Let’s reminisce, for a moment, about the First Inauguration of Barack Obama. It was freezing cold. Many of us felt a combination of disbelief and incredible joy. Obama took just the right tone. “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you’ve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors,” he began. He paid respect to the nation’s diversity: “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” Aretha Franklin, in that dazzling, newsmaking gray hat, sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee”; Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill played “Air and Simple Gifts,” composed and arranged for the event by John Williams, with references to the Shaker song and to Aaron Copland. The biggest controversy involved cold weather, classical instruments, and recorded music. At the Neighborhood Ball, for the Obamas’ first dance, Beyoncé, introduced by Denzel Washington, sang “At Last”—gorgeously, movingly. The Obamas approached that moment with their usual grace and good humor; at the end, Beyoncé, herself moved, blew them a kiss. This weekend’s White House goodbye for the Obamas, attended by dozens of movie and TV stars, musicians, comedians, and other celebrities, and last night’s Golden Globes, with its powerful, articulate speech by Meryl Streep, in which, receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award, she condemned Trump’s mockery of a disabled journalist and called for bravery and empathy in the times ahead, further reinforced the general perception that Trump is as despised by many celebrities as the Obamas and the Clintons are beloved. You’d almost feel bad for Trump if he hadn’t brought it upon himself. This morning, he woke up and began to tweet, calling Streep “over-rated” and a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” Trump’s behavior since the election has been grandiose and narcissistic, with quick, surprising moments of apparent sanity or reasonableness that are swiftly overtaken by rampaging id. Trump has been as petulant in victory as he was in projected defeat; the Inauguration is a prominent example. Though he wants his Inauguration Day to be beautiful and tremendous (“Hopefully, all supporters, and those who want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will go to D.C. on January 20th. It will be a GREAT SHOW!”), it is turning out to be sad, terrible, a total disaster. The Trump Inauguration Twitter account is tweeting its scant event details, like the names of school marching bands performing in the parade, in tandem with fun Presidential-history facts, as if someone has been cramming before a test. Its takeaways are odd. “#FACT: President Hoover and his wife would use Mandarin to speak privately around the White House. #MAGA #TrumpInaugural.” “#FACT: President Harding was the first American president to visit Canada. #MAGA #TrumpInaugural.” To see the acronym for Make America Great Again over portraits of some of the worst Presidents in history is as ironic as it is chilling. Big-name musicians willing to perform at the Inauguration have been scarce. Many have publicly refused. Anthony Scaramucci, of Trump’s transition team, said on a BBC show, in an apparent attempt to rebuke liberals and prove Trump’s gay-rights bona fides, that Elton John would perform in an Inauguration concert. John, who had asked Trump to stop using his music at campaign rallies (“His political views are his own, mine are very different, I’m not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted fucking Nugent?”), and who had headlined a Clinton fund-raiser, made a quick and definitive statement of no. Rebecca Ferguson said that she would perform only if she could sing “Strange Fruit.” Trump friend and classical-crossover singer Andrea Bocelli is not performing, because, it seems, he was worried about alienating fans. The Talladega College Marching Tornadoes, of the historically black Talladega College, agreed to participate in the inaugural parade only after much debate. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which has performed at the Inaugurations of Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, and others, will sing, but one member quit rather than perform for Trump, and compared the notion to throwing roses to Hitler. In an “O’Reilly Factor” segment about the inaugural-entertainment fracas, Bill O’Reilly complained that “anti-Trump zealots” in the entertainment industry were guilty of “reverse McCarthyism”: “If you’re a Trump supporter, you’re a bad person!” Joy Behar, on “The View,” suggested that, if O’Reilly is so bent out of shape about the Inauguration, he should perform at it. “He could do a dramatic reading from ‘Killing Lincoln’!” she said. Idina Menzel, whose response to the whole situation was “It’s karma, baby,” suggested to Vanity Fair that Trump himself sing: “He probably thinks he has a great voice.” Trump, predictably, has not been a good sport about all this. He has a relationship to all celebrity like Chris Christie’s relationship to Bruce Springsteen—tortured, worshipful, insatiable—yet he is claiming not to care about it, or to spurn it. This is a neat trick, even for him. “The so-called ‘A’ list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!” he tweeted. (This is in contrast to what he wants for Cabinet appointees: “I want people that made a fortune!”) He’s like a child who, having broken all the toys in the sandbox—and insulted their owners—throws a fit because no one wants to come to his party. (“Would it have killed you to hug him even once?” Seth Meyers said to a photograph of Donald’s father, Fred Trump, on his show.*) And Trump, instead of taking a look at himself, blames others or writes sour-grapes all-caps tweets, with exclamation points. He is willfully ignoring something that he reminded us of during his campaign, chillingly, forebodingly, and to the dismay of Rolling Stones fans and the Stones themselves: you can’t always get what you want. That song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” from the 1969 album “Let It Bleed,” played at his rallies and after his speech at the Republican National Convention, to the bewildered amazement of many. In it, Mick Jagger sounds confident, wistful, thoughtful, elegiac, even though he is a young rock star, presumably getting plenty of what he wants. It’s a surprisingly sophisticated world view from a young rock hedonist; its complexity is part of its greatness. Trump is a black-and-white thinker, a beautiful-or-terrible guy, a narcissist. Whatever he gets—like, say, the Presidency of the United States—he can find much to complain about. Good artists, the kinds who make great music, tend to embrace complexity, which is why they reject the kind of oversimplification that Trump engages in, and why they no more want to play at his Inauguration—a moment of terrible, practical, and symbolic enormity—than they wanted him using their songs at his rallies. Many others asked the Trump campaign to stop using their music. Trump’s attitude toward those songs, that work, using recordings of Queen, the Beatles, R.E.M., Pavarotti, and Adele to sing him on or offstage, against their will, reminds you of his attitude about women he’s attracted to, as told to Billy Bush: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” He wants what he wants and he grabs what he can grab. So far, for the Inauguration, Trump’s team has lined up Jackie Evancho, who became famous as an awe-inspiring ten-year-old on “America’s Got Talent.” She does a cover of Stevie Wonder’s especially relevant “Someday at Christmas,” and has a song called “Apocalypse,” but she’ll be singing the national anthem. Trump claimed that her album sales had skyrocketed since she agreed to perform; this was not true. Then there are the Rockettes. After it was announced that the troupe would perform at Trump’s Inauguration, resistance was immediate. Active Rockettes are not allowed to comment to the press, but one, Phoebe Pearl, posted a photo on Instagram, since deleted, of the Rockettes, onstage, with a “Not my President!” speech bubble and a caption saying that the decision to perform for Trump made her feel “embarrassed and disappointed.” She went on, “The women I work with are intelligent and full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling. . . . we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts.” After some back-and-forth between the Rockettes’ union, the Madison Square Garden Company, and the dancers themselves, it was announced that performing at the event would be voluntary for all members. In a Marie Claire piece featuring secretly recorded quotes from a meeting between the dancers and M.S.G.’s executive chair, James Dolan, a dancer said that it sounded like Dolan was asking them to be “tolerant of intolerance.” After a pause, Dolan said, “I guess we are doing that. What other choices do we have?” That question will be coming up a lot in the next four years, and in many forms. (And the Rockettes’ opt-out option won’t be standard procedure in the future.) It’s a good time to reread Sartre and Camus—and to listen to Meryl Streep. People who are opposed to Trump’s bad ideas, fearmongering, and long history of flamboyant disrespect for women, people of color, refugees, immigrants, Muslims, artists, diversity, fairness, and good taste must respond to his Presidency in the boldest and most effective ways possible. Don’t let him do what he wants, don’t let him get what he wants. One way is not to sing and dance for him. The Rockettes are a marvel of precision and athleticism; they are dazzling, glorious good fun. But not with Trump around. His grunty old-school sexism—the Tic-Tacs, the mashing, the insults, the fat-shaming, the beauty-pageant locker-room inspections—doesn’t deserve a high-kicking celebration. Trump deserves, just this once, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” performed, perhaps, by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Or, possibly, by the bugler hired years ago by Trump’s longtime Mar-a-Lago butler, to cheer him up when he was in a bad mood: as Trump stepped off his plane, the bugler played “Hail to the Chief.” *This sentence has been updated with the correct name of Donald Trump’s father.
CreditPhotograph by Damon Winter / The New York Times / Redux