WASHINGTON — President Obama and his successor, Donald Trump, have well-documented differences of policy and temperament, but as Trump’s reign in Washington draws near, another contrast is emerging — on cool points.
In his eight years at the White House, Obama carefully crafted his image as America’s hippest dad-in-chief, publishing workout playlists and annual NCAA tournament brackets, rubbing elbows with celebrities, and trading jabs with sports superstars, including Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
Even the nation’s stuffy, gray-suited capital, long derided as the “Hollywood for the ugly,” seemed to take on an air of mainstream relevance since 2008.
Enter Donald J. Trump, whose pop culture star quality is of a very different sort.
How different? Here’s one example: At the 2013 inauguration ceremony for Obama, the national anthem was sung by Beyoncé Knowles, goddess of the pop music universe and paragon of superstardom.
Four years later, as the country welcomes President-elect Trump, the incoming administration has tapped 16-year-old Jackie Evancho, a relative unknown and veteran of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” to sing at the inauguration.
So expect Trump to develop his own version of cool, with his own audience — one with little in common to the past eight years.
“In terms of the star power that Trump can bring, he can’t do what Obama did,” said Tevi Troy, author of the 2013 book, “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.”
“The majority of pop stars were pro-Obama, and if you go to see him, you’d get high-fives,” Troy said. “With Trump, it’s a minority, and you might get ostracized or criticized for going to see him. It could impact you negatively as a Hollywood person if you’re seen as too cozy to Trump.”
So what does Trump’s version look like?
Clues come from his days on the campaign trail. While Hillary Clinton’s campaign was holding rallies with rappers like Jay Z and Pusha T, and pop icon Katy Perry, Trump received celebrity endorsements from far fewer stars, but did gain support from the fringes of Hollywood.
According to reports, ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman, actress Kirstie Alley, actor Gary Busey, and television personality Tila Tequila were some of the more well-known Trump supporters, though none appeared with him at campaign events.
Scott Baio, a television actor best known for his role in “Happy Days,” spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of Trump.
Trump’s campaign revolved around the idea that Trump was the only star, the main attraction, the celebrity who enlivens the crowd.
Before his unlikely foray into politics, and even before his hit NBC reality show, “The Apprentice,” the real estate billionaire had made appearances on countless commercials, movies, and television shows.
They included the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’’ “The Jeffersons,’’ “Sex and the City,’’ “Home Alone 2,’’ and “The Little Rascals.’’
He was name-dropped in rap songs. Trump is also a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame.
The WWE, not politics, “was the real dress rehearsal” for Trump’s presidential run, said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture.
So while Washington’s cool factor is being reshaped, an even bigger cultural production may be in the works.
“When we talk about what’s the relationship between Trump and entertainment and pop culture, they’re inextricably linked,” Thompson said. “But who knows how the equation could change once [Trump] gets in there.”
For clues, Thompson pointed to Trump’s presidential transition, much of which played out in the public sphere.
His selection process for a secretary of state could be likened to a made-for-reality television special, complete with revenge (Mitt Romney), a surprise dropout (Rudy Giuliani), and a final twist (Rex Tillerson).
The president-elect has also had a wide array of Trump Tower visitors since the election, including rapper Kanye West, and legendary football players Ray Lewis and Jim Brown.
In part, historians cite Obama for making some of Trump’s celebrity behavior acceptable. Before Obama’s presidency, the country had rarely seen its commander-in-chief ingratiate himself with Hollywood, celebrity culture, and social media, especially in the Internet age.
Obama, through his suave navigation of the new technology and perfect comedic timing, expanded what was considered acceptable presidential behavior.
Trump may not want to appear on Zach Galifianakis’s “Between Two Ferns,” Marc Maron’s “WTF Podcast,” or share his favorite characters from HBO’s “The Wire,” but now, because of his predecessor, he can blend the power of the presidency with pop culture in new ways.
“[Trump] is a natural outgrowth,” Troy said. “What Obama did was helpful with millennials, and it helped him looked cool, it was fun, but it also opened the door for Trump. It normalized some for the pop culture behavior we see from him.”
Still, Democrats have long enjoyed the cultural benefits of a closer relationship with pop culture stars and producers, and Trump may face a challenge: Some celebrities’ feelings of alienation from Trump could limit the amount of star power available to the president-elect, Thompson said.
The Radio City Rockettes, the famed, high-kicking New York dancers, were slated to perform at Trump’s inauguration before some in the group publicly pushed back. A social media firestorm ensued, and a new agreement was struck allowing individual dancers to back out if they wished.
One thing that may change is White House deference to certain presidential traditions — appearing at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, attending the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, or rewarding cultural icons with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2009, Obama became the first sitting president to appear on a late-night talk show (for fact-checkers, Bill Clinton’s famous 1992 appearance on the Arsenio Hall show was before he was inaugurated).
This year, Obama “slow-jammed the news” on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show,’’ swaying to the music as The Roots and Fallon dubbed him “Bareezus.”
Troy said Trump may stay away from these appearances, instead opting for shows more likely to have a conservative audience.
“Trump may not get the same generous, kid-glove treatment from Hollywood,” Troy said. “He has to be wary that he’ll get hostility from hosts,” such as Fallon.
Anne Schrader, a former editor at Capitol File and a D.C. media consultant, predicted high drama for any event under a Trump presidency.
“The stranglehold of Hollywood is over, thanks to Donald Trump. D.C. will be the entertainment capitol of the world,” Schrader said. “No one knows celebrity pop culture more than Donald Trump. Every day will be high theater in a Trump administration.”Astead W. Herndon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.