After deep consideration and advice from my friends and family, I have decided to join the growing list of those who have chosen not to perform at Trump’s Inauguration on Friday. That includes A-list celebs like Kanye West, Céline Dion, David Foster, Ice-T, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, and Aretha Franklin. Even Kiss was invited, though Gene Simmons declined—which makes me sad. I think the symbol of four aged performers with too much make-up and all their best work behind them would make an interesting symbolic moment on America’s stage.
Unfortunately, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” was not written for Donald Trump. Kiss won’t be rock and rolling all night on Friday. For Gene Simmons and artists like him, supporting Trump is a deuce of a problem.
Even getting a DJ is tough. It was rumored that The Chainsmokers were going to do it, but it was just a Twitter joke. Moby—do you remember Moby?—well he offered to DJ if he could play Green Day’s “American Idiot.” It doesn’t look like it will work out.
Not everyone pulled out because they were anti-Trump or offended by his ideas about race, gender, sexuality, political allegiances, immigration policy, fiscal management, employee relations, foreign relations, spirituality, how to respond to criticism, or how women are designed to serve his personal needs. Sometimes the world’s leading stars were just busy or not interested.
Trump sent a nice note when Elton John was joined in civil partnership with David Furnish, so there is no bad blood there. Sir Elton just didn’t want to be involved in the American political scene and suggested they just get one of those “one of those [expletive] country stars. They’ll do it for you.” Not Charlotte Church, though. She said his team should have done their research better.
Paul Anka is a long-term friend of Trump, and would even have rewritten the words to “My Way” for the occasion. Unfortunately, someone took his “Having My Baby” too seriously and he is in a custody battle that day. It’s too bad. I was hoping he would do that killer cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Again, for symbolic value.
I understand how difficult these choices are. When you disagree critically with something or someone, the hardest thing is to decide when to engage and remain in the space of influence, and when to step out altogether.
There is no institution that is free of taint. Choosing to remain in your political party, church, school, office, partnership, knitting circle, or home and school association means negotiating a complex series of compromises that seems designed to take the heart out of all our choices. I get how painful these decisions are: it is the same for the student and the street performer as it is for the pop star and the politician.
Regardless of who ended up being elected in November, each American was going to have to go through another cycle of taking the bad with what seems like an ever diminishing good. Each Christian, feminist, activist, educator, refugee, writer, factory worker, and tap-dance shoe designer would spend the months and years of the winning team’s administration trying to justify the way they engage in public life. Until the world’s leaders are women and men of breathtaking integrity and vision, this is what it means to be a citizen.
So this is why even though I am disappointed in the artists who backed down after public pressure, I understand what they went through. For the first time they were faced in most certain terms with what the little moral choices they make each day really mean. No one ever told them before that our character is formed by the little decisions we make in the dark, not just the big decisions we make in the limelight.
Though I don’t understand why there are church choirs and leggy women dancing in a line at a Presidential inauguration, I admire the choir member or Rockette who steps off the stage—and maybe loses his or her career—because of what they believe. It is hard to admire the superstar who backs down after signing a contract because they realize they are now hated by a whole bunch of people with twitter accounts. If the strengths of our convictions are not enough to withstand public outrage—and how the public loves to be outraged these days!— we did not really have convictions that were worth standing up for.
But I suspect no one has ever told them that this is what it means to be a moral person. My decision whether or not to perform is the same whether the public will be pleased or outraged.
I was tempted to perform at the inauguration just because I was turned off by the morally gutless late exits by some people who suddenly grew a conscience. I was also tempted because of the public hypocrisy of moral outrage. There will be thousands of support workers at the inauguration, including line cooks, security guards, intelligence workers, President Obama’s staff, janitors, water boys, and journalists. If problematic engagement is wrong, where is the moral outrage against these support workers? It is clear we have a disturbed relationship with our celebrities.
And I was tempted to perform because of the strange reaction of liberals, progressives, and true conservatives who are protesting this President. Yes, you should hold him to account. Even if he has asbestos in his soles, if you do not hold his feet to the fire you are betraying your community. But he was America’s free choice, for better or worse. He has earned the right to be on that stage with hot acts like 3 Doors Down, a Bruce Springsteen cover band, and half the Rockettes (all the women of color and their supporters backed out).
Still, despite all the good jerky reasons to perform, I am choosing not to go to Washington on Friday.
I am not opting out because Trump is conservative. He’s not conservative in all the deepest ways, but even if he was that would not affect my decision. And it is not because Trump is Republican. I don’t think he is Republican either, but a partisan choice for me is not necessarily a moral one. And it is not because he is part of the 1%. America’s political system is for the elite; Donald Trump simply understood how that would work better than some. Presidents have been elite since I was a child. This is what Americans keep choosing. It would be hypocrisy to pretend otherwise.
No, my reason for not performing is much simpler: there isn’t enough money on the table. The offer isn’t big enough. When rejecting what has to be one of the weirdest invitations Trump’s team issued—to the women who sang “Not Ready to Make Nice” about President Bush—Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw quipped that if anyone accepts the inauguration invitation, “I hope that the check they get is in the nine figures. Because it’s probably the last check they’re ever going to get.” Renshaw’s got a point. Based on the current offer, I’m out—though I would take seven figures if that super popular 80s cover band The Reagan Years suddenly grows a conscience and joins a hippy colony in one of DC’s drained swamps.
What’s the difference, after all, between selling out for big money and selling out to a crowd addicted to the lure of outrage?
The Trump team knows how to find me.