Trump, the Kennedy Center Honors, and Fox News: More drama

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo: Fox News

On Monday night, Tucker Carlson Tonight devoted a segment to the announcement over the weekend that President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will not attend this year’s Kennedy Center Honors because the president wants to allow the “artists to celebrate without any political distraction,” according White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What she was referring to was the fact that two honorees — TV producer Norman Lear and dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade — have said they would not attend the traditional White House reception for the event because of their objections to various Trump policies, especially his proposed cuts to arts programs.

Another honoree, Lionel Richie, has said that he will “play it by ear” about attending as the December ceremony approaches. Lear, the mighty producer of All in the Family, One Day at a Time, and The Jeffersons, has said, “As an artist and a human being, I cannot celebrate this incredible honor … at a White House that has no interest in supporting the Arts and Humanities.”

So Tucker Carlson invited Dean Cain to his show to discuss the topic, above a chyron that read “Country Is So Divided That Trumps Won’t Attend Kennedy Center Honors.” Carlson’s first question to Cain was, “Dean, is this normally a political event?” Thus did Carlson frame the discussion: We are living in a normal time, so what are these snooty celebrities all worked up about? But of course, these are not normal times. No mention was made of the fact that Trump is the first president to propose eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities — something that might be worthy of rebuke on the part of artists, don’t you think?

Cain was affable and charming and not especially illuminating about the controversy, but why should he be? He was just being used by Carlson as a Hollywood conservative against whom the host could hurl his sarcasm about elitist stars. It’s a standard Fox News strategy: get viewers angry about rich and famous people in Hollywood so they won’t think about the bigger issues involved. Carlson did his usual furrowed-brow, fake, I-don’t-get-it routine, saying to Cain that Trump is “the most liberal Republican to be elected president by far. What is it about him that drives Hollywood people into hysteria?” (“Hysteria” is Carlson’s favorite word, used incessantly on the show in regard to the Russian election hacking, health care reform protests, and basically anything anyone who disagrees with Carlson might be concerned about.)

A more interesting discussion might have been this one: Why is it that Trump refuses to acknowledge the reason the Kennedy Center Honors have become a political flashpoint is because of his own attacks on the very arts the Kennedy Center celebrates? And why, when presented with honorees who disagree with him, does the president slink off, trying to make it seem as though it’s those people, not him, who inspired this controversy? Trump is only the fourth president to skip the Kennedy Center reception, and the other three (Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter) all did so because of grave world events that were occurring during the ceremony time. Trump is the only president who’s hiding from the Kennedy Center Honors because someone might say something mean to him.

Carlson, however, just kept things anti-celebrity. “They’re so threatened by him,” he said to Cain about the honorees. “You really need to be a shrink to understand it.” No, you don’t, Tucker. You just have to admit there are real reasons to feel threatened.

Tucker Carlson Tonight airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on Fox News.

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