Jim Cavender by way of Jim McBride, 11.24 Facebook post: “I suppose it was inevitable, but President Trump got his grubby little mitts on Elvis Presley (and rock ‘n’ roll generally) by posthumously awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being ‘the true king of rock ‘n ‘roll’ — a phrase he clearly meant as a dig at African Americans and anyone else who may feel otherwise.
“[The] media commentary I’ve run across seems to acknowledge this. It’s also why Trump chose to recognize Babe Ruth and Roger Staubach, as a ‘remember when white people were in charge?’ dog whistle. But I’ve also picked up an undercurrent of sneering contempt that indicates the commentators can’t imagine any other reason for the recognition. I find it bewildering and ironic that Elvis has been turned into this buttress for reinforcing the racial barriers he set out to obliterate. Any thoughts?”
HE to Cavender: It’s a shame that Presley’s memory has been used by Trump as a dog-whistle thing, but remember also that Presley never set out to “obliterate racial barriers,” to use your phrase. Presley adopted blues and gospel singing styles that he picked up in Tupelo, and thereby became the “white guy singing black music” that Sam Phillips, the Sun Records honcho, had dreamt of and was able to sell. Presley’s debt was obviously huge, but he never stood up for the civil rights movement — not even when Hollywood liberals attended the August ’63 March on Washington en masse.
And of course, Presley became a hippie-deriding, protestor-hating conservative in the early ’70s. If he’d lived he almost surely would be a Trumpster today, so Trump’s Medal of Freedom tribute sadly correlates.
This is all in Eugene Jarecki‘s The King, one of the great 2018 docs.
The guy whose memory and legacy I feel badly for is Babe Ruth. He may not have been a paragon of virtue in all respects, but he was still Babe Ruth. Now he’ll be forever linked as a symbol of white pushback.