Honorees slam Trump and Pompeo during Kennedy Center festivities

For the third year in a row, President Trump and First Lady Melania took a pass on participating in activities during the Kennedy Center Honors weekend. Who can blame them? The possibility of an honoree taking the opportunity to slam the president or his administration was high and like clockwork, it happened this year, too.


The 2019 Kennedy Center Honors were presented to five honorees: actress Sally Field, the children’s TV show “Sesame Street,” singer Linda Ronstadt, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and the band Earth, Wind & Fire. The recognition is presented for lifetime artistic achievements. Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein released a statement about this year’s honorees. It is the first time a television show has been honored.

“The Kennedy Center Honors celebrates icons who, through their artistry, have left an indelible stamp on our collective cultural consciousness,” said Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein in an earlier statement. “Earth, Wind & Fire’s hooks and grooves are the foundation of a seminal style that continues to shape our musical landscape; Sally Field has brought us unforgettable characters, both joyous and poignant, for more than five decades; Linda Ronstadt is the defining voice of a generation, spanning genres, languages and continents; Sesame Street continues to revolutionize how children and adults learn about our world, and Michael Tilson Thomas goes far beyond keeping score – he has shaped American music and musical institutions for the 21st century.”

The event on Sunday night, as the honorees celebrated, was bittersweet for the Sesame Street people – Carroll Spinney, the original voice of Big Bird who retired in 2018, died earlier in the day at the age of 85. The ceremony was taped and it will be aired Dec.15 on CBS. LL Cool J was the host of the ceremony. He is a 2017 Honors recipient


The dinner hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday night, though, is where some predictable political discourse bubbled over. The State Department hosts the dinner for the honorees. Those in attendance are the honorees, their families, and guests. This year, as Pompeo was introducing singer Linda Ronstadt, he pondered out loud, “When will I be loved?”, the title of one of her classic hits. It was a little joke but Rondstadt bit – she replied, “Maybe when you stop enabling Donald Trump.” There it is. Nothing says classy like insulting your host to his face to score a political point with The Resistance, right? The son of Sally Fields tweeted out the incident as he voiced approval.

No doubt Linda Rondstadt was more comfortable with the crowd in 2013 when Barack Obama presented her with the National Medal of Arts but still. Is it too much to ask for our cultural betters on the left to suck it up and get through dinner in a graceful way? Apparently so. I’ve enjoyed her work since her Stone Pony days and I know she’s a standard leftist (former longtime girlfriend of California’s Governor Moonbeam) but it’s still disappointing.

The Washington Post published an article both complaining that the president and First Lady would again skip the festivities while also calling their absence a relief. There is no pleasing The Resistance. It was noted that their predecessors have headlined the ceremony since 1978.


On one hand, this is a bad thing: The president and first lady traditionally bring glamour and prestige to the annual celebration of American art and culture, highlighting the power of art to bring us together regardless of political differences and the importance of support and philanthropy.

On the other hand, the absence of Trump — under threat of impeachment and quick to take offense — is a relief to almost all involved. Not that anyone will say it out loud, but the odds that someone (an honoree, a performer, an audience member) might say or do something political at this nonpartisan evening is, frankly, uncomfortably high.

The Trumps knew what would happen, especially this year. Remember, the anti-Trump critics boldly criticize and freely express their disapproval of both of them at every given opportunity. They were booed at the World Series game in Washington, for a recent example, and the press exaggerated the boos aimed at President Trump during a college football game in Alabama. The First Lady has been protested at a Boston children’s hospital and at an opioid conference for young people. Both of those protests happened last month and are unprecedented for a First Lady. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a normal part of events for her. Protest the president all you want, is what I say, but leave the First Lady alone.

The swamp dwellers were represented in large numbers at the ceremony on Sunday night, according to Kennedy Center Board Chairman David Rubenstein. He noted a record number of lawmakers and government officials in attendance. Many members of the administration were there and were acknowledged. Naturally, their welcome was less enthusiastic than the one delivered when Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s presence was announced. Pelosi received a standing ovation. I expected nothing less.


“We have more leaders of our government than I’ve ever seen at a Kennedy Center Honors,” Rubenstein said.

After a restrained round of applause from the audience for an array of Trump administration Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, among others, Rubenstein said, “We have over 40 members of Congress here tonight.”

“I can’t mention you all, but let me just mention the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi,” said Rubenstein.

Suddenly, the audience rose to their feet with zealous cheers and applause.

Saying he was going to next mention “the most senior member of the United States Senate,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rubenstein quipped that the Vermont Democrat might not get the same enthusiastic reception as Pelosi.

Not to be outdone by Ms. Ronstadt, actress Sally Field let her feelings be known during a reception.

When a reporter noted Trump’s absence to “Lincoln” actress Field — who in 2016 said she didn’t understand why people had voted for the New York developer-turned-politician — she replied she “wouldn’t be” at the gala if he had attended.

“I’m very closely watching everything,” Field told ITK of the 2020 field of White House contenders. “Like many people, I haven’t landed yet. But I’m applauding almost everyone.”

Asked about Trump’s chances of winning reelection next year, the Academy Award winner responded, “I couldn’t possibly know. All I know is I’m going to be one of the people working as hard as I can do — as we all should be, whatever your beliefs are — working as hard as you can to get people to the polls, to make sure voting is fair, to fight for the things you believe in.”


Perhaps after the president is re-elected, Ms. Fields and others will better understand why he won the election. Don’t hold your breath, though. They seem to be slow learners.

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