Happy New Year? In just 18 days, a dangerously unknowledgeable, appallingly incurious, unapologetically untruthful, terrifyingly inexperienced, and wildly intemperate demagogue will take his oath of office and become the president of the United States. With 2016 behind us and the countdown to the inauguration under way, I've finally come to terms with the fact that deus ex machina isn't going to save us. I work in show business, so forgive my hope for a Hollywood ending. Trump's performance is so outlandish, it's hard to believe this is real life — America actually elected as president an over-the-top megalomaniacal billionaire better suited for comic-book villainy in a Marvel movie than the Oval Office. Alas, this isn’t scripted, so there will be no eleventh-hour plot device: no federal indictment, no voluntary concession, no hitherto undiscovered bar to a Trump presidency. We, the American people, must save ourselves.
In the wake of Trump’s election, I am reminded of a cocktail party I attended a few years ago in the Hollywood Hills, where I was taken to task by a prominent queer filmmaker. Upon learning that I used to be a lawyer, she harangued me about my decision to leave the law and move to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career in entertainment. "You can do so much more, you can change the world, you can actually make a difference," she told me. It wasn't the first time I'd heard this particular argument, and yet I was caught off guard, especially given the career of the person asserting it. I marshaled an inchoate defense about the capacity of art to change the world, how representations of people of color and LGBT visibility are inherently political and vital, and how my skills were better used in my newfound role in society. But I could see from the disappointment on her face that I had not won the debate. The moment stayed with me — stays with me — and I approach what I do in the entertainment industry with this conversation and its attendant responsibilities top of mind.
On Christmas Day, I wrote about fear, anxiety, and despair. And while those feelings remain, they must not silence or constrain us. The next four years — and untold more once Trump leaves office — will require our individual and collective pushback and resistance against a war of regression.
"Tyranny is now on our doorstep." Jan Chamberlin, a singer in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, called it out in her letter of resignation from the group in protest of its upcoming performance at Donald Trump's inauguration. "It has been sneaking its way into our lives through stealth. Now it will burst into our homes through storm." We know things are dire when even members of the Mormon Church — reliably Republican and less than progressive on social issues (to put it mildly) — find the GOP president-elect and his appointees reprehensible. "I could never 'throw roses to Hitler,'" Chamberlin wrote. "And I certainly could never sing for him." Someone throw Chamberlin a rose!
And throw one to Rockette Phoebe Pearl who, like Chamberlin, voiced her disapproval of the Rockettes' imminent performance at Trump's inauguration. "The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we're against is appalling... We will not be forced! #notmypresident," Pearl wrote on Instagram, igniting a debate that continues to make headlines. Marie Claire ran a follow-up story last week, describing another Rockette's discomfort about even "standing near a man like [Trump] in our costumes." Yet another Rockette declared, "If I had to lose my job over this, I would. It's too important. And I think the rest of the performing arts community would happily stand behind me." Something tells me she's right. The performing arts community and countless other Americans who oppose what Chamberlin labeled in her resignation letter as "tyranny and fascism."
By now, most of us have witnessed the powerful remarks of Hamilton star Brandon Victor Dixon alongside his fellow cast members after a November performance that Vice President-Elect Mike Pence attended. From the stage, Dixon told Pence, "We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights... We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us." That night, before making his departure, Pence lingered in the lobby of the theater until Dixon finished his speech. What Pence took from those words remains to be seen from his actions in office. But Dixon and cast spoke, loudly and clearly. And, thanks to social media, they were heard the world over. And though Trump demanded it, no apology was given, nor will it be. Nor should it be. Clearly, such resistance to his authority gets under Trump's skin.
So, too, have the words and actions of every musical artist who has refused to perform at his inauguration — thus far, Garth Brooks, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Elton John, Celine Dion, Katy Perry, and on and on and on — many of whom have been offered obscene sums of money allegedly and diplomatic posts. "The so-called 'A' list celebrities are all wanting tixs [sic] to the inauguration," Trump lied on Twitter, "but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!" Methinks the president-to-be (by responding at all to these slights) doth protest too much. But then again, this is the very same bully who, with every spot-on Alec Baldwin impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live, lashes out on social media like a thin-skinned, overgrown child. As Chrissy Teigen tweeted at Trump about the inaugural snubs, "We all know you are dying without the approval, dear." And so we must continue to withhold it.
Just today, British X Factor alumnus Rebecca Ferguson said she would sing at the inauguration — under one condition. She would only do so if she could perform "Strange Fruit," a song once blacklisted for shining a light on America's odious racist past through its description of lynchings. On Twitter, Ferguson called it "a song that speaks to all the disregarded and down trodden black people in the United States. A song that is a reminder of how love is the only thing that will conquer all the hatred in this world. Then I will graciously accept your invitation and see you in Washington." She also knows the power of art as protest.
At least Trump has Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in his corner. She jumped to his defense on her blog last week, stating of all the celebrity rejections, "Isn't it amazing how 'not cool' it is to be conservative in the public eye? Either Hollywood is that far off — or we have so many sissies in the spotlight too scared to stand for what they believe in!" Bristol, you're right about one thing: it is decidedly "not cool" to be aligned with someone who ran for office on a wave of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. But the "either/or" you present is fallacious: Hollywood isn't "far off." Unless "far off" means progress over regress. Consider this: the entertainers who won't perform for Trump aren't scared to say they're with him, rather they're scared the world we live in may cease to be under his presidency due to climate change, nuclear proliferation, Russia, China, ISIS, hate crimes, gender inequality, anti-LGBT legislation, you name it.
Last week, Trump took to Twitter, accusing President Obama and his administration of "inflammatory ... statements and roadblocks" designed to undermine a smooth transition of power. May we all close ranks with the outgoing president and ensure that neither the transition nor Trump's time in office is smooth. In the face of mounting evidence of Russian cyberespionage and hacking of the election, Trump stated we should get over it and "move on." May we refuse to "move on" before we have answers.
Since leaving the law, I work as a talent manager at a company that encourages our clients to leverage their visibility on behalf of the social and political causes they believe in, in order to make a positive impact on the planet. 2016's company holiday card listed a number of organizations — the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, National Immigration Law Center, and Southern Poverty Law Center, to name a few — to which donations were made "to safeguard the planet and the rights of some of its most vulnerable inhabitants." These are the groups on the legislative and judicial frontlines against Trump.
Our clients are on the frontlines of the cultural battleground. In the run up to Election Day, one of my youngest clients, Nik Dodani, produced and hosted a multicity variety show called Laughter Trumps Hate, aimed at millennials, featuring dozens of up-and-coming comedians taking on Trump and his politics of hate. Trump might have won the electoral college, but he lost the popular vote by 2 percent overall and by a landslide in the demographic my client targeted. Laughter trumps hate, indeed. I am so profoundly moved and inspired to work with someone so young with such clarity of purpose.
While I work with performing artists specifically, each and every one of us is capable of individual acts of resistance and defiance, acts of conviction and integrity and fearlessness. From Jan Chamberlin to Phoebe Pearl to Nik Dodani, to you and me, each of us has incredible strength when we speak our truth to impact the culture on a local, national, or international level. To be subversive. To challenge and thwart Trump, his administration, and their abhorrent policies. To let the world know who America really is. At a recent cabaret performance in Los Angeles, professor and Transparent actress Alexandra Billings gave voice to this power and its revolutionary capacity: "We live in interesting times... And I believe that we have great hope because I teach this generation. ... They are being sent out into the universe through a lens of great clarity. They understand like no other generation before what peaceful revolution is like." Ordinary heroism in extraordinary times.
There will be no deus ex machina for Trump in this New Year, or the ensuing years of his presidency. In typical Trump fashion, the brute fired off a divisive tweet last weekend: "Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly that they don’t know what to do. Love!" We know what to do, Donald. We must be the machine against your war of regression. It seems your fist is always raised. We must raise ours, and our individual and collective voices, and continue to fight.
RAN AUBREY FRAZIER is a talent manager at Authentic Talent & Literary Management.