the Federal Election Commission to sort occupations according to political preferences. What they found was often unsurprising, if not a little stereotypical. Environmentalists, librarians, Episcopal priests and union organizers lean strongly to the Democratic side of the aisle, while Republicans count among their ranks petroleum geologists, business owners, Catholic priests — and talk show hosts.

This is one place where conservatives underestimate their own cultural cachet. The media universe that Roger Ailes pioneered with “The Richard Nixon Show” that he took on the road in 1968 (really, that was a thing) has now achieved dominance with conservative audiences, and it’s politics and entertainment wrapped up in equal measures. Rush Limbaugh continues to own the talk radio space he transformed during President Bill Clinton’s administration into a unique blend of commentary, analysis and sometimes side-splitting comedy. He has inspired many others.

It’s this world alone that Trump aims to please. About seven years ago, the longtime Democratic Party donor and onetime fan of Hillary Clinton (“a great woman, and a good woman”) may have eyed a big and potentially receptive audience. Maybe that’s why he made his major pivot.

That’s the grand irony of protesting the intersection of stagecraft and statecraft in 2018. As Limbaugh has reminded us many times, our career tabloid fixture and reality show star president may not be a conservative. But he plays one on TV.