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Gordon Campbell on Meryl Streep’s speech

Gordon Campbell on Meryl Streep’s speech

First published on Werewolf

Primarily, Meryl Streep’s critical speech last night at the Golden Globes – which is the award ceremony hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - was a defence of journalism and of journalists. Notably, she cited the journalist Serge Kovaleski who was mocked for his disabilities by Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year. Kovaleski had committed the sin of querying the fake news that candidate Trump was disseminating at the time, about US Muslims allegedly celebrating 9/11.

The foreign-born, as Streep eloquently pointed out, have always made essential contributions to American life and culture. Here’s a key part of what she said :

You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places.
I was born and raised and created in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central Falls, Long Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Italy. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia, raised in — no, in Ireland, I do believe. And she’s here nominated for playing a small town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

And here was her defence of Kovaleski:

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modelled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

And finally, she touched on the role of the media :

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

Streep was receiving a life-time achievement award, and she chose to focus on what she felt her craft has always been about. In the process, she did everyone a service by using this platform to resist what Trump continues to represent. In recent weeks, he has been fashioning an administration of extremists intent on dismantling the safety nets in health, education and welfare erected since the 1930s, along with the legal provisions on race and gender built to protect the vulnerable. On the economy, Trumponomics looks very much like George W. Bush Revisited: ie, tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, more intrusions by Big Government on ordinary citizens, and the stripping of business/banking regulations. The same approach that culminated in the GFC of 2008.

It is an agenda that has no valid mandate. To repeat the obvious : only a minority of American voters voted for Trump, who was elected via a campaign pandering to the country’s worst instincts and resentments. The man refused to release his taxes, threatened to jail his opponents and curtail free speech, expressed admiration for murderous tyrants abroad, bragged about his sexual predation, and he and his family continue to have major unresolved business conflicts of interests. Oh, and as a microcosm of Trump’s managerial incompetence… here’s how he is going about the business of managing the maintenance of the US nuclear arsenal.

Back to sanity… by contrast, as Juan Cole has pointed out about the Streep speech:

She was making two points against the xenophobia, the irrational hatred of foreigners, at the centre of the Trump campaign and at the centre of his neo-Nazi fringe, such as the Breitbart thugs. One is that key American industries, including the entertainment industry, often attain their excellence through openness to talent from abroad. The second is a far more subtle and powerful point, which is that no human experience is really foreign to us as human beings if only we can find the tools to understand it, emotionally and intellectually. She was standing up for her craft, acting, as xenophilic, as involving a love of the foreign, insofar as the falling away of strangeness is the goal of great acting.

Election meddling

The public version of the US intelligence agencies report on alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election was, to put it mildly, a disappointing damp squib. Seven of the 13 pages were devoted to a dated attack on the Russian government-sponsored RT television network.

Understandably, Trump and the Republican Party  continue to dismiss the claims of Russian intervention in the US election. Meanwhile claims of Russian intervention in the political process in Sweden, are now emerging.

Ultimately, we are never going to know (a) the extent of such interventions, or (b) if they did occur, the extent of their effect. IMO, it is hard to believe that the Russian hackers who penetrated the website of the International Olympic Committee and extracted embarrassing information on therapeutic drug use exemptions (as revenge for actions taken against Russia by the IOC) wouldn’t also deploy their talents to help the presidential candidate that Russia clearly preferred. Even so, my guess would be that any such Russian hack/phishing attack on the Democratic National Committee would have had less electoral impact than the intervention by FBI director James Comey during the last fortnight of the campaign.

Which raises an interesting counterfactual. Imagine the reaction of Trump and the Republican Party if the heads of US intelligence agencies were now alleging – on similar grounds – that Russia had intervened in the electoral process on behalf of a victorious Hillary Clinton. We would never be hearing the end of it. Clintons’ entire mandate would be being called into question, and she would be facing stern calls to step down, in favour of Tim Kaine. The right is able to do this stuff differently, and to get away with it.

A similar double standard exists here, too. Remember how a centre-left PM was demonised for signing a painting to benefit a charity, and for trying to regulate the size of shower heads ? And then saw her successor get away scot free with far more serious excesses, far bigger screw-ups and far more intrusive invasions of privacy by the state?

Meryl, Unedited :

And here for your consideration is the Streep speech, in its entirety:

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