Although we know longer take any interest in the Oscars or Emmys or Grammys or anything else having to do with the popular culture of the moment, we do take note of the annual Kennedy Center honors. They have a fancy medal that confer an official imprimatur on the careers of aging creative individuals whose works have so far stood the test of their time, they usually do a pretty good job of picking the winners, and the President of the United States usually awards the medals.
President Donald Trump has declined to be involved in every year of his presidency, though, and it’s easy to understand why. Most of the creative individuals that the cultural establishment considers worthy of Kennedy Center honors don’t like Trump, Trump doesn’t like them, and it would make for an awkward situation. The Kennedy Center could try to pick more accommodating choices, but putting those fancy medals on Kid Rock and Kanye West and Ted Nugent and Scott Baio would embarrass all the swells, so the cultural establishment goes its way and Trump goes his way.
For most of our lives the American popular culture has been quite vibrant, churning out movies and television shows and books and songs well worthy of our consideration, and the high culture establishment has done pretty well at maintaining the best of the western civilization. Lately we’re not all pleased with most of the latest output from either end of the cultural spectrum, but neither do we think much of Trump, so at this point we have no rooting interest in their squabbles.
One of this year’s honorees was Linda Ronstadt, and we can’t deny her the honor. From the ’60s into the ’10s she was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest vocalists, and a damned good country and standards and Mexican folk music singer to boot, as well as quite a babe, and if we were president we’d proudly drape a medal on her. She’s still quite a babe, although age and disease have taken her voice and consigned her to a wheelchair, but her political opinions cloud Trump’s judgment of her talent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo couldn’t avoid his official duty to recognize the Kennedy Center honorees, and when he tried to make a joke out of Ronstadt’s hit song “When Will I Be Loved,” she replied “When you stop enabling Trump.”
These rock ‘n’ rollers are often wrong in their political pronouncements, in our experience, but in this case we think Rondstadt got the better of it, and we’re sure Trump is glad he wasn’t around it for it. He could have mocked her lack of singing voice and wheelchair-bound status, but that probably wouldn’t have played well, given their relative popularity.
We remember a time when President Barack Obama draped a Kennedy Center medal on the great country singer Merle Haggard, and President Richard Nixon honored the jazz greats Duke Ellington and Count Basie, and the best of America’s popular culture and its politics didn’t seem at such odds. These days the political right and the cultural left are at war, and both our politics and our movies and television and books and songs seem the worst for it.
— Bud Norman</p