Words speak louder than actions in our present social and political climate. Beyond the depressing realization that this inverted adage appropriately describes our current state of affairs, there lies the glaring fact that those shouting the loudest in condemnation of the most egregious statements of the election season tend to have repeatedly made them themselves. The politically incorrect boogeyman in Election 2016 is certainly Donald Trump, but what remains relatively unspoken is that his most vocal detractors have proven to be his competitors in a struggle over who can more thoroughly shock and offend the public with vitriolic statements against marginalized communities.
They form a cadre of “liberal” celebrities-cum-Clintonites who have made careers out of erasing, blatantly copying, and insulting women, people of color, LGBTQI people, immigrants, Muslims, and all those at the intersections, following the very same path that brought Trump his recent political achievement. Their hateful outbursts rise #StrongerTogether in a cacophony that drowns out legitimate accusations of the hypocrisy thinly-veiled by their sudden acts of risk-free “courage.” As they embrace the Democratic nominee for president, they simultaneously seek to bask in a supposed triumph of “good” over the very “evil” they also exhibit.
While the devotion that liberal celebrities demonstrate in support of their candidate of choice is admirable and, in a generous reading, likely a well-meaning exercise, an undeniable air of self-righteousness rests at the foundation of their work. That the most famous of supporters always cite Trump in their apologia for Clinton provides solid evidence of this assertion. Trump’s mere existence somehow magically negates a well-documented history of Clinton’s racism in both rhetoric and policy. This election has provided celebrities and countless politicians with an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to criticize a public figure more hated for his words than they are, turning Donald Trump into the monthly communion cracker for careers built on sin.
Much like the U.S. South has existed as a socio-cultural and ideological foil for the North – the latter often citing the racism, poverty, and conservatism of the former in a rhetorical deflection from its own racist violence, socio-spatial segregation, and classism – liberal pundits, celebrities, and even some voters, have used the specter of Donald Trump, his supporters, and the potential threat his presidency poses to cloak themselves temporarily, if not indefinitely (should Trump win), in feigned ideological superiority. This group has expanded to include self-proclaimed “moderate” conservatives as they continue to publically declare #ImWithHer (which Clinton regularly cites with reciprocal pride).
Their long record of bellicose and bigoted politics belies their only recently “rehabilitated” image. In the act of denouncing Donald Trump, all of the aforementioned parties subconsciously engage in an act of self-flagellation that ultimately absolves them of guilt amid Donald Trump’s verbalization of their proven misdeeds. In other words, if they disavow Trump with just enough ardor, they can transfer their past and present sins onto him and are subsequently “purified” in the public eye. He reminds them of their past and, in some cases, their present, simultaneously unearthing the problems at the root of the U.S. liberalism and moderate conservatism as they have manifested in the political realm while acting as a “greater evil” from which they can distance themselves. For when we are curious enough to venture beyond the rhetorical level and deeper than the platitudes meant only to pacify us, we recognize the active role those purporting to ride atop the higher horse have played in breathing life into what has temporarily been reduced and bottled up in the potential of Trump’s words.
Think momentarily of Donald Trump’s most offensive statements and, in the vein of gossip magazines’ favorite body-shaming exercise “Who Wore It Best?”, compare them to what these celebrities have said in a game of “Who Said It Best?”:
Let’s begin with Bill Maher, comedian, political commentator, and host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, who remarked in 2014:
Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her
— Bill Maher (@billmaher) July 18, 2014
Compare that to any of Donald Trump’s statements about women or, better yet, his entire AIPAC speech, in which he makes no qualms about conflating all Palestinians with terrorists (albeit, a move Clinton employs as well).
How about Maher’s condescending take on Colin Kaepernick’s assertion this week that both candidates are “embarrassing” and have reduced the debate process to a competition over “who’s less racist”?:
#colinkapernick is an idiot.I support his protest,but stick to what u know: kneeling and interceptions, and then look up “false equivalency”
— Bill Maher (@billmaher) September 28, 2016
Black protesters are some of Maher’s favorite targets, as demonstrated by the insults he spewed toward Ashley Williams (and Black Lives Matter in general) in February for merely drawing attention to Hillary Clinton’s racism during the South Carolina primary:
These are just a sampling of Maher’s choice racist, Islamophobic, and sexist statements, though there are countless more where those came from.
What about actor Alec Baldwin, now slated to replace Darrell Hammond as Trump on Saturday Night Live (at Tina Fey’s suggestion, no less)? During the past few years, Baldwin has proven verbally abusive, belligerent, and homophobic, having referred in 2007 to his then eleven-year-old daughter as a “thoughtless pig” and to a photographer in 2013 as a “c*cksucking f*g”.
Lena Dunham & Amy Schumer
And what of mainstream feminists? Surely their unwavering support of Hillary Clinton, which hinges on the idea that, as Lena Dunham declared in Time, “when barriers for women fall, the world becomes a better place for everyone — especially when they’re kicked down by the baddest lady in the game” (ignoring, of course, the barriers that remain for many poor women, women of color, immigrant women, and women who reside in targeted sites of U.S. militarism) is not marred by the same strains of bigotry! Or is it?
In September, Dunham caused controversy over a statement she made about black football player Odell Beckham, who dared not engage her during this year’s Met Gala, only to find himself the target of her baseless assumptions that he was sexist and fatphobic. In addition to this debacle, Dunham has come under intense criticism for not having cast any central characters of color in her HBO show Girls, which is set in New York City, the fourth most diverse city in the nation in terms of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, the shenanigans of her racist showrunners and writers such as Lesley Arfin, who notoriously referred to defecating as “taking Obama to the White House,” among other racist “jokes,” have done Dunham few favors in her attempt to show her “growth” on matters of race. Save a few extras and minor characters, such as a black homeless man who harasses Dunham’s character Hannah in the street in the first season or (in response to criticism) her black Republican boyfriend in the second, the cast of the show, now entering its final season, remains overwhelmingly white.
In addition to these repeated missteps, Dunham’s timeline on Twitter serves a virtual treasure trove of years’ worth of racist tweets, though her friend and fellow Clinton supporter comedian Amy Schumer, who recently referred to those uncomfortable with the idea of voting for Clinton as “uninformed” in a BBC Newsnight interview, offers up a rather rich collection of documented racism of her own. While presenting at the 2015 MTV Movie Awards, Schumer implied that Latinas were “crazed”, adding to a long list of racist one-liners about Latino men and women from her stand-up routines (“Nothing works 100% of the time, except Mexicans” and “I used to date Latino guys [but] now I prefer consensual”). These attempts at humor prepared her audience for yet another slam on people of color: her tweet in defense of her (and Dunham’s) antics during the Odell Beckham controversy that made a sweeping statement about men of color as serial sexual harassers. Schumer quickly deleted the tweet, but her record as a racist remains.
Consider the aforementioned public utterances alongside Donald Trump’s blatantly racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic remarks about Mexicans being “rapists” or that Muslims pose such a security threat to the United States that they deserve to be banned altogether, and decide whether the bigotry at the heart of these statements is somehow less toxic than Trump’s. The list of Trump’s off-color and, quite frankly, dangerous rhetoric, is never-ending to be sure, but how far does it depart from the statements made by people who advocate for a candidate they claim will “save” all the marginalized groups Trump has antagonized?
Very little, to be honest.
The rhetorical wheelhouses of these celebrities who have dedicated considerable time and energy to Election 2016 by writing, campaigning, and performing in favor of Hillary Clinton while citing Trump as a nightmarish brute are hard to differentiate from those of their political punching bag du jour. Had actions been included above – say, Sarah Silverman’s use of blackface on her show in 2007, Matt Damon’s dismissal of Hollywood’s diversity problem (which he followed with his own act of whitewashing) or Madonna’s infinite list of racist offenses in both daily life and performance (seriously, Google it) – this piece would go from a few pages to a tome, and that’s without mentioning Bill and Hillary Clinton’s checkered past on race. Including the Clintons’ well-documented history of racism – from their joint advocacy (and Bill’s ultimate passage) of “tough-on-crime” legislation and welfare reform that infamously relied upon harmful tropes of black people as “superpredators” and “welfare queens,” to the racist and xenophobic campaign Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama in 2008 and her support of a U.S.-Mexico border wall – would blur the lines between Trump’s bigotry and that of the Clintons even further.
Living For Hilary! Yes I vote for intelligence. I vote for equal rights for women and all minorities. ???????? pic.twitter.com/YxoFYm7HDL
— Madonna (@Madonna) September 28, 2016
As multiple thinkers, writers, and activists have argued, “Trump’s America” is here now, and failing to recognize this takes an astounding case of ignorance or cognitive dissonance. Regarding Trump’s immigration plan, Obama has broken records in terms of undocumented immigrant detention rates and deportations, actively destroying families and, along with public support from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sending refugees to their deaths in Central American and Middle Eastern nations where the United States has consistently destabilized governments and fomented ever-expanding violence, first under the Cold War and now under the so-called War on Terror.
Regarding Trump’s calls for “law and order,” rates of mass incarceration and police brutality are at an all-time high, with the police threatening, imprisoning, and murdering hundreds of thousands of people – disproportionately of African, indigenous, and Latin American descent – who pose no immediate threat. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, military and law enforcement personnel have tortured and assassinated “militants” and “enemy combatants,” – both terms of debatable veracity – and continue to detain many innocent civilians in “black site” prisons around the world, including Chicago’s Homan Square, where U.S. citizens have been interrogated under duress, tortured, and disappeared. This hardly scratches the surface when we consider what the militaries and police of our global “allies” do to civilians with billions of our tax dollars. The blood is on our hands and in our wallets.
Trump serves as a convenient reminder to us all to forgive and forget.