I really, really wanted to bury this one in the Morning Warm-Up. I’m thoroughly sick of writing about the dishonest manipulation of facts and principle used to attack President Trump every day, many times, in the mainstream news media. I am sick of pointing out how unprofessional the Trump-hating publications are that uncritically publish screeds that they would never accept as meeting basic standards of ethical journalism if it weren’t for the identity their target: this President of the United States. I’m also sick of readding proyests from readers trying to rationalize such miserabl ejournalism and punditry. I know readers are sick of all of this too, but the important point is that gullible members of the public and partisan journalists are not sick of the tactic, or ready to play it straight. They are counting on those who care about fairness, process and truth to give up before they do.
Well, they will wait a long time for me, especially when they publish opinion pieces as bad—misleading, unfair, and unethical— as this one, by playwright Sarah Ruhl.
Ruhl criticizes the President in inflammatory terms for not attending the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony as its host. The White House announced in August that the Trumps would not participate in the December 3 event in Washington, D.C. to avoid “political distraction.” “The president and first lady have decided not to participate in this year’s activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” Sarah Sanders said in a statement, adding that the president and Melania Trump “extend their sincerest congratulations and well wishes to all of this year’s award recipients for their many accomplishments.”
Ruhl criticizes the decision in the most inflammatory terms:
“In dictatorships, the artists are often the first to go. Or maybe they are the third to go, after the press and the intellectuals. The refusal of the president to celebrate them is a chilling and clear departure from American values. Perhaps the Trumps didn’t want to compete with the Obamas, who at the 2016 Kennedy Center awards received the longest standing ovation of the evening.”
What unbelievable gall! Nowhere in Ruhl’s piece, which unflatteringly compares Trump to previous Presidents who attended the gala, does she mention a material fact. Did you catch the omission? Do you think Times readers and the people who are being primed to detest the President did?
The announcement that the Trumps would not be attending came only after honoree Norman Lear, creator of “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “Sanford and Son,”—and also of the ultra-left advocacy group People for the American Way—said that he would boycott the White House reception in protest of the President’s proposed funding cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His fellow 2017 honorees musician Lionel Ritchie and singer Gloria Estefan also hinted that they were considering making a snub of their host a centerpiece of the event.
If the President had attended, one or more of the honorees would have done a John Lewis and boycotted his reception, and perhaps the event itself, just to get publicity, signal their virtue, and get some interviews on MSNBC and CNN. (Ritchie and Estefan’s careers aren’t exactly soaring these days.) Lear, the uber liberal, is the only one among the honorees who’s not Hispanic, black, a woman, or some combination thereof. I bet with a little effort, Norman could have talked all of them into skipping the White House reception, and probably into making Trump-bashing statements about why…maybe a joint statement about how he hates women, blacks and immigrants. You know Ruhl would have loved that.
Meanwhile, the political drama at the performance and ceremony would have made the evening all about Trump and “the resistance,” with everyone wondering which performers would grandstand and make some kind of an insulting comment to the President’s face. And then what would he do? Such suspense! What great reality show drama! And what TV ratings!
The dilemma created by the honorees–not Trump—was disgraceful, but typical of this whole year from the Inauguration on. The President was again placed in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation for the “crime” of daring to beat Hillary Clinton when he would only be fulfilling the purely ceremonial duties of his office. Never mind: Lear and others on the honors list don’t think he deserves that office. They forced the President to do the only responsible thing he could: bow out, just like he bowed out of the White House Correspondents Dinner, where he was being primed for televised humiliation. Ruhl writes that “Trump didn’t have the nerve, for a single night, to be in a room with artists who have criticized him.” That’s a false characterization. Some of the honorees were planning on carrying that criticism into the event. They dictated that his presence would transform the event into a political show rather than the celebration of the arts she blathers about in her column.
Ruhl probably would have written that Trump was wrong if he HAD attended. You know someone would have.
After what the obnoxious “Hamilton” cast did to Mike Pence, ambushing him when he was a captive audience member while “the resistance” (and Ruhl, apparently) cheered, I’m amazed Trump even considered subjecting himself to that kind of insult and potential embarrassment, even before Lear shot off his mouth. But once the TV producer did, and other honorees hinted that they might not attend, Trump did the gracious and smart thing.
Ah, but this was the perfect trap, you see, for anything Trump did would be wrong, because anything Trump does is by definition wrong. Ruhl writes that not attending showed a lack of grace.
If the Kennedy Center wants Presidents to host the event, it should make the honors contingent on honorees not making their attendance political—you know, manners. Attend the whole event, including the White House reception, or we’ll find someone else to honor.
I was waiting for one of the female honorees to say that they wouldn’t attend the event because it was hosted by an alleged sexual harasser—in a theater complex memorial to the worst and most reckless sexual predator in Presidential history.
Sadly, that didn’t occur, but it would have been perfect.