There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
Aside from rank Trump apologists, who can really look at the video of Trump, arms flailing, and not see an act of immense cruelty directed toward a specific person? Republicans (including Trump) dismiss every utterance from Hollywood as “liberal” or “out of touch,” but criticizing his mocking of a disabled person should be something on which all Americans can agree. Had Streep pushed a particular agenda (e.g. climate change) or mocked Trump voters, Republicans would have grounds for complaint. She did neither, so they are reduced to eye-rolling and insults (“one of the most over-rated actresses” is among the least effective barbs from Trump).
On immigration she did not call him a xenophobe or push for relief for DACA beneficiaries. She did something much more effective. She reminded Americans that immigration is central to the definition of America, and yes, to its greatness. The people she pointed out — and millions of others– enrich America. Too much time is spent defensively arguing that immigrants do not hurt us; Streep reminded us to focus on what we lose when immigration gets cut off and/or when people get deported.
Streep went on to explain why Trump’s egregious behavior matters: “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 kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” Again, outraged Republicans surely don’t want to defend bullies, right? If not, and if Republicans do not embrace Trump’s venom, taunting and bullying they, should applaud, not whine about, her speech.
And finally, any conservative outrage over a call to a free and independent press suggests the Fox Non-News nighttime propaganda has truly warped the right. What great sin did she commit by calling for “the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage”? Once upon a time (the past eight years), conservatives supported the Bill of Rights and wanted a more aggressive media.
Trump’s reaction and that of right-wing pundits more generally ignores the substance of what Streep said for good reason. Streep humanized “Hollywood elites” (“and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places”) and made a universal appeal to decency. Her sentiments are virtually unassailable (e.g. don’t mock the disabled, don’t bully, do support a free press). Trump and his apologists could only sputter in response — and tweet.