The Donald Trump resistance is star-studded. Meryl Streep made waves by using her Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech to bash Trump. Variety’s “Inauguration Week” issue cover features Lena Dunham leaning on Michael Moore, with Hamilton star Brandon Victor Dixon, CNN’s Van Jones, and Chelsea Handler. And the Women’s March on Washington on January 21 will feature an “Artist Table”—aka a group of celebrities who have signed on to lend their support and star power to the massive protest. Among those involved are Cher, Julianne Moore and Katy Perry.
After seeing how little celebrity endorsement did to help Hillary Clinton during the election—and the fact they may actually have hurt her—it seems like a strange and potentially tone-deaf path for liberals to forge ahead on. Remember: one of the biggest complaints about the Democratic party is that it’s full of “coastal, liberal elites” who are “out of touch” with the working-class Americans whose economic anxiety supposedly led them to vote for Trump.
Even Mark Whalberg spoke out against his fellow celebrities getting involved in politics. “They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family,” Whalberg said in an interview with Task & Purpose. “Me, I’m very aware of the real world. I come from the real world and I exist in the real world. And although I can navigate Hollywood and I love the business and the opportunities it’s afforded me, I also understand what it’s like not to have all that.”
By surrounding herself with mainstream elites like Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Amy Schumer, Barbra Streisand and countless other A-listers who rallied around her during the election, Clinton was aiming to connect with millennial voters, to make herself appear likeable and to harness the power of celebrity to get disenchanted Sanders voters excited about a Clinton presidency. Instead, she reinforced the idea that Democrats are the party of the wealthy Hollywood and New York circles, completely isolated from the minimum-wage worker.
But there’s one key difference between celebrity endorsements of Clinton before the election and celebrity involvement in protests now. That is, winning over moderates and undecided voters is no longer the goal. Days before the inauguration, celebrity activism is no longer about bridging the gap and appealing to as many people as possible. It’s about keeping people who already feel angry and disgusted by Trump’s imminent presidency fired up. It’s not about picking Trump or Clinton; it’s about deciding whether to stay home and wish that someone else were being inaugurated or to go to Washington D.C. and express their desires and rage. And that’s something celebrities might be able to have an impact on.
Whether we like it or not, celebrities have massive influence over our culture today. We look to them for how to dress, what to eat, how to work out and even how to get divorced (thanks Gwyneth). So many who decry the vapid brainlessness of celebrity tabloid culture are the same ones who wring their hands when celebrities try to use their influence for something more important than selling make-up and popcorn flicks. If they’re going to have so much influence over our lives, why wouldn’t we want them to use those powers for good? The election is over, and no amount of star power was able to deliver to it Clinton. But if they can rally a few more people to get off their couches and march—if they can get the message out about how to effectively call representatives and keep people focused on what’s next— that’s a good thing.
On the other hand, maybe celebrities really do have no place in politics. Maybe they should just stick to entertainment and leave the serious policy decisions to professionals who know what they’re doing and have a lifetime of public service from which to draw. But if we really do want to get celebrities out of politics, let’s start with the reality television star that’s going to be sworn in as president of the United States later this week.