Defiant Cher perfect political counterpart to Donald Trump

Cher.
Cher.

NEW YORK • The first brush Cher had with politics was an act of teenage civil disobedience.

It was right before the United States presidential election of 1960. And she came home one day horrified to discover that her mother and stepfather had festooned their house in Hollywood with Richard Nixon paraphernalia.

Cher purged it all. First, she ripped the Nixon signs out of their front lawn. And after her mother fished them out of the garbage and put them back up, Cher found a more permanent solution.

"I took them to my girlfriend's house and we threw them in her trash," she told me, the mischievousness and pride still in her voice after all those years.

But the signs were not all she got her hands on. "Also threw out those hideous straw hats with Nixon on them," she said.

Fifty-six years later, that is more or less her approach to Donald Trump: Trash and destroy.

These days, she wages her battles against the Republican Party on her Twitter feed, which she acknowledges is not exactly a model of self- restraint. "If you looked at my tweets, you'd think, 'She's crazy,'" she said. That "craziness" has attracted 3.1 million followers.

In many ways, Cher is the perfect political counterpart to Trump. Like him, she has always been defiantly indifferent towards her critics. Also like Trump, no one holds her to the rigid standards of campaign conduct, giving her licence to say what she wants without all the consequences.

If there was ever a presidential election perfect for a Cher moment, this is it.

Personality, outrage and a quick-off-the-keyboard insult are the political currency this year.

She has earned a reputation as one of the more effective and entertaining Trump neutralisers on Twitter, largely because she can go toe-to-toe with him both in the sheer volume of tweets she fires off (19,000 and counting) and in her lacerating, no-filter style.

She often would not refer to Trump by name, for example, but with the toilet emoji. (And that is one of her few jokes that is printable here.)

Now she is getting marquee billing on the campaign trail.

The Hillary Clinton campaign realised the weapon it had at its disposal and reasoned that Cher would be a hit at fund-raisers - especially those with a larger-than-average guest list of gay men.

She headlined three of them last month, in Miami Beach, on New York's Fire Island and in Provincetown, Massachusetts. "I'm such an obvious person," she told me, "to bring that message to, as I call them, my people."

After one guest at the Provincetown event uploaded to Facebook a video of her introducing Clinton - a profane mash-up of insult comedy, political commentary and world history - it went viral.

"I'm honest. And I say what I think," she said. She is self-aware enough to know her impetuousness may cause trouble for her and Clinton. That is why she sheepishly acknowledged: "I'm trying not to use any bad words."

Public speaking, she insisted, does not come naturally to her. But anyone who has watched her eulogy to her former husband Sonny Bono has seen that she has a gift for moving audiences.

I have followed her career, the farewells, the reinventions, the public degradation and adulation, for a while.

There was the time in 2003 when she called in to C-Span's Washington Journal to describe how heartbroken and outraged she was after visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

After the host tried to press this anonymous caller from Miami Beach about her identity - "an entertainer" was all Cher would volunteer - her cover was blown. "Is this Cher?" the host asked, sounding stunned.

To pigeonhole her as a Hollywood liberal misses some of the nuance of her politics. She voted for Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election, which she announced to Larry King on CNN. "I was really nervous, I was really frightened, but my conscience is clear," she told Perot, who was a guest of King that night.

She told me she was so strongly moved to oppose Trump not solely because of his politics, but because she felt he was dangerously misguided and intemperate. Ronald Reagan, she said, was a Republican she disagreed with politically, but did not fear personally.

"He did nothing for Aids and he just stood back when people were dying," she said. "But there were things that you could say, 'He makes a good president' - for some people. But I wasn't frightened really that he could bring the country to its knees because he knew nothing about how to govern."

Cher's support for Clinton started with her Senate campaign and, later in 2008, with her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama.

The similarities between the two women struck me as something that must have affected Cher. They are just a few years apart in age. Cher is 70. Clinton is 68. They triumphed in male-dominated professions and faced their own career humiliations and rebirths.

When she was a child, Cher said, the idea of a female president was so foreign to the way she saw politics that she thought electing a woman might even be against the law. "I'm so blessed to be alive to see a woman president," she said. "But I'm so angry at the fact I feel blessed - that it's not something that's natural."

Her reasons for feeling so strongly about Trump, she said, are maternal. "I know that women can look into the future, the future for their children. "And even if they don't like Hillary and many women don't," she added, they have to think to themselves, "but I don't want to risk my children's future to this guy."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Defiant Cher perfect political counterpart to Donald Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe