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Coffee House US Election

Can Katy Perry stop Donald Trump?

28 September 2016

1:58 PM

28 September 2016

1:58 PM

Recall that eight years ago a number of actors brought out a video of unspeakable dreadfulness called I Pledge, calling on Americans to support Barack Obama’s election. Now the entertainment industry, always shy about supporting a fashionable cause, is back on the stump, this time rallying against Donald Trump.

During a new voting campaign – featuring Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Robert Downey Jr – the actor Mark Ruffalo promises to go naked in his next film. Ruffalo is a fairly good example of West’s Law (C), that the more talented an actor, the more idiotically left-wing the political views.

Now the singer Katy Perry has gone one better than Ruffalo, getting her clothes off ‘in an attempt to encourage people to head to the polls’. The Standard reports:

‘Perry, 31, ripped off her stars and stripes pyjamas as she made her way to a polling station in a Funny or Die and Rock the Vote skit. The short video shows the singer waking up on the morning of Election Day with unruly hair and heading to the polling station. “November 8th is Election Day and I’ve got some great news,” she says. “This year, you can look like s*** when you vote.’

Madonna has also joined in, saying she will be voting naked too.

I don’t know whether any of Katy Perry’s fans will be more inclined to vote because she has stripped off – I’m not sure how many can vote – but it will sure inspire Trump’s supporters.


One of the many interesting findings Jonathan Haidt has made in his study of political partisanship is that liberals are much worse at understanding their opponents than conservatives are. It might be that, as David Brooks has pointed out, conservatives are so surrounded by liberal ideas, they would be hard pressed not to understand them. Perhaps it’s because liberals are more likely to believe opponents to be just fundamentally wrong and/or evil. A recent study showed that remainers are six times more likely than leavers to display one of the main characteristics of political sectarianism: hostility to a family member marrying one of the other tribe.

But it might also be that liberals, being high-status both in the US and Britain, just don’t care what conservatives believe, because generally people aren’t that interested in what those lower down the social hierarchy think or do (except when they are so far down as to be outside the social norms, in which case they become the subjects of HBO dramas).

If actors and singers were serious about stopping Trump, they might want to look at what is driving his support. As Haidt says, his supporters  ‘perceive that the moral order is falling apart, the country is losing its coherence and cohesiveness, diversity is rising, and our leadership seems to be suspect or not up to the needs of the hour. It’s as though a button is pushed on their forehead that says “in case of moral threat, lock down the borders, kick out those who are different, and punish those who are morally deviant.”’

Indeed Trump ‘is not a conservative, and is not appealing to classical conservative ideas. He is an authoritarian, who is profiting from the chaos in Washington, Syria, Paris, San Bernardino, and even the chaos on campuses, which are creating a more authoritarian electorate in the Republican primaries.’ He is succeeding because, as Karen Stenner suggested in a 2005 book, The Authoritarian Dynamic, authoritarianism ‘is not a stable personality trait’ but is ‘rather a psychological predisposition to become intolerant when the person perceives a certain kind of threat.’

What drives authoritarianism are ‘normative threats’, things that threaten the moral order: ‘The experience or perception of disobedience to group authorities or authorities unworthy of respect, nonconformity to group norms or norms proving questionable, lack of consensus in group values and beliefs and, in general, diversity and freedom “run amok” should activate the predisposition and increase the manifestation of these characteristic attitudes and behaviours.’

Now some people might feel that the moral order of the West is under threat, and some might not. But it’s strange that the behaviour of so many anti-Trump advocates, whether it’s actors or the Black Lives Matter campaigners, seems only to reinforce this not entirely irrational fear. Actors are useful political allies, because being attractive and successful they reinforce the idea that liberalism is high status, but large swathes of society do not feel represented by them.

In ancient Rome, actors were considered dangerous because they upstaged the very social order everyone depended on. As Tom Holland wrote in Dynasty: ‘Seneca, watching a play in which a slave played Agamemnon and imperiously threw his weight around, had been prompted to reflect on the illusory nature of rank itself. “Who is the ‘Lord of Argos,’” he mused. “Why, only a slave!”’

This is exciting to a few, but to most people it is also disconcerting. Historically it has been the role of actors to upend and challenge the norms and roles of society – in ancien regime France they were prohibited from taking part in politics – but the irony of this meta-ironic age is that the acting establishment now dreads American political norms being upended by a latter-day Nero for whom politics is all one big show.

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