The Election of Donald J Trump to the Presidency has intensified the dilemma that famous Americans from all sectors of American life face when confronted by an invitation from a President who’s politics they don’t respect or possibly despise. In the United States, the office of the Presidency is supposed to hold all the power and respect, and the individual who holds that office is due that respect by virtue of the office. But what do you do when you feel the President the American people have elected either got there by illegitimate means or represents a philosophy that you feel is dangerously un American? We’ve seen this from people on the left when President George W Bush was in office. It intensified and reached its highest peak during the Presidency of Barack Obama, fueled by a toxic combination of racism and hatred for liberal politics steeped in racial anxiety. Even by the standards of those two relatively controversial Presidencies, Trump’s election presents unprecedented challenges of affiliation in our Social Media age.
Donald Trump the man, is an entity that has always had one foot in the world of entertainment. That’s been his area, from owning a franchise in the USFL, to throwing boxing events in Atlantic City, to hobnobbing with Hip Hop businessmen like Russell Simmons and Diddy, to starring in the hit reality show “The Apprentice.” He’s gained many friends and acquaintances in the entertainment world over the years. If his politics were not so nativistic, bellicose and race baiting, he would probably rally entertainers to his Presidency on a level unseen for a Republican President since Ronald Reagen. But the strategy that Trump ran on, which was in emulation of Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W Bush during his two elections, was a wedge issue based plan that aimed to appeal to the slim majority that white Americans currently hold in this country. As Dick Cheney used to say, “it only takes fifty plus one.” That’s why Trump lost the popular vote by a large margin but won in key states where the white demographic could be manipulated by their anxieties.
“Fifty plus one” may be a pragmatic mindset for winning a close election, but its not a good strategy for an entertainer who relies on a plurality of Americans and people around the world from all walks of life to support their projects. Which is why Trump is having problems securing even one big name, broadly popular musician or actor to co sign his Presidency by appearing at his inaugural. The wish list that has made the rounds of the internet is laughable, including Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin, and Katy Perry, three artists who have strongly supported Democratic politicians in the very recent past and who’s entertainment and personal brands stand in direct opposition to the exclusionary campaign inflicted on the American people by Trump. It is another sign of the Donalds ego and obliviousness that he thinks he can run the type of campaign that he did and still gain such artists support. On the one hand I blame the ignorance of arrogance, and on the other I point to the bully’s conviction that he will abuse you and you’ll like it. No matter what cordial relations Trump had with people in the past, he doesn’t realize how much damage he’s done by spitting pure hate from the depths of his shallow soul.
Last week, three notable Black male celebrities made an exception to this unofficial, “hands off Trump policy.” I was not surprised that the mentally ill, fame addicted musical superstar Kanye West went to visit Trump, in correlation with a certain strain of Hip Hop thought that views Trump as a kindred spirit. I was also not surprised that Ray Lewis, who’s been tap dancing along the lines of respectable coonery for some time was at Trump Tower to meet the great Orange man either. The man with the gravitas however, did not surprise me, yet disappointed me on some levels, and that is NFL Hall of Famer and social activist Jim Brown.
Just a few weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about Jim Brown in relation to Olympian Tommie Smiths ceremonial torch lighting before an Oakland Raider game in Mexico City. That blog can be read here:
https://riquespeaks.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/tommie-smith-athletic-protest-and-the-greatness-of-the-raiders/. Jim Brown for me personally has been one of the people I’ve admired the most in life, a hero both on the gridiron and on the city streets. He was an African American man who came to fame during the late 1950s during the Civil Rights movement and totally dominated his sport, displaying what was once the first requirement for notoriety in American life, extreme competence. He parlayed that success on the football field into very visible symbolic and concrete activism, supporting Muhammed Ali during Ali’s ban from the sport of boxing for resisting the call to the draft. He also cultivated through his scripted movies and his interviews a fierce, indomitable image of Black masculinity. His whole public career has been like looking at a modern day image of Frederick Douglass, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, Toussaint L’Overture and other Black men who resisted impression.
But more important than his image was the very valuable work that Jim Brown did with the Los Angeles gangs, including the Crips and Bloods. Jim Brown stepped in to be the father that he himself did not have for many young Black men at risk to the penal system and the prison pipeline. He reminded me of my own father, and he was in a sense Black America’s Dad in the same way that John Amos portrayal of James Evans on “Good Times” was. His “Amer-I-can” program was focused on teaching young people responsibility and furnishing them with opportunities to make it in this country. I always admired the fact that Brown’s South Carolina Gullah bred and NFL validated toughness, his inner grit, gave him the strength to talk to and work with young men that many others even in the Black community had written off. I always aspired to his ability to walk up to the roughest Brother and find some common ground.
Like all public figures, Brown had aspects of his personality that were troublesome as well, and like most, they seem to be the shadow or flip side of his good qualities. But I still viewed him, and still do as a hero, which to me means not somebody to put on a pedestal to worship, but somebody to emulate the good qualities of while also learning from their missteps and frailties, and I do believe his meeting with Donald Trump last week was a misstep.
I still recall Jim Brown’s write in candidacy for President in 1992 after the LA Riots, with him making television appearances in a Kufi, and Chuck D’s endorsement of him in the Public Enemy song “I gotta do what I gotta do.” So his appearance at Trump Tower surprised me on some levels, and yet made perfect sense on others. African American Presidential access has always been a tricky thing. On the one hand it can represent tokenism at its highest form, and on the other, there must be somebody to advocate for Black issues at the highest levels of American society.
Obviously Mr. Brown views himself as an Emissary or Ambassador from the African American people, and by virtue of his life’s work and deep connection to the community still, I would agree he would be one person of many that fill that role. So on that level, even with the clear opposition Trump has already voiced on many issues relevant to Black people, I’m not surprised or upset with his meeting with President elect Trump at all. Even countries in the buildup to war have Ambassadors in the enemy territory. The ejection of Ambassadors is usually one of the major acts in the declaration of war, but even during the war periodic diplomatic talks occur.
I use the wartime Ambassador example because its very clear many, myself included, view Trump’s election as a declaration of war on some sort. But even then, I don’t fault Jim Brown at all for meeting with President elect Trump to take some measure of the man and for seeing if Trump would be agreeable to any parts of his agenda. Even as much as I despise Trump and his rise, there are still important issues that need to be addressed that effect all humanity at this time. Democrats and forces on the left have to decide whether they will go the Republican path of full obstructionism in order to challenge the legitimacy of Trumps government or whether they will work with him on the most important issues and protest him and block him on others. Evidently for Jim Brown, Trumps illegitimacy was not enough of a hindrance to prevent him from meeting with the President elect, while it would be for me and many other people. Brown himself said that he was very upset upon Trumps election before his faith in America took over.
Sadly though Brown’s appearance with Trump has drawn justifiable heat on the Internets. Many Black people are angry and some have even resorted to calling him a “coon”, while others know and trust his record enough to feel that his meeting with Trump is not tantamount to selling out. I do not disagree with the Brothers and Sisters anger and I do feel that public figures need to be held accountable in some way, not that I think that an older, proud man like Jim Brown is going to waste too much time thinking about what people say about him on social media.
Still, even for a fan like myself, the spectacle of seeing Mr. Brown at Trump Tower was one I’d rather not have seen. I was already disappointed in Kanye, but in light of his mental health and sometimes disgusting chase of fame and acceptance, not surprised, nor did it seem out of character. Mr. Brown, independent man that he is, went up to Trump Tower in an Independent way, with some combination of “when your President calls you answer, along with some sense of his own personal importance. I’m sure that Donald Trump bowed before Mr. Brown and told him everything he wanted to hear. You see, despite the tough talk, Donald Trump is a man who knows how to flatter and genuflect better than most, as he did the Mexican President even after beginning his campaign by slandering Mexico. Trump has also been involved in football before and genuinely admires athletes.
Jim Brown, actor and athlete, is also a man with a healthy sense of his own importance, to put it mildly. He is also a man who believes a man will do his best to carry out his word. So when Trump looked at him and promised to back his agenda, I’m sure Brown believes him. I however, absolutely do not, and neither do a large number of Americans. So in many ways I feel this was a trap uniquely laid for somebody like Jim Brown with his strengths and human weaknesses. Knowing his type like I do, I’m sure he’d tell me that he did what he thought was best and positive to secure a good result for people, and I believe that. Still I would advise him and anybody else not to let Donald Trump make a photo op out of them and their real concerns. There is nothing wrong with negotiations and consultations on policy, there will have to be Black, immigrant, environmental, feminist, gay leaders of all stripes at the table when Trump tries to pull what he’s trying to pull. But of all things, don’t allow Trump to use your image and your credibility to try to show that he’s not prejudiced and will be a President for all people. Because Trumps embrace of the great Jim Brown means little for the respect he will have for me or you “down here on the ground.”
And Trumps whole game is public entertainment, Roman bread and circuses, while he assembles the greatest cabinet of unqualified robber barons seen in U.S history. There is nothing wrong with negotiating with the leader of any country, even one you are opposed against, in the interests and with the backing of of the people you represent. But it is shameful to be a part of a distracting clown show, which is what I view many of the meetings going on at Trump Tower to currently be.
Jim Brown’s program: