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Meryl Streep delivers a message to Trump, one celebrity to another

Top of the Ticket cartoon
Top of the Ticket cartoon
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

The culture war is on! Hollywood’s most-honored actress, Meryl Streep has thrown down the gauntlet in front of America’s most successful celebrity, Donald Trump.

With new Trump controversies rising on a daily basis, it seems like a long time since Sunday night when Streep took the occasion of receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes as a chance to tear into Trump without speaking his name. She recalled the occasion early in the presidential campaign when Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter with a physical disability, by mimicking his spastic arm and hand movements, even as he also lied about things the reporter had written. Streep said the moment was “one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good … but it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.”

The glamorous crowd inside the Beverly Hilton sat in rapt attention and millions watched on television as Streep’s critique continued: “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 modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

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Streep’s comments predictably provoked a bullying series of tweets from the president-elect. He called the three-time Oscar winner “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” and dismissed her as a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” Then he went on to repeat the untruth that Kovaleski had retracted a story that debunked Trump’s claim to have seen thousands of Muslims celebrating in the streets of New Jersey after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

In later comments to the New York Times, Trump denied making fun of Kovaleski. “People keep saying I intended to mock the reporter’s disability, as if Meryl Streep and others could read my mind, and I did no such thing,” Trump said.

Of course, it was not Trump’s mind, but his offensive, visible contortions on live television that were easily read. Nevertheless, Monday on Fox News, Trump’s queen of spin, Kellyanne Conway, defended her master from his critics who insist on believing tangible facts, saying, “You [people] always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

In the days since, Trump’s mouth has kept moving — most notably when he compared U.S. intelligence services to Nazis — but his heart is harder to see. Trump and his shameless surrogates have determined that the folks in their audience will not believe their own eyes and ears as long as Trump tells them they are not seeing or hearing what they actually are seeing and hearing. It is a bold tactic and, so far, it has worked brilliantly.

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Streep was right to assess Trump as a performer because that has been the key to his political triumph. Trump has so successfully convinced his fans that his constantly revised script is the truth that they are utterly unperturbed by evidence that his version of reality is more of a fiction than a Hollywood movie.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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