The 2017 Golden Globes had the potential to be many things, from a full-length musical directed by Damien Chazelle to a three-hour-long circle jerk. But of all the possible outcomes, we didn’t predict—but probably should have—that the show would result in a Twitter feud between America’s most beloved actress and the president-elect. In a world where “the president-elect’s offensive tweet” has become a painfully quotidian phrase, Trump’s decision to personally go after Meryl Streep is still shocking. It also appeared to be deliberately provoked.
On Sunday night, Streep accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award to thunderous applause. After a strangely Mamma Mia-heavy montage, the actress quickly segued into an unexpectedly political speech, focusing on a moment during the Trump campaign when the presidential candidate mocked a disabled New York Times reporter. Or as Streep described him, “Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.”
She continued, “It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it of out my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing.”
While the three-time Academy Award winner didn’t refer to Donald Trump by name, the subtweet was less than subtle. Rest assured when The New York Times called Trump in the middle of the night—to discuss a Hollywood celebrity’s award-show speech—our president-elect picked up the phone. In a brief telephone interview, Trump said he was not surprised he had been criticized by “liberal movie people,” dismissing Streep as a delusional Hillary supporter. Once again, he denied he had ridiculed Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for his disability. It’s an unconvincing act, befitting our future president’s status as a Razzie Award winner.
But the backlash was just beginning. “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes” Trump tweeted, opening with the erroneous assumption that only friends and family can critique incoming presidents. “She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!”
As if all the Twitter noise wasn’t terrifying enough, Kellyanne Conway brought her textbook dizzying spin to Fox & Friends, concluding, “This is Hollywood… I think where there is self-pity, a lot more self-awareness would do them some charm.” Then, in a pretty-shocking-even-for-Kellyanne Conway encore performance at CNN, she attacked anchor Chris Cuomo for taking Trump at his word, chastising, “You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.” So, other than his daughter, his Twitter account, and the occasional pussy-grab, what does our president-elect carry close to his heart? Years of evidence point to the very Hollywood “elites” that his supporters and surrogates are currently castigating.
After all, this is a man who has always been obsessed with the entertainment industry—an aspiring A-lister, reality-TV show host, and Hollywood hanger-on. To mock the entertainment industry as out of touch with the will of the people, while praising a man who cared more about dating Salma Hayek than he’ll ever care about the average American, shows a fundamental lack of awareness. Clearly, Conway and her ilk are refusing to recognize, or don’t care to articulate, the extent to which Trump’s own TV fame fueled his political ascendancy. Donald Trump, a man who loves Hollywood almost as much as it despises him, has absolutely no right to criticize actors as out-of-touch, fame-hungry, or elitist.
Donald Trump was never content with his wealth, inherited or earned. Instead, he wanted to be rich and famous. The president-elect who whips his supporters into a frenzy over the alleged crimes of the Hollywood elite spent a good deal of his life pitching reality-TV shows. Most of these shows flopped, or even failed to premiere. But they all shared that signature Trump sensibility, from Lady or a Tramp, a real-life My Fair Lady for “rude and crude” young women, to Trump Town Girls, a show about former pageant queens turned Trump real-estate agents. For all of his brainstorming, the only Trump TV show that actually succeeded was a fictionalization of his literal job description. And while The Apprentice was unquestionably a hit, its ratings seriously dropped after only a few seasons.
Still, Trump, who hosted the show and quickly became attached to the spotlight, refused to let The Apprentice pass on to mediocre programming purgatory. Instead, he kept insisting that the series was No. 1, inflating and then flat-out lying about his television ratings. Clearly, when Donald Trump calls Meryl Streep “over-rated,” he’s coming from a place of deep insecurity. With more than a decade of TV appearances and hosting gigs under his belt, a dying franchise and a Razzie Award is all Trump’s got to show for his efforts.
If he wasn’t such a baby about it, Trump’s unrequited love affair with Hollywood would be sort of romantic. In many ways, his presidential run—a Hail Mary reach for exposure and legitimacy—was The Donald’s equivalent of holding a boom box up to America’s window and begging for attention. Somehow, a probable Russian hack, Weiner scandal, and about a dozen pussy-grabbing allegations later, we wound up with a reality-TV president. The irony is that Trump probably would have settled for a whole lot less. The man has always been fixated on celebrities, and has gone to great lengths to become one himself. According to a 2015 New York Times article, “Rise of Donald Trump Divides Black Celebrities He Calls His Friends,” Trump loved to tell outlandish anecdotes about A-listers, in the hopes of attaching his brand to a household name. He once said of Michael Jackson, who kept an apartment in one of Manhattan’s Trump buildings, “He follows me around, in the sense that he likes what I have.” The idea that Michael Jackson would want to be in Donald Trump’s posse sounds outlandish, but it wouldn’t be the first time Trump has lied about associating with A-listers. The future leader of the free world is said to have even posed as his own publicist to plant flattering stories about himself in the press.
In 1991, John Miller, one of Trump’s alleged alter-egos, called a People reporter and introduced himself as the real-estate magnate’s publicist. Miller was incredibly loquacious, particularly when it came to the subject of his “boss’s” sex life. “Actresses,” Miller explained, “just call to see if they can go out with him and things.” Madonna “wanted to go out with him.” According to the publicist, Trump had “three other girlfriends” in addition to living with Marla Maples. He also alleged that Kim Basinger had been trying to date Trump. So, not only did Donald Trump spread lies and rumors about famous women—he personally planted them by posing as his own publicist. Editors at New York tabloids told The Washington Post that calls from Trump’s various alter-egos became a running joke in their newsrooms.
Actress Salma Hayek claims that when she first met the real-estate mogul, he got her phone number and wouldn’t leave her alone. After she repeatedly refused his romantic advances, Trump decided to get revenge. Hayek believes that Donald Trump—a grown man—planted a story in the National Enquirer, insisting that he had rejected Hayek because she was too short. “Later, he called and left me a message. ‘Can you believe this? Who would say this? I don’t want people to think this about you,’” the actress said. “He thought that I would try to go out with him so people wouldn’t think that’s why he wouldn’t go out with me.”
In recent years, Trump, like so many of us, has transitioned his cultish celebrity worship to Twitter. He’s praised Miley Cyrus and chimed in on stars from Kristen Stewart to Katy Perry. And when he couldn’t get A-listers to come to Mar-a-Lago, he’s settled for rapists, criminals, and romance-novel models—any C- or B-lister willing to lend a sheen of celebrity to Trump’s paltry posse.
In addition to being an aspiring celebrity himself, Donald Trump is far more out of touch than your average Hollywood actor, let alone your average American.
In a May interview with The New York Times, he claimed that the most dangerous place he had ever been to was Brooklyn. “No,” he continued, “there are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson.” Naturally, he couldn’t claim to have ever stepped foot in one of these high-risk locales. Trump, a man who started his business courtesy of a $14 million loan from his father, has only gotten more and more out of touch, locking himself up in a solid-gold penthouse apartment with an endless supply of sycophants and taco bowls. In contrast, as Meryl Streep’s speech illuminated, good acting demands empathy and is enriched by varied experiences. “But who are we and, you know, what is Hollywood, anyway?” she asked. “It’s just a bunch of people from other places… An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.”
This year, the Golden Globes honored Moonlight, a tender, unflinching telling of black masculinity and sexuality. Meanwhile, Trump’s grappling with the African-American experience has been limited to fear-mongering propaganda, combined with a reticence to condemn white supremacy. Isabelle Huppert took home a best actress award for Elle, a movie that wrestles with sexual assault and its aftermath. In contrast, Trump’s apparent inability to stop grabbing women—let alone his inability to apologize and take responsibility when confronted for it—was an alarming staple of his presidential campaign.
Hollywood is far from perfect, but some of the industry’s stated values and goals—from representation to compassion to hard work and artistry—were on proud display last Sunday night. As a former C-lister himself, not to mention a billionaire bigot, Trump has no right to criticize the celebrities that he used to idealize. Unfortunately, his lack of self-awareness, in addition to his apparent allergy to any serious responsibility, all but ensures that our next president will be prioritizing SNL screenings and celebrity Twitter feuds for years to come.