Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust

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Donald Trump is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

Published on Monday, January 30, 2017 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—Donald Trump’s only venture into theatre was a bust.

So it stands to reason that one of his first acts as president could be to cut all funding to the only two federal agencies with a mandate for arts and culture. Last week The Hill, a congressional news source, reported on a plan to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

The NEA, established by an Act of Congress back in 1964, currently receives only $150-million in federal government funds. That represents a pittance of the $10.5-trillion in cuts proposed by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization providing the blueprint for administration budget direction. As for the CPB, its total annual funding from public coffers is less than $450-million.

Both sums are chump change. By contrast, the Canada Council for the Arts is currently funded at a rate of $220-million Canadian dollars annually, almost $20-million more than the congressional allocation for the NEA, in a country with one-tenth the population. The last federal budget boosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation budget by $675-million over five years.
But it is obvious that Trump’s political agenda is not about simply balancing the country’s books. He is preparing to use an extraordinarily powerful bully pulpit to promote the Trump legacy as a blue-collar billionaire. What better way to drain the swamp than hitting out at left-wing media and cultural elites.

It may also be payback time for ancient grievances.

According to The New York Times, back in 1970, a 23-year-old Trump wanted to make his mark on Broadway. He offered to co-produce a play with David Black in return for equal billing and a chance to learn the ropes in New York’s theatre world.

The play Paris Is Out! was a dud and Trump lost all his money and, apparently, his Broadway interest. He subsequently reneged on a published promise to partner with Black in another show the following year. That turned out to be a wise withdrawal because W.C., a musical based on the life of comedian W.C. Fields, closed even before it made Broadway, notwithstanding the presence of Mickey Rooney and Bernadette Peters in lead roles.

More than 30 years later, Trump explored producing his own story on Broadway, entitled Trump. News reports quoted producer Barry Weissler announcing the proposed musical based on The Apprentice television series, and scheduled to open in the spring of 2006. “Donald Trump is a larger than life character and the Broadway musical stage may be the only medium large enough for him. We know Broadway audiences will embrace the drama and genuine intrigue of The Apprentice just as television audiences have. ”

The show was never launched. Trump obviously has a hate-hate relationship with the powerful world of American entertainment. His much-publicized feud with actress Meryl Streep is just one example of this. Why would a president-elect engage in a Twitter fight on the eve of his inauguration?

Perhaps the media-savvy president is simply changing the channel.

Social media is replete with posts by Trump followers loving the cuts. “They are like the thing in the back of your fridge that is really moldy and stinks but you haven’t wanted to touch to throw away. Well it is time to put on the chest waders and Drain the Swamp. Out! Out!” was a post linked to Breitbart News, the far right web news site of Trump chief strategist and senior counsellor Steve Bannon.
Trump believes his talent as a television pitchman was not sufficiently recognized. That was evident during presidential debates when, in the middle of a serious question, he tilted his head to complain that The Apprentice should have received an Emmy.

Snubs from the entertainment industry have rubbed Trump the wrong way. And killing public funding for the NEA and NPR are his way of getting the final word.

A groundswell of opposition is coming from the very people whom Trump loves to hate, the so-called liberal media elites who turned their backs on Trump. Even Sylvester Stallone reportedly spurned his offer to head up the NEA.

In revenge, the first victims of Trump’s promise to drain the swamp are the only two federal agencies with a specific arts and culture mandate.

This is the president’s first salvo in the war against the arts but it certainly won’t be the last. That swamp is just too appealing. Too bad his Broadway debut was such a bust.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien is cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.