There’s a lot to enjoy in WNYC’s “Dolly Parton’s America” podcast, including candid new interviews with Parton herself. One of those conversations generated a moment of particular interest given House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) outburst at James Rosen on Thursday morning.
Asked by Rosen whether she hates President Trump, Pelosi invoked her faith. “As a Catholic,” she told the reporter after some back and forth, “I resent you using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me… I was raised in a way that’s a heart full of love, and always pray for the president. And I still pray for the president. I pray for the president all the time. So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”
Back to “Dolly Parton’s America.” In a Nov. 12 episode, host Jad Abumrad asked Parton to revisit the 2017 Emmy Awards, when Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin attacked Trump while on with their notoriously neutral co-star. Pressed about what she thought while it was happening by producer Shima Oliaee, Parton revealed what she ultimately decided not to say on air. “I wanted to say ‘Let’s pray for the president, why don’t we pray for the president? If we’re having all these problems, let’s just, you know, why don’t we pray for Mr. President?”
“I have to be honest, that moment messed me up,” a narration from Abumrad interjects. He continued:
I kept thinking about, you know I came in thinking that her refusal to talk about Trump was probably mostly a business calculation, I mean she has a lot that she needs to protect including a massive charitable foundation, so I think we can all get that. But it’s also easy to see that silence cynically, like a refusal to speak truth just because it might hurt the bottom line. But when she said let’s pray for the president, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I just thought, oh no, no, no, that’s not all that’s happening here.
Throughout their conversations, Parton defended her firm belief in maintaining partisan neutrality as an entertainer. Abumrad was skeptical, confused by her history of lending support to various social causes over the years, but silence on Trump.
“The Trump comment made me realize, ‘Oh I get it, she’s saying her stake in the sand is that she will not cast anybody out,'” he mused, reflecting on Parton’s “9 to 5”-era defenses of Jane Fonda, and her refusal to “flatten” Porter Wagoner into a stereotypical misogynist. “It seemed suddenly clear to me that, yes, while there is a business logic here, this is also a spiritual stance, this is an ethos that she has chosen. And it is undeniably one of the reasons that she can have the fan base that she has, because everyone feels safe at a Dolly Parton concert.”
I couldn’t help but be amused by Abumrad’s realization. Is it so confusing that Parton’s faith would sincerely inform her reluctance to alienate fans on either side of the Trump divide? Why did Parton, an outspoken Christian of five decades, have to prove that?
In total fairness, Abumrad and company try to bring a sense of class and regional consciousness to their project, and the podcast is great. It was still interesting to see how Parton’s faith-based self-defense sent him reeling, dispelling the cynical assumption that she stays silent on Trump for financial reasons.
I’ll extend the same benefit of the doubt to Pelosi, who actually returned to the podium to answer Rosen’s question. The response made headlines, perhaps reasonably so given the barbs she’s traded with Trump over the years, and religion’s declining centrality in our daily lives.
In the cases of both Pelosi and Parton, it seems the Trump element is what heightened the impact of their remarks. It’s all a reminder that we have work to do at normalizing ordinary Christian behavior, like praying for the president, whether you agree with him or not.