Despite Dems' deals with Trump, Hollywood resistance holds firm at Emmys

Host Stephen Colbert speaks at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

After a week in which there were hints of a thawing in the relationship between President Donald Trump and Washington Democrats, Sunday’s Emmy Awards made it abundantly clear that there is no such warmth toward the president among liberals on the West Coast.

Host Stephen Colbert, presenters, and winners all took aim at Trump, portraying him as an extremist bigot ripe for impeachment. Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was heard on a hot microphone Thursday crowing about how much Trump likes him and predicting a more productive future.

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"Here's what I told him. I said, 'Mr. President, you're much better off if you can sometimes step right and sometimes step left. If you have to step just in one direction, you're boxed,'" Schumer said.

Having received relatively positive media coverage for reaching a deal with Democrats to keep the government funded through December earlier this month, Trump appeared open to more bipartisan cooperation last week. He suggested a possible deal on preserving Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era protection for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

On Twitter, Trump confirmed he may agree to protect DACA in exchange for “massive border security.” Neither party’s base seemed thrilled with that development, as Trump faced revolt from many conservative pundits and some liberals doubted that he can be trusted.

A group of DACA participants interrupted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a press conference Monday and accused her of using them as “bargaining chips,” despite the fact that she and Schumer are the ones trying to convince Trump to keep the program alive.

Democratic leaders say these negotiations with Trump are necessary to have any influence on policy while in the minority. Some in the party have warned their leaders against placing too much faith in Trump, citing his unpredictability.

“He could tweet against those folks the very same day he works with him. That’s one of his characteristics,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., told Sinclair last week.

Michael Cobb, an associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University, cautioned against reading too much into these glimmers of cooperation, which he sees as driven more by expediency than some genuine desire to work together.

“I don’t call that bipartisanship,” he said. “I call that a temporary alignment of interests.”

Whether that alignment will continue in light of Trump’s support for Senate Republicans’ latest last-minute sprint at Obamacare repeal is unclear. His weekend retweet of a video showing him hitting former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with a golf ball probably will not score him any points with the left either.

Although the realities of keeping the government functioning may be prodding D.C. Democrats, Hollywood stars who are being cheered on by the resistance have no such incentive.

“Since the election, entertainers have taken a powerful lead in challenging the legitimacy of the most entertainment-driven president in history,” said Kathryn Cramer Brownell, assistant professor of history at Purdue University and author of “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life.”

Celebrities may be treating Trump even more harshly now than they did before his inauguration.

In January, Meryl Streep took some heat from the right after attacking Trump for mocking a disabled reporter during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Other stars also made jokes and hurled insults at the president’s expense then as well.

At the Emmys on Sunday, there was a fairly steady stream of shots at Trump.

Host Stephen Colbert opened with a production number that linked Trump to treason and Nazis. His monologue posited that Trump would not have run for president if Hollywood had given him the Emmy he frequently insists he deserved for “The Apprentice.”

That set the tone for much of the program. Alec Baldwin joked that his wig for playing Trump on “Saturday Night Live” was like “birth control.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus floated the prospect of impeachment. Donald Glover of “Atlanta” thanked Trump for “making black people No. 1 on the most oppressed list.”

Lily Tomlin compared Trump to her boss in the 1980 film, “9 to 5,” saying, “And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer even got in on the jokes, rolling out a podium during the monologue and echoing the false claim about crowd size he made after Trump’s inauguration.

All of these lines drew a raucous response from the crowd in the theater. The reception was more mixed on social media. Many complaints were aimed at the glut of liberal Trump-bashing, but the Spicer cameo raised the ire of some on the left and in the press.

“These shows used to be somewhat entertaining, but have been turned into a soapbox for the Hollywood left to vent about whatever politician, usually Republican, to the nation,” said Don Irvine, chief executive officer of conservative media watchdog group Accuracy in Media.

Cobb, who has studied the impact of celebrity endorsements on political campaigns, said stars seem more outspoken about Trump than other Republican presidents, possibly because his character and allegedly sexist and racist behavior make a better target than a war or policy they disagree with.

“It’s typically I think harder for people to make policy the basis of some sort of standing up for other people at these events…. It’s easier to denigrate him as a bad person,” he said.

As celebrity criticisms of Trump often do, the Emmys have sparked a conservative backlash over the politicization of entertainment and an insistence that TV stars should not be opining about the TV star who is running the country.

Appearing on “Fox & Friends,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway complained that celebrity insults of “our leader”—who has insulted many of the same stars himself in the past—are “unfortunate.”

“People have the right to speak freely,” she said. “That’s very obvious. We live in the greatest democracy in the world that allows that. We’re doing it presently. But again, to what end? In other words, it doesn’t really — You’re alienating at least 63 million Americans who supported this President last time. But you’re alienating many more who want the President to succeed.”

Conway also claimed that the “very politicized” nature of award shows, the Miss America pageant, and professional sports is driving ratings down because “America is responding by tuning out because they want you to stick to your knitting.”

Initial ratings figures for the Emmys suggest viewership among the key demographics slipped to an all-time low while overall audience was up slightly from 2016, but the show was up against a heavily-watched NFL game and numbers from several markets were held up by hurricane damage.

“The Hollywood left seems to be under the misguided impression that most of America agrees with their political views and so it’s fine if they turn shows like the Emmy’s into a longer version of ‘The Rachel Maddow Show,’” Irvine said.

According to Patricia Phalen, assistant director of the School of Media & Public Affairs at George Washington University, the tone of the political attacks seemed more personal this year, and stars appear uninterested in changing anyone’s mind.

“I'd say that many in Hollywood are not just passively out of touch. They actively reject points of view that differ from their own to the point that even discussing alternative viewpoints is out of the question,” she said. “Instead of making an effort to understand why so many people voted for President Trump, they've come up with derogatory labels so they can easily marginalize and dismiss dissenters.”

Phalen, author of “Writing Hollywood: The Work and Professional Culture of Television Writers,” warned that such attacks reinforce hatred for Trump on the left and broaden the divide between the Hollywood left and even the dissenters within their own ranks.

“The effect I see most often on those who disagree with Hollywood's ‘official’ opinion is fear to speak up,” she said. “I worry that people are afraid to discuss issues because they don't want to be vilified. And when civil debate dies out, we get even more polarized as a society.”

One of the night’s big winners, “Saturday Night Live,” saw a ratings resurgence over the last couple of years largely driven by its anti-Trump sketches. Another, HBO’s political satire “Veep,” has often been cited by Trump critics as distressingly close to the reality of his administration. Colbert’s late-night show rebounded in ratings when he turned up the political satire. Led by Maddow, MSNBC’s left-skewing primetime lineup has surged under Trump.

All of this, according to Brownell, reflects a fusion between entertainment and politics that first helped propel reality TV host Trump into office and now helps fuel the opposition to him.

“On the campaign trail, Donald Trump also bet on the fact that voters were first and foremost television fans,” she said. “He may not have won an Emmy as a television personality, but he used this experience to win the presidency.”

Contrary to the claims of people like Conway that politicization of entertainment is bad for business, Brownell suggested the success of shows like “Veep” and “SNL” indicates there is an audience that does not mind seeing those lines blurred.

“Awards shows give the entertainers who write and star in these shows an opportunity to use this prominent platform to promote certain issues that are perhaps important to them individually,” she said. “And because Trump has so thoroughly intertwined his political presence in entertainment, this has become especially important to challenge his legitimacy.”

Cobb sees little reason to expect a change in tone from Hollywood as long as Trump remains in office, regardless of the occasional consensus he may find on Capitol Hill. Opinions of the president among the public are already hardened on both sides and it is difficult to sway the public regarding people they are already familiar with, no matter how many monologue jokes and fiery acceptance speeches are aimed at him.

“What they’re saying is just getting news attention and interest…but they’re not persuading anybody,” he said. “There’s really nobody to persuade at this point.”

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