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Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History: Meryl Streep’s Essential Speech

by Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams

Meryl Streep has slipped in and out of so many characters, so thoroughly, so often, it’s easy to forget the person underneath it all. That’s the job of actors, after all, to make us forget who they are and believe whom they’ve become.

Off-screen we’ve seen her speak about friends and collaborators she admires with effortless wit and humor. A smart and compassionate artist, she regards each character she plays with singular intelligence and uncanny instinct about their strengths and weaknesses. So it was quite extraordinary to see her use her worldwide broadcast platform to speak out about the dire state of America, to address this disgrace who’s been carelessly installed in the White House like malicious malware. She took the mic to articulate what his unthinkable ascension has done to those of us who opposed him, the 65 million majority of us for whom the non-representational Electoral College has just shoved a giant rat through a hole too small. It took a half-dozen sinister forces working in tandem to bring this abomination about, but they did it. They got him through, and now we must deal with it. Streep last night told us how to begin doing that.

First, Viola Davis gave a stunning intro for Streep, explaining to us that this is a woman who pays attention to who you are, is generally interested in knowing you. There Streep stood, with the stunned and thunderstruck faces of Hollywood’s finest staring up at her. The show’s producers, equally flabbergasted, were surely scrambling around in the control booth to make the call whether to cut away, reset, play her off or not. But how do you play off Meryl Streep in the midst of a statement this speech? The answer is, you don’t.

Streep spoke of Trump without ever saying his odious name, without ever having to. We all know which monster we’re now living with every day. We know that we’re being laughed at for being too afraid or too undisciplined to fight back. We all know Meryl Streep will be, and is at this moment, raked over the coals for daring to speak out – at an awards show, no less — for daring to speak truth to power. We know all this all too well because we have no choice but to live with it like it’s a normal way to live.

Normal to have a tweety president-elect who informs 54% of the country on New Year’s Eve that we’re all his enemies. Who recklessly incites North Korea, or fawningly praises Vladimir Putin. Who puts America in a position of being indebted to Putin’s cadre of oligarchs, in a position where no one can stand up to what Putin plans to do in his quest to serve his inner circle, to find and take the oil — oil being the only thing anyone in the world wants from Russia, other than vodka. Putin is smart enough to know that the way to control Donald J. Trump is to flatter him, to feed his childlike ego. Trump is too stupid to realize that he’s been had. He sold the country out. Nobody can stop him now except the Republican Congress, and they’re too gutless to do anything about it. The rudderless far left vacillates with a dubious moral compass, forming defensive and bitter alliances, making it next to impossible for liberals to coalesce in united opposition — all part of Putin’s plan, and too many are playing right into it.

So when Meryl Streep began to speak last night, it was only a few seconds before her vivid reckoning of her own “screaming and lamentation” signaled that she was not about to mince words. She didn’t ease us gently into what she wanted to say. She knew we’d see immediately where she was headed, and she knew the like-minded among us would be with her all the way. Because as much as we feel we know her, she knows us even better. Our anxieties, our concerns, our overwhelming despondent distress. She knows we wake up with it. After each night of restlessness, when the morning fog wears off, we remember what just happened. We remembered how fast it happened. And then we remember that every chance to stop it has been passed up, fumbled, or exhausted. No one is going to undo it. Day after day, sane Americans (which, please never forget, means most of us) are terrorized with one demoralizing tweet after another.

Even as Trump’s surrogates are forced to lamely defend him, a handful of others are waking up to the reality that he’s psychologically incapable of being presidential. Campaign-mode, circus-freak Trump is the only Trump we’re ever going to get. Nothing has changed, and nothing will. He still tries to pretend like he really didn’t savagely mock a disabled reporter, still tries to lie about the many women he sexually assaulted, still tries to distract from the sickness of his fraudulent business addictions. And now, most ominously, he’s announcing his intentions to scale back and dismantle America’s essential intelligence operations — for the sole purpose of covering up the details of how he became a Putin sycophant, nothing more than a puppet with our most powerful enemy pulling his strings.

If you’ve lived long enough, if you’ve followed politics here long enough, you’ll know that this darkness is most definitely not normal, nor can it ever be acceptable. I know I was not the only one out here who was having trouble adjusting my mindset to enjoy the Golden Globes. Something fundamental in America has shifted dangerously out of alignment. We now live immersed in a kind of daily terror of whatever this hair-trigger fool might do or say next. Even the usually reliable pleasure of watching so many beloved films compete and seeing artists honored felt too much for me last night, and I’ve been doing this a very long time.

But Streep’s speech redeemed the evening beyond every expectation. That her strained voice sounded soft and frail made her words resonate even louder, providing a guidepost for those of us who for weeks now have felt lost and demoralized. And now she’s going to need our help. She will need to know that we’re ready to stand alongside her. Because all the most vicious detractors on the right have gone for her throat, and they’re going hard.

As it turns out, they are afraid to hear the truth. All they can think to do now — as Fox News blared this morning — is continue to paint Trump as the victim. Poor little Trump. Why are liberals so mean to him?! It’s the same tactic we’ve seen on the left except, for them, Bernie is the victim. Somehow both ends have horseshoed around to touch their extremes in agreement — reaching the same conclusion from supposedly opposing direction that they should defend Wikileaks and Putin together. They’ll take on the working class together. They’ll clean house of the troublesome “other”: jettison their allegiance to black, female, and Hispanic voters, and other factions of the faithful Democratic base, now derisively referred to as the “old guard.” This is how fascism takes hold, when there aren’t enough good people to stop it. And we’re there. The more educated you are, the worse it will be for you.  So isn’t it better, safer, just not to be? That’s also where we are right now.

Trump’s childish flail back at Streep in the wee hours of the morning is typical of his damaged personality. The petty, spiteful way he lashed out reminds us who he is at his core, as she aptly pointed out. He’s a creature who is cruel just for the sake of it, and because he sees his cruelty appeals to the cruelest among us. He’s the guy who would kick down his own brother’s tower of blocks just to see the shock and hurt on his playmate’s face. Trump is, at his essence, a horrifying combination of narcissist and sadist. He derives deranged pleasure from making others suffer. He’s the guy who gave vulnerable kids a toilet swirly in high school. He’s the guy, like The Wolf of Wall Street himself, who was rewarded every time he screwed someone over. He’s the guy whose atrocities large and small were never stopped, so he took that as tacit encouragement. And now, after a lifetime of despicable behavior, he’s heading off to infest the White House.

Facing down this unprecedented tragedy are many brave souls like Meryl Streep who will stand up, and brilliant words like hers will light the path that each of us needs to follow. Amid the crude backlash she is facing today, we hope she sees that millions of us were craving to hear someone speak out with such eloquent fervor. We hope she knows we are forever grateful for the way she utilized those historic six minutes she had on stage. In front of a global audience, Meryl Streep came prepared with a profound reality check, delivered in a way that perhaps no one but the finest actress alive could have spoken with such stirring emotion.

Here are Streep’s full remarks:

Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. You have to forgive me, I have lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year so I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said, you and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments of American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we and, you know, what is Hollywood, anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey, Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, R.I. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio, Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates?

And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in Lon — no, in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good, it was — there’s nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth.

It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege and power and the capacity to fight back. It, it kind of broke my heart when I saw it and I still can’t get it out my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. OK, go on with that thing. OK, this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood foreign press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, ’cause we’re going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around the set one day, whining about something, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me: “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight,

As my, as my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Thank you, Foreign Press.