Inaugurations are a mixture of political-institutional rituals and shows. In 1993, Bill Clinton’s first term in office inauguration included Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, comedians Chevy Chase, Bill Crosby and Jack Lemmon. Bush Jr.’s had Ricky Martin, Mohammed Ali, John Secada and Larry King. And Barack Obama’s had Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Lopez, Lila Downs, Marc Anthony, Paulina Rubio, Alejandro Sanz, Shakira, Beyonce and James Taylor.
If analyzed as a whole, beyond their differences, even with Republican presidents, their common factor consists in underlining the idea of diversity and inclusion, two of the pillars preconized by the melting pot, even when the reality of the facts not always follows that road.
But you can bet this January 20 festivity will represent a rupture with that norm. Not because the organizers are not seeking it but rather because of the difficulties in incorporating renowned musicians and artists. It is at least difficult to lend oneself to the show based on everything that happened with Trump in a race that was as dirty as divisive, and on his “legacy,” deeply associated to racism, misogyny and exclusion.
Evidently, the artistic community has in liberalism one of its historic supports. That’s why the elected man does not have the sympathy or the backing of musicians and actors from Hollywood, except for rather sui generis cases. Actress Susan Sarandon, for example, once said that he was “a drunk guy at a wedding”; Cher, “a fanatic”; George Clooney went a bit further when he described him as “xenophobic fascist”; Johnny Depp was more metaphorical, but anyway very descriptive: he was, he said, “a golf club”; Miley Cyrus, more psychological when considering him “a nightmare”; and Richard Gere went all out when he said the following in standard American English: “a guy that is obviously Mussolini”. A short time ago Bruce Springsteen, who was ringing bells for Hillary Clinton, like Beyonce, Jay Z, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and other pop music stars, stated that the president-elect is appealing to “non-American tendencies” – a questionable idea in itself – and that it will not be easy for the genie of fanaticism, racism and intolerance to give back the lamp after Trump assumes the presidency.
On the other side of the spectrum, as was expected, there has not been a lack of reactions. Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren has launched attacks against the so-called “A celebrities” attributing to external pressures what is ultimately none other than a matter of values, civility and awareness. The strategy used in programs like Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” consists in saddling them with the label of “radical left-wing and intolerant,” unable to accept democracy’s ruling. It certainly is an argument difficult to sustain in the case of a president who, as is known, won by electoral vote and not by popularity, since he lost almost three million souls in his race against Clinton.
According to Lahren, there are still many Americans who don’t understand that Donald Trump will be their next president and, if they can’t accept it, of course neither do the artists who will perform in the inauguration. Lahren has to her credit the intriguing peculiarity of having compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan, for which in its time there were many requests that she be fired.
The problem is that Trump’s transition team – and particularly Boris Ephsteyn, director of Communications of the Presidential Inauguration Committee – has not been able to incorporate to the show almost nothing worthwhile or that shines too much. The list of names, which has been circulating since November like a hot potato, is characterized by categorical refusals as well as courteous way outs.
For example, the Kiss rock group and Celine Dion said they couldn’t participate because they had work commitments in Europe and Las Vegas, respectively; while Elton John’s agent, Fran Curtis, gave a flat “no”. Italian Andrea Bocelli recanted after a rather viral reaction in the social media. And country music singer Garth Brooks also threw the towel. The Beach Boys, which have been in several ceremonies of this type, have still not given a final reply. The truth of the matter is that reactions and lack of definitions like these led the Tower man to use his favorite social communication method, a tweet where he combines in equal parts arrogance, anger and populism: THE SO-CALLED “A” LIST CELEBRITIES ARE ALL WAITING TIXS TO THE INAUGURATION, BUT LOOK WHAT THEY DID FOR HILLARY, NOTHING, I WANT THE PEOPLE!
In a perfect tessiture, Epshteyn said to his employer that that was not Woodstock, or a summer jam session, or a concert…it’s the people. But what’s real is what is not seen. According to leaks to the press, which come from within, President-elect Donald Trump is very dissatisfied with his staff for not having been able to reserve any of the important celebrities for his inauguration.
British singer Rebecca Ferguson, another guest, has just assumed a position that is perhaps intelligent when accepting to join the show if they let her sing “Strange Fruit,” originally sung by Billie Holiday. It is a poem written in 1937 by communist activist Abel Meeropol about the oppression and lynching of Afro-Americans; a song put on a black list for being “too controversial” and later adopted as a standard by the civil rights movement in the 1960s:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scenes of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Up to now Trump’s organizers have not reacted, but you don’t need a glass ball to venture what they very probably will do, although what they have until here is not much. Adolescent Jackie Evancho, a blond mezzosoprano famous for the program “America’s Got Talent” and who once sang for Obama in the lighting up of the Christmas tree in DC, is going to sing the U.S. anthem. Some members of two groups that have accepted going on stage – The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and The Radio City Rockettes – have expressed their dissent, unwilling to be identified with the ideocultural agenda and projection of the future president. A member of the chorus, who by the way resigned, said that performing for Trump would betray his values, which should serve as a pivot to delve into the very complex links between religion, ethics and politics beyond certain common presumptions.
He said he could never throw flowers at Hitler and certainly never sing for him and added that tyranny was at their doorsteps, that it was hitting their homes like a storm.
A dancer of The Rockettes said that what this is going to do is label their show, their work, as a mark of extreme right-wing, and added that if many people are not accepting to participate, why did they have to? She has by far not been the only one. In New York the rumor is circulating that Trump was pressuring The Rockettes manager because they are a sort of hallmark of his native city and, for the same reason, it would be absolutely cool to have them in DC.
A letter by several psychologists to President Obama affirms that Trump suffers from an incurable disease called Narcissist Personality Disorder, whose symptoms are grandeur, impulsiveness, hypersensitivity to any criticism and the apparent inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Perhaps, in a less professional language, that’s what was exactly in the head of Idina Menzel, the actress that dubbed the voice for the Elsa of Frozen, Disney’s famous animated cartoon, when she suggested that Trump would resolve the almost total absence of artists with his own hands, that is to say, singing himself. He probably thinks he has a great voice, he believes he does everything great, she said.
On January 20 Donald Trump will become president of the United States and commander-in-chief of its armed forces.
He will undoubtedly be the first who “almost” has no one to sing to him.
And, alas, starting with his first party.