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Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech Was the Perfect Bait

Because no matter what he tweets, Donald Trump loves celebrities as much as ever

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Donald Trump, the executive producer of the television show The Celebrity Apprentice, has recently been taking great pains to make “celebrity” a dirty word, or at least distinguish himself as someone who does not care at all about its machinations. “The so-called ‘A’ list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration,” he tweeted in late December, without proof, evidence, or even a little hint of who these celebrities might be, “but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!”

Methinks The Donald doth protest too much. Because nearly every time Trump tries to make a claim like this, his words betray him and reveal him to be someone who thinks deeply and almost obsessively about the entertainment world. A person who truly does not care about celebrity status, for example, would not use a tweet directed toward the everyman (excuse me, “the PEOPLE!”) to also make a petty, backhanded slight at “so-called ‘A’ list celebrities” — that person would, ideally, not be paying attention closely enough to distinguish the A-list from the D. Similarly, Trump’s proclivity for the word “overrated” reveals him to be someone who, rather than being completely estranged from the arts, is actually a passionate and principled defender of their quality (or at least his definition of it). Saturday Night Live has jumped the shark, he believes, and he’s heard that Hamilton is “overrated.” There were many contenders, but one of the most surreal moments of the third presidential debate came when Hillary Clinton sought to discredit Trump by pointing out how upset he was when The Apprentice failed to win an Emmy three years in a row. Trump leaned into the mic and said, of this years-old slight, “Shoulda gotten it.” Someone who existed in a separate sphere from the world of celebrity wouldn’t know whether something was as good or as bad as its reputation; someone who really thinks that the institutions of movies and TV aren’t deeply important wouldn’t care to act as such a staunch critic. That person also wouldn’t care about Nielsen ratings, or awards shows.

Meryl Streep willingly walked into the lion’s den Sunday night, since we are living through a time when even a conservative commentator who expresses ambivalent feelings about Pepe the Frog runs the risk of becoming a right-wing whipping post. Earlier Sunday, some Trump supporters had started a hashtag: “#BoycottGoldenGlobes.” “Do NOT WATCH Liberal Hollywood Popularity Contest!” one of its more widely shared tweets read, “Hollywood vows to not support PRES Trump, we won’t support them!” It seemed, for the first few hours of the show, that this vehemence had been misplaced. This was not exactly a televised socialist rally: The only person to make even an oblique reference to Trump was the British actor Hugh Laurie; the less that is said about Tom Hiddleston’s White-Guy-in-Africa-Tinder-Profile-Pic speech the better.

But then came Streep. Her speech, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award, got off to a rocky start: She lamented the fact that Dr. House had stolen her “Hollywood Foreign Press” joke, she bent over a little too far backward to paint the famous people in the room as plain folks of humble roots (“Sarah Jessica Parker was one of 7 or 8 kids in Ohio”), she fired unnecessary shots at mixed martial arts. It would be hard, though, to overrate the passionate poise of the second half of her speech — the part that will be remembered long after anyone can recall how many statues La La Land or The Night Manager took home Sunday night. Taking a page from Michelle Obama’s Book of Elegant Shade, Streep didn’t once mention him by name. Instead, she took the opportunity to try to challenge the noxious perception that acting and entertainment are inherently elitist and out-of-touch: “An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us,” she said, “and let you feel what that feels like.” It’s a lofty goal, of course, one of which plenty of the shows and movies being honored fell short. But there was something invigorating about hearing that articulated so clearly, the connection between art and empathy, and the looming danger that vilifying the former will result only in a country with a terrible dearth of the latter.

Trump took the bait, of course — when hasn’t he? He sent out the “over-rated” tweet around 6:30 EST Monday morning, as well as one calling Streep “a Hillary flunky who lost big.” As usual, Trump flunky Kellyanne Conway made the rounds trying to spin her boss’s tweets into some kind of coherent narrative; she accused Streep’s speech about empathy and compassion of “inciting people’s worst instincts.”

Trump claimed, in an interview with The New York Times on Monday morning, that he hadn’t watched the Globes or Streep’s speech, though I’m not sure I believe him; it is squarely within his character to watch, care about, and even live-tweet an awards show like this, hard as he might try to suddenly convince us otherwise. (See also: SNL.) Later in the interview, he made another one of those revealing slips, in which he once again seemed to be pivoting on the aforementioned promise that his inauguration was about “the PEOPLE” and not the “‘A’ list,” or at the very least seeing the futility of the divide he’s encouraged between these two groups.

“We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration,” Trump said. He then added, “and there will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars.”