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Opinion

Op-Ed: Trump’s Hollywood star is a reminder of the difference between celebrity and goodness

Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after was vandalized Wednesday morning.
Donald Trump’s vandalized star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
(Los Angeles Times)

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is an unlikely location for political unrest, but in the Trump era, the tourist attraction exerts unusual gravitational pull. Last Wednesday, President Trump’s star was smashed by a 24-year-old man with a pickax. “It was the second time since 2016 that Trump’s star had been effectively destroyed,” Todd Purdum reported, “and the umpteenth that it had been spat upon, defaced with graffiti, spray-painted with a swastika, or decorated with dog feces.”

By the next day, the first man to destroy the star had bailed the second alleged vandal out of jail, workers had covered the sidewalk, and two men dressed up as Russian soldiers stood guard beside the spot. This harmless farce was followed by an altercation Thursday night between hotheaded men whose argument beside Trump’s star degraded into a bloody street brawl.

Naturally, TMZ was on the story, posting video of the altercation and asking the Los Angeles Police Department and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which manages the Walk of Fame, if it wouldn’t be easier to just remove Trump’s piece of the pavement.

“The Chamber and LAPD both agree it would be even worse to remove the star because that would embolden people to deface the stars of celebs they dislike,” the gossip site noted. “So, the decision has been made to keep Trump’s star in its place, knowing it will probably be destroyed again, and possibly again... and again.”

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Again and again is right. Trump is not just a polarizing political figure. He is a celebrity in a culture that worships them. His supporters are prone to defending him so zealously in part because they are in thrall to his supposedly exalted status, gained over years on “The Apprentice” and in the pages of tabloids. Many even erroneously feel as though they know him.

Trump is not just a polarizing political figure. He is a celebrity in a culture that worships them.

Meanwhile, Trump antagonists can’t help but feel that the Walk of Fame, where the names of so many beloved icons appear, is a sacred place, and that Trump’s presence defiles or destroys its sanctity. What do zealots do to a figure who pollutes their place of worship? Smash the false idol!

Despite all the trouble it will cause, though, I think the star should stay, and not because its namesake achieved anything of lasting value in television, the category in which he received it.

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The chamber’s reasoning is sound: Letting vandals have their way in this case would create a perverse incentive — a vandal’s veto. And it squares with the chamber’s 2015 explanation for leaving Bill Cosby on the Walk of Fame despite the many women who came forward to accuse him of rape. “The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a registered historic landmark,” the chamber said back then. “Once a star has been added to the Walk, it is considered a part of the historic fabric of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because of this, we have never removed a star.”

That standard is appealing insofar as it preserves not only history, but also the distinction between goodness and fame. Too many conflate them.

Enter the Fray: First takes on the news of the minute from L.A. Times Opinion »

That fame and depravity so often overlap is unpleasant to confront. But ignoring that truth can only enable depravity. Better a Hollywood Walk of Fame that keeps reminding this city –– the one that can least afford to forget it –– that fame can and does happen to moral monsters.

Maybe we should have a special section of the tourist attraction called the Hollywood Walk of Infamy, featuring Cosby, Trump and others who flagrantly abused their fame to harm others.

Of course, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce isn’t about to entertain that suggestion. What could be more thankless than separating bad stars from good at a time of such intense polarization? The best we can hope is that they hold to the “no removal” policy, thus remaining the unlikely guardians of the fact that to be famous is not to be good.

As the scientist Alexander Bolonkin once wrote, “At the end of its lifetime, a star can contain a proportion of degenerate matter.”

Conor Friedersdorf is a contributing writer to Opinion, a staff writer at the Atlantic and founding editor of the Best of Journalism, a newsletter that curates exceptional nonfiction.

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