Inauguration and Manifestation: What does it mean to refuse to perform for President Donald Trump?


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From Elton John to Céline Dion – and numerous performers between, it wasn’t exactly a secret that Donald Trump’s inauguration performance, unlike most presidential inaugurations, was not a highly coveted venue. In fact, a great amount of controversy arose around A-list celebrities and performance groups refusing to perform at the inauguration. One of the most interesting was The Rockettes, who were asked to perform, and most under threat of losing their jobs. Following the resistance of various members and the outbursts on social media outlets like Twitter, the organization issued statement that only those members who were willing to perform would do so. In response to the attempt to get the Rockettes to perform, one dancer stated that “It sounds like you’re asking us to be tolerant of intolerance.” (Watkins, CNN http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/05/politics/trump-inauguration-performers/ ) What can we take away from the numerous A-list singers refusing to perform, and the fact that in the end, very few big-name performers actually attended as they did for President Obama, like the Queen Bey, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, and Stevie Wonder to name a few. We make this comparison: to be anti-Trump, to refuse to perform at his inauguration is a type of rite. Like the native that Durkheim describes: “For the native, the efficacy of these rites is beyond doubt: He is convinced they must produce the results he expects of them, and with a sort of necessity” (337). For the native, that manifest effect is to renew the totemic principle with the rites he performs. For the performer who refuses to perform at the inauguration, for the person who identifies with the “not-my-President” movement, the effect is similar: the refusal to perform is itself a type of rite that will bring about a result – a refusal of association with Trump. Of course, like with the rites of the Australian aboriginal, there is an underlying effect here as well.

Durkheim tells us that these manifest acts and rites function, “not to create a bond of artificial kinship between man and his gods but to maintain and renew the natural kinship that at the beginning united men.” (344) The act itself is manifest, it is what we see, what is apparent and obvious— in this case, it is the public refusal to perform. What is latent, however, is the meaning of the act. What does it mean to be part of the anti-Trump and the not-my-President movement, exactly? The act of refusal exhibited by these performers seems to link back to the idea of self renewal as members of a collective. When The B Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen cover  group, withdrew their performance from the inaugural gala they released a statement on Facebook claiming, “Our decision is based SOLELY on the respect and gratitude we have for Bruce and the E Street Band.”screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-1-39-27-pm

It should be noted that Bruce Springsteen openly supported Hillary Clinton and has been critical of Trump. Here, The B Street Band are clearly trying to partake in group life by aligning themselves with their idol’s views, thus reviving their inner lives. (350) However, in order to participate this form of group life, where belief systems and personal moral codes are at the forefront of the act being committed, we must also consider the role of sacrifice in these performers’ decision not to participate in the inauguration.

Society asks its members to do things that are not aligned with their instincts or their individual well being, such as fasting and going to war.  “It requires perpetual sacrifices of them”(321).  Of these celebrities society demanded that they deny this career advancing, money earning, prestigious opportunity.  These demands were made manifest by their fans.  (Jennifer Holliday agreed to play then apologized publicly for the “lapse of judgement” after backlash from her fans.)  Society also made latent demands against the obvious interests of the celebrities through the celebrities own minds.  Their moral codes pushed them to refuse to perform and align themselves with Trump.  As Durkheim says, “Society requires us to make ourselves its servants, forgetful of our own interests”(209).  Yet in this example, rather than doing something physically painful, the performers are choosing not to earn money for the sake of sticking by their own ethics, and the ethics of their fans.  The celebrities who rejected the invite in order to stand for equality, immigration rights, women’s rights, science, and political correctness, rejected another group which holds sacred the private sector, pro-life, limited government and the US army.  This weekend both parties were marching and celebrating the flag, but this same symbol stands for different morals.  The Trump supporters waved flags at the inauguration, while the Trump protesters marched through the cities with red white and blue posters of women’s faces reading We the people.  Is it then that different societies are “requiring us to make ourselves its servants”?  The celebrities are asked by one section of the United States to do one thing, and by another section to do another.  It is manifest that we the people claim the same icons and the same celebrities for our causes, yet we are certain that our causes are drastically different.  Can different social groups share a totem?

One last thought as we are wearing our pink pussycat hats and still have the chants from the women’s march echoing in our heads: if society is pursuing “ends that are specifically its own,” (209) where do we fall?  On the surface we are the creators of our posters and the sewers of our hats, yet after reading Durkheim’s social theory, are we truly working for causes that are our own?  Do we take issue in working for a project larger than ourselves, one that originated and will likely continue outside of our life times?  Is it ok that the matter in our heads comes from the social structures that surround us?  And what about the notion that the contradicting matter in their heads comes only from the social structures around them? 

While you contemplate these questions, please enjoy The Official Donald Trump Jam performed by none other than the Pensacola Freedom Girls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPRfP_TEQ-g

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6 thoughts on “Inauguration and Manifestation: What does it mean to refuse to perform for President Donald Trump?

  1. I find it very interesting that you guys picked up on two different “societies/collectives”. On one hand you have the “Not My President” collective group and on the other hand you have President Trump’s supporters. I guess the main question to address is, “Who is properly representing society/the collective in this situation?”. Is one side right and the other is wrong? If we have two different “societies”, can there even be the possibility of having a single united society? I agree with your evidence for what is latent and what is manifested. Also, both societies act like rites. However, I am struggling to understand if it is acceptable or even satisfying to have these two very different societies. Shouldn’t we try to compromise and unite to form one society/collective? Instead of having two different representations of the American flag, let’s try to have one united representation. This may be easier said than done.

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  2. I never thought about it this way before, but I think it makes sense that Donald Trump’s presidency constitutes a threat to the american collective, which holds ideals such as “democracy” and “freedom” as totems, and idealizes the “melting pot.” Then it makes sense that as a celebrity, performing at the inauguration would be considered profaning the sacred, and therefore unthinkable. -Jasmine Barnard

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  3. I think you all brought up a number of interesting points in your analysis! In response to the questions from your post: “Is it then that different societies are “requiring us to make ourselves its servants”? The celebrities are asked by one section of the United States to do one thing, and by another section to do another. It is manifest that we the people claim the same icons and the same celebrities for our causes, yet we are certain that our causes are drastically different. Can different social groups share a totem?” and questions from a previous commenter: “However, I am struggling to understand if it is acceptable or even satisfying to have these two very different societies. Shouldn’t we try to compromise and unite to form one society/collective? Instead of having two different representations of the American flag, let’s try to have one united representation. This may be easier said than done.” I think that as the United States, we are deeply divided, not only in our personal and cultural beliefs, but in our beliefs about what the country and the flag (as totems) represent to us. We have the case of “liberty and justice for all” (among other of the country’s axioms) meaning very different things for different people (we have an extensive history of the “American experience” not being the same for everyone) and I think that we have seen the effects of that, as you all pointed out, manifest in our current political climate. I think that this speaks to a comment that Dr. Kent made about a society not being able to properly function as a single entity if its members cannot agree on integral truths as being objective. I do not know if what we need is compromise, because I see compromising as implying that we are bending on the goal of equality, but I do believe that there is a lot that we can do to unite the country so that our totemic ideal are more aligned. Thank you for the thought provoking post! -Seychelle

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  4. I also really liked how you guys picked up on the appropriation of the same totem for two very different collectives, but I don’t think that that’s actually uncommon at all – although Durkheim doesn’t talk about it too much, groups are prone to factionalization. The idea that there can be a perfect, united whole that engages with the totem in the same way might be an overextension of Durkheim’s generalization. That being said, it is very interesting to look at how resistance movements operate within a Durkheimian lens – as you say, they are still products of the same social forces and structures that shaped the contrasting movement (that is, the movement being resisted). Even though it might be weird to twist Durkheim into advice on protesting, maybe to resist properly, we must capitalize upon these collective forces to create an identity for our countermovement that exists beyond the death of the movement without ever forgetting or losing sight of how we aren’t really ever deciding for ourselves.

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  5. This post is really interesting. It got me thinking of what we consider the ‘moment’ of divergence between the group that call Trump their president and those who disavow him. If the Access Hollywood tape had not been released, would he then be ‘our president’? What if he did in fact win the popular vote, would he be ‘our’ president? I am writing this post after reading Foucault and I was wondering about the benefit of surveillance. We want the president to be scrutinized because of the power he is given, but nothing is done when he is caught. The definition of ‘president’ is just changed. It is an interesting thought: what if Trump aesthetically looked like what we think of when we think of a delinquent? What if Trump was African American with all of the same merits and crimes? Foucault did write about how the delinquent is categorized as a delinquent before actually committing a crime. It is based on social status whether that is defined by economics, education, race, gender, etc. I wonder how much that plays into how we define and how we accept the democratic process as working or broken and how that separates those who claim Trump as president and those who do not.

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