As someone who’s often worked with the nation’s arts and humanities endowments, I usually pay attention to the annual Kennedy Center awards show, where they honor authors, musicians, dancers, painters, actors and other artists and scholars who represent a wide variety of styles and eras. It’s the best of the best—Led Zeppelin followed by Buddy Guy and Dustin Hoffman on the same stage. Before the big event, which is shown on TV around Christmas, there’s also a White House reception where the president bestows the award on each recipient.
In a nation that spends so little on culture, compared to many other countries, the Kennedy Center honors and the White House reception amount to the main presidential seal of approval for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, whose combined funding for the year wouldn’t pay for Melania’s security at Trump Tower.
To no one’s surprise, Trump’s budget for FY18 zeroes out both the NEA and NEH, along with NPR and other educational and cultural programs. The President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities is supposed to represent these federal agencies and help lobby for their budgets, but the commission members resigned this week after Trump’s unhinged comments about Charlottesville.
On top of that, two of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees previously said they will not attend the reception—a close encounter with Donald Trump. Dancer Carmen de Lavallade said she is protesting the president’s “caustic” rhetoric about race, while TV kingpin Norman Lear said he will not go because Trump wants to eliminate the NEA and NEH, which the annual event purports to honor.
In the wake of the commissioners’ resignations, honoree boycotts, and Trump’s culture-free budget proposal, the president and First Lady sent word to the Kennedy Center that they will not attend this year’s awards program, scheduled for Dec. 3. Trump also said he will not host the White House reception.
Normally, the president cancelling his appearance at your big annual event would be cause for hand-wringing. But not this year. In fact, the chairman and president of the Kennedy Center issued a joint statement thanking Trump for staying away.
“In choosing not to participate in this year’s Honors activities, the administration has graciously signaled its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the honorees. We are grateful for this gesture," they said.
In other words, we are “grateful” that you will not slime us with your presence. However, given the honorees this year, I imagine Trump will show up in some capacity. In addition to Norman Lear and Carmen de Lavallade, who are expected to attend, the show will also honor Gloria Estefan, Lionel Richie and LL COOL J. Oh, yeah, Trump will be there, just not like he imagined.
Last year, when the honorees included Al Pacino, Mavis Staples, James Taylor and the Eagles, the loudest and longest applause was reserved for the man sitting next to them: President Barack Obama. This year, if the president receives any applause, it will be for not being there. We should all be so lucky.