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Hollywood Figures Refusing to Take Part in Trump Inaugural? The Dissent Is Not Really New

Donald Trump Press Conference
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The inaugural concert has become tradition for incoming presidents, but a number of entertainment figures will take part this year in what has become another standard of divisive political times: the protest in response to the new commander in chief.

Just as performers like Lee Greenwood and Toby Keith wrap up their opening concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday, entertainment figures such as Mark Ruffalo, Michael Moore, Shailene Woodley, Rosie Perez and Alec Baldwin are scheduled to gather at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York for a demonstration. They will be joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The next day, shortly after Trump is sworn in at noon, Judd Apatow, Jane Fonda and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are among those planning to participate in a “Love-a-Thon” on Facebook Live, an event organized by several tech executives and former staffers for Hillary Clinton. The event will raise money for groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

And on Saturday, tens of thousands are expected for the Women’s March on Washington. America Ferrera, Katy Perry, Cher, Amy Schumer, Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johansson are among those expected to take part in the event in Washington and other cities across the country. Chelsea Handler is expected to lead a protest in Park City, Utah where the Sundance Film Festival is being held.

That evening, Funny or Die is even hosting a Women’s March after-party at the 9:30 Club in Washington, with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) expected to speak and The National, Tig Notaro, Sleater-Kinney, Janeane Garofalo, Rhea Butcher, Cameron Esposito and Phoebe Robinson among those entertaining. Proceeds will go to Planned Parenthood.

If all of this dissent sounds unprecedented, it’s really not.

Back in 1973, on the eve of President Richard Nixon’s swearing in for a second term, Leonard Bernstein led a “Concert for Peace” at the Washington National Cathedral. Going on at the same time was Nixon’s inaugural concert at the Kennedy Center. Much was made of the dichotomy. Around the same time that Bernstein was performing Haydn’s “Mass in the Time of War,” Nixon’s event featured a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

Then, as now, some of the performers objected to taking part in Nixon’s inaugural festivities. The New York Times reported that 16 members of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy “asked to be excused from performing.”

Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, was at her father’s concert and notes “how polarized we were back then. It is very similar to what we are going through right now. Nixon polarized the nation, the way Trump is doing right now.”

“The circumstances are different, but the emotions are similar,” she said.

Like some of the planned protests against Trump, there were a number of high-profile figures who attended the Bernstein concert, including Sen. Ted Kennedy and former Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

A focus on Trump’s inaugural plans has been on which entertainers will show up for it and which have turned down the invite. Trump has said that it will have star power but also that he wanted it to be a “people’s inauguration.” Tom Barrack, his inaugural committee chairman, has told reporters that “what we’ve done instead of trying to surround him with what people consider A-listers is we are going to surround him with the soft sensuality of the place.”

The result may be an inaugural that lacks the A-list talent of Barack Obama’s first and second inaugurals — when Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and U2 were among those performing — as well as that of Bill Clinton’s first inaugural in 1993. The latter featured Aretha Franklin, Kenny Rogers and Jack Nicholson, among others.

It begs the question — how did Hollywood figures become part of the inauguration in the first place?

Jim Bendat, the author of “Democracy’s Big Day,” a history of presidential inaugurals, notes that the first major inaugural concert likely took place in 1941, when Franklin Roosevelt was being prepared to be sworn in for a third term. Held in Constitution Hall, it was emceed by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and featured Irving Berlin performing “God Bless America” and Charlie Chaplin doing his dance from “The Great Dictator.”

The event was supposed to be bipartisan, but even then, there was reluctance among Roosevelt’s detractors to take part. As the Washington Post reported, a famous movie singing duo, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, didn’t unite for the evening. MacDonald reminded organizers “that she was a True Republican, so Nelson Eddy’s singing partner was the Metropolitan Opera’s Rise Stevens.”

Jamie Bernstein says she has little doubt that if he dad were still alive, he would be planning a counter-concert to Trump’s inauguration.

“It would be a grand old tradition,” she said. “If he was still with us, that is what he would be doing.”