Why Hillary Clinton’s Famous Hollywood Helpers Didn’t Matter
Turns out angry working-class whites don’t give a hoot about Beyoncé or James Franco.
Far be it from us to question any performance Queen Bey deigns to grace us with, but it feels like her and Jay Z’s Hillary Clinton endorsement may have come a few weeks (months? years?) too late. In the blissful hours before we were all subjected to the phrase “President-elect Donald Trump,” a litany of celebrities jumped on the Clinton bandwagon. Suddenly, the star-studded branch of her campaign went from “cast of a slightly more diverse Girls spinoff” to all hands on deck. Hip-hop’s reigning power couple got out the vote in Cleveland. Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky took a break from ostentatiously dating in New York City to campaign via FaceTime. James Franco took his shirt off—twice.
The final weeks of Hillary’s campaign stood in contrast to the veteran politician’s DNC. Unlike her opponent, Hillary never promised her supporters four nights of “showbiz.” But the stars who did show up to try and get the first female president elected were fairly niche. In one camp, you had the stalwarts—women who were with her from the beginning, and had the custom-made outfits to prove it. That includes Lena Dunham, Hollywood’s most outspoken and polarizing Hillary fan, and Katy Perry, who just seemed psyched to be attending an event that Taylor Swift wasn’t invited to. And in the second camp, you had the first wave of stars to comprehend the Armageddon that a Donald Trump presidency might bring—the celebrities like America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, and Angela Bassett, whose various identities may not have allowed them to ignore the harmful ramifications of Trump’s increasing cruel campaign.
This isn’t to suggest that Hollywood’s absent luminaries were on the other side of the aisle. Donald Trump’s RNC roster, despite all of his promises to the contrary, read like the cast of a low-budget season of Celebrity Apprentice. Trump’s dream was probably to ride into the Quicken Loans Arena on Tom Brady’s back. In reality, he couldn’t even get Clueless’s Stacey Dash (also, he would be difficult to carry, seeing as he’s technically obese). In addition to Trump’s sad celebrity land of broken toys—Antonio Sabato Jr., Scott Baio, that dude from Duck Dynasty—there were all the stars who have spent the past year mocking him mercilessly. Here at The Daily Beast, we’ve featured a myriad of directors, actors, and celebrities, all quick to deride and denounce the former reality TV star. Unfortunately, despite what felt like a decisive anti-Trump moment in the pop cultural zeitgeist, the accompanying pro-Hillary rhetoric left something to be desired.
Aside from her consistent, hard-working celebrity supporters, Clinton didn’t exactly inspire a cavalcade of compliments. Even Bernie Sanders, a 75-year-old Jewish grandpa, arguably got more heat from Hollywood. When celebrities did endorse her, it was often in pragmatic terms. Gone were the days of hope and change, replaced by a deeply unsexy rhetoric of harm reduction. No wonder we were all itching to give Louis C.K. a male ally of the year award for deigning to admit that America needs a “tough bitch” like Hillary Clinton in the White House.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Clinton’s bench of celebrity backers deepened exponentially. While that may have been a strategy designed to take her over the finish line, it felt a lot more like fear than raw enthusiasm. Just look at Rachel Bloom’s “We are the World”-style celebrity get out the vote ballad. The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend songstress’s offering was hilarious and charming, chock-full of delightful star cameos. But it was also super last-minute, and clearly driven by an “oh shit, this might actually be happening” stroke of terror—the fact that it’s literally called “HOLY SHIT (You’ve Got to Vote)” seems like an accurate window into the celebrity participants’ mindsets. In the Funny or Die collaboration, a handful of stars FaceTime in, singing, “We’re too famous to come to the studio, so we’re singing on our phones.” Like all great jokes, it’s funny because it’s true—a stinging reminder that celebrities sort of phoned it in this time.
Obviously, celebrities aren’t to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss—white people are. But Hollywood’s general attitude towards Hillary, which often bordered on apathy, may reflect our own. Or at the very least the attitudes of the snarky coastal elite, as we will be known for the next four years barring apocalypse or impeachment. Hillary Clinton is a qualified lady who gets things done—not exactly the most compelling public figure to build a movement around. Of course, that’s more of an indictment of our lack of vision than of hers. Due to a myriad of factors, many beyond her control, Clinton felt more like a predictable outcome than a revolution in the making. Our belief in her inevitability—and our barely concealed boredom with her historic campaign—certainly didn’t help.
In 2008, liberals rallied around Barack Obama, a candidate who was widely perceived as far more inspiring than Clinton. The young senator’s list of entertainment world supporters read like the audience of a mythical combined EGOT awards ceremony. Obama is so popular with celebrities that he’s repeatedly come under fire for his Hollywood affiliations. During his first presidential campaign, Republican rival John McCain endorsed a video called “Celebrity” that mocked Obama’s popularity and featured flashing images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The ad intoned, “He’s the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?”
And in 2012, the RNC released a new video meant to call the sitting president’s tactics into question. According to an RNC spokeswoman, the video “highlights how out of touch President Obama and his campaign are after releasing a glitzy fundraising video featuring Vogue chief Anna Wintour the same day as a dismal jobs report.” Ironically, the president’s campaign team retorted by pointing out that his opponent, Mitt Romney, had made a recent appearance with The Apprentice host Donald Trump.
During his first go-around, Barack Obama rode a grassroots wave of change all the way to America’s highest office. And in 2016, a man who appears diametrically opposed to our current president in both temperament and values also founded a movement. Like a Twilight Zone Obama, Trump motivated voters who have failed to turn out in the past—only this time, it was in predominately white districts. Perhaps we didn’t recognize the extent of Trump’s pull because it didn’t look like the star-studded, shiny political movement that elected our nation’s first black president. Instead, Trump, for all his murky policies and questionable empathy for the working man, offered a shimmering mirage of nihilism and insurrection. For many Americans, like it or not, this is what liberation looks like—assaulting women on the street, insulting people of color, and threatening immigrants. Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric appealed to white men and women who may have felt as if they had been left behind. Now, our entire country is being pulled back with them.
Trump’s populist movement is categorized by a brand of racism and hate-mongering that is rarely out in the open. It makes sense, then, that this past election season caused the handful of reputable, openly Republican stars to run for the hills. No one with anything to lose—including an increasingly diverse nation of consumers—would want to throw it away on a long-shot demagogue. Stars like Clint Eastwood and Jon Voight were rumored to appear at the RNC, but ultimately opted out. Celebrities, like ashamed voters, were wary to openly associate with a prejudiced misogynist. Then again, Hollywood knows better than any other industry how white men often seem to deflect any and all unsavory accusations, and can enjoy illustrious careers in spite of their numerous transgressions.
Hollywood’s misogyny and white supremacy, though far from extinct, favors subtlety. It operates by making sure that real power is consolidated in the hands of the few, and by limiting the opportunities for queer creators, female auteurs, and people of color. It works through wage discrimination and biased hiring practices. In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the entertainment industry pitching a cute Funny or Die skit endorsing blatant xenophobia. Of course, now that Donald Trump is our president-elect, things are going to start changing. Men and women across the country will likely feel comfortable expressing their most hateful, cruel urges, modeled off of the man that they elected. Who’s to say that some celebrities won’t follow suit and show their true colors? For worse or for worse, with or without Beyoncé, it was Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, who managed to inspire the more powerful movement.