Dunn: Anti-Trump artists right to take unwavering stance, stick by morals

Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer

Hundreds of people gathered outside Syracuse's Oncenter War Memorial Arena in April to protest Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

If this presidential election season has proven anything, it’s that there is a double standard for political speech. In a world where even the most hateful comments from candidates will attract concentrated attention from the media, thoughtful criticism of the two remaining presidential hopefuls is seen as opportunistic and deceitful.

More than 600 American writers — including Stephen King, Syracuse University alumna Cheryl Strayed and current SU faculty member, Dana Spiotta — recently signed “an open letter to the American people” pledging their opposition to Donald Trump, the imminent Republican presidential nominee. The authors are taking a stand against Trump “because the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and division, demagoguery and lies,” according to the petition.

Though some may argue it is manipulative for artists to use their influence to sway fans, defending one’s own morals is far more important than any taboo surrounding talking politics in public. Being the kind of candidate who fosters a political battlefield filled with xenophobia, misogyny and blatant dishonesty, Trump has sparked a movement of artists of all mediums rightfully speaking out against him.

Especially now that Trump has secured the delegates he needs to clinch the Republican nomination, those with any level of visibility and the means to make a strong ethical statement should hold this hateful politician’s feet to the fire. This is because the voices of politically-minded celebrities are essential to help the public move beyond the hilarity of Trump’s campaign to analyzing and calling out his own deceptive rhetorical strategies.

In the case of Trump, most who come out in opposition of the candidate aren’t in disagreement about his economic policies or environmental stance, but his morals and the culture he incites.

Apart from prompting blatantly critical responses from actors including Kerry Washington and George Clooney, musicians have been extremely vocal about their moral opposition to Trump.

Upon hearing that the projected Republican nominee was set to co-appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”, rapper Belly recently withdrew from his scheduled performance that night with The Weeknd. In an interview with Associated Press, Belly said that he loves being a Muslim in America, but the fact that Trump is jeopardizing his freedom to practice his religion was not something he can quietly stand by.

Trump’s proposed ban of Muslims is in every way an example of modern-day religious persecution. Belly is just one of the 1.6 billion Muslims, according to Pew Research Center as of 2010, that Trump and his supporters have targeted, but sometimes it takes just one to make a strong, public statement. While the cancellation of this performance may have felt ill-timed for Belly and The Weeknd fans excitedly anticipating the musical guests, there is never a wrong time to oppose moral injustice.

And these musicians haven’t been the first in the industry to take a stand against Trump during this past year or so of political shenanigans. Following Steven Tyler’s example from October, the Rolling Stones demanded last month that the Trump camp cease any and all use of their music, particularly the song “Start Me Up.”

Though neither artist has come out explaining the specifics of why they’re withholding their songs for the candidate, it is clear — and on moral grounds, justifiable — that they are actively trying to dissociate their image with Trump’s. Others, including Miley Cyrus, Shakira, Meek Mill and John Legend, have simply contributed to the growing voice of dissent by expressing their moral opposition on social media.

Considering the Trump camp’s penchant for hatefulness and physical aggression, it’s clear to see how those voicing their stance against Trump do not see their actions as a motive to sway public opinion, but rather as a means to express their own ideologies. And even those who disagree with these artists and celebrities speaking out against Trump should understand the hypocrisy of condemning the publicness of these statements, especially given how much of a platform U.S. press is giving Trump.

Social media analytics company Crimson Hexagon looked at some of the media’s biggest players, including CNN, The Washington Post, Politico and Fox News, and found that Donald Trump has generated the second highest amount of positive media coverage over the past year and a half of election coverage. Despite Trump’s hostile words and policies, the viral nature of his words helps gloss over what the presidential candidate is really proposing.

Lynn Greenky, an assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, said Trump’s celebrity status is essential to this blindsiding.

“The rise of Donald Trump’s popularity is in no small part due to his celebrity,” said Greenky in an email. “His celebrity seems to work to obfuscate his lack of policy credentials and his startling lack of understanding of constitutional restraints on executive power.”

Greenky’s position is one that is a recurring theme in Trump critique, especially from those public figures who can see through Trump’s rhetorical, attention-seeking strategies and will not remain silent about them. It’s poignant that Demi Lovato’s tweet urging voters not to elect a candidate — Trump — due to his celebrity status comes full circle with the collective open letter from hundreds of writers denouncing Trump because, “neither wealth nor celebrity qualifies anyone to speak for the United States, to lead its military, to maintain its alliances, or to represent its people.”

Though Trump appears to be getting more attention overall, it’s the critical celebrity thinkers who truly deserve it because they are using their visibility wisely to shed light on Trump’s disrespectful ideologies. Until American politics decides that the path to White House should not be paved with a red carpet, we cannot criticize those artists who use their celebrity to advance their own political agenda.

Moving ahead into November, the public and U.S. media should afford the same respect and admiration to anti-Trump celebrities that they extend to Trump himself.

Chandler Dunn is a senior magazine journalism major, and history and political science dual minor. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @ccrdunn.


Top Stories