On Friday morning, President Trump partook in one of his favorite rituals this side of hitting the links or avoiding Tiffany: a bill signing. The commander-in-chief, surrounded by ornamental backers, inked the Veterans Affairs Reform Act—a measure that will make it easier to terminate VA employees—before soaking up camera flashes and cabinet applause. Among the admiring spectators was Al Baldasaro, a military veteran and New Hampshire state representative. The presence of Baldasaro, who introduced candidate Trump at a number of campaign stops and served as his adviser on veterans issues, would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that he once called for Hillary Clinton to be killed.
“This whole thing disgusts me. Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason,” said Baldasaro. He was discussing Benghazi, a tragedy wherein the Republican House found no evidence of wrongdoing on Clinton’s behalf, during a July 2016 radio interview. The incendiary remarks triggered a secret service probe, but Baldasaro never received any significant repercussions. And Baldasaro’s cameo at Trump’s recent bill signing received precious little coverage on cable news. You see, they were too busy upbraiding Johnny Depp.
Depp attracted the ire of the news media for disgusting comments he made about the President at England’s Glastonbury Festival Thursday evening. “Can we bring Trump here?” Depp asked the crowd. “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” The Pirates of the Caribbean star was, of course, referencing John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln. He added, “I want to clarify: I’m not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it’s been a while. And maybe it’s time.”
The actor’s incredibly poor—reprehensible, really—attempt at humor received swift condemnation from the White House, which responded with the following statement: “President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp’s colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a Democrat elected official.” The Depp imbroglio also, as expected, sent right-wing media into a tizzy, with everyone from Fox News and Breitbart to Rush Limbaugh tying Depp to a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar featuring a Trump-like protagonist; a photo of Kathy Griffin posing with a severed mannequin head of Trump; Madonna’s idiotic women’s march crack about how she’s “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House”; and lastly, the shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise by an unhinged Bernie Sanders supporter.
There is causality, some on the right are arguing, between the antics of Depp, the Caesar play, Griffin, and Madonna and acts of violence perpetrated against those on the right, such as the recent shooting of Rep. Scalise—a baseless claim, given that there is no evidence the shooter was influenced by any of these factors. There is also the idea that these celebrity outliers represent not only the views of Hollywood as a whole, but the base of the Democratic Party.
Now, let’s give credit where it’s due: the right are very good at this. Every time a lefty celeb like, say, Lena Dunham opens their mouth and says something stupid, they will throw TV tantrums and sling fiery op-eds for an entire week, milking the outrage teat to the very last drop. Of course, those on the right, especially in the right-wing media, don’t really care what Lena Dunham thinks. Their rationale behind this is simple: Hollywood celebrities are out of touch, therefore all of Hollywood is out of touch; and, since most of Hollywood is comprised of “coastal liberal elites,” then this one rogue celebrity’s views represent the whole. It’s part of the ongoing culture war fomented by the right, pitting these “coastal liberal elites” against Middle America’s working class—an opera that Trump, with his faux-disdain for Hollywood and faux-championing of blue-collar folks, is all too willing to conduct.
Forget the fact that Trump, who has spent his entire career exploiting the working class and cozying up to celebrities, is an outrageous hypocrite. His supporters don’t care. Heck, they cheered when he trotted out a former Goldman Sachs executive at a rally this past week in Cedar Rapids. So, given the elements at play here, Hollywood celebrities like Depp, Griffin, and Madonna must stop feeding chum to the right-wing ragemonster. They’ve proven themselves to be far better than the left at exploiting this so-called cultural divide. For evidence, look no further than the race for Georgia’s sixth congressional district, where the opposition issued attack ads that tied Democrat Jon Ossoff to the Kathy Griffin stunt (because she had endorsed him two months earlier on Twitter). You won’t see nearly the same kind of vitriol from the left over the Baldasaro appearance, or that time Trump invited rocker Ted Nugent, who’s called for the deaths of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, over for an Oval Office visit. That unfortunate episode was treated as nothing more than a late-night punchline.
Let’s talk Hollywood for a second. The notion that Johnny Depp, Kathy Griffin or Madonna—or really any celebrity with significant name recognition—somehow speaks for the entire industry is absurd. According to the 2016 Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California, the entertainment industry there employs some 166,300 people. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistic reported that, as of May 2016, there are 48,620 actors employed nationwide—including 14,840 in California. The vast majority of these actors are struggling, working multiple jobs to pay the bills. And a great many of them were not born in California to wealth, but migrated there from different parts of the country. Johnny Depp, for example, grew up poor in Owensboro, Kentucky. The average crew size for a Hollywood film production, meanwhile, comes out to around 600 people (Marvel’s The Avengers had 2,718), and most of these crew members have jobs like key grip, security, catering, low-level assistant, etc. Not exactly the “elite.”
All of this does not excuse what Depp, Griffin, and Madonna said or did. Those actions deserve widespread condemnation (Depp deserves far greater scorn for other reasons, although that’s a different story). If these Hollywood liberals want to truly make a difference—that is, make any sort of dent in 2018—then they need to realize they’re easy targets, knock off the outrageous antics, and stick to the issues. And if liberals in general want to start winning elections again, then they must start holding things like Trump’s Baldasaro and Nugent visits to account. Otherwise the Democrats have about as much chance of succeeding as Johnny Depp’s next movie.