It’s nearly February 2017, Donald Trump is the 45th president, and checkout counter weeklies are singing praises of the new first family.
Cute photos and stories are right up their alley ― People magazine has run headlines about the former first family including “Make the Obama Family’s Favorite Apple Pie” and “Barack Obama’s 50th Birthday Dance Party.” But in a political moment marked by over one million people taking to American streets to demonstrate views often at odds with the new U.S. leader, the Trump family headlines feel slightly out of place.
Still, publications including People and Us Weekly appear to be covering the Trump clan like any regular old celebrity family ― just one that happens to be surrounded by their father’s now immensely influential appointees. Like Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s real-estate-developer husband who now has the ear of not just his father-in-law, but the U.S. president. Or Steve Bannon, a champion of white supremacists, whose website Breitbart attacks immigrants, Muslims and Black Lives Matter supporters.
Although he was once a TV celebrity like any other covered in tabloid pages, Trump’s fame is now much different than that of actors and pop stars. Pictured without context, his smiling children represent love and inclusion, values American families hold dear. But Trump is angry, and his proposed policies are far from inclusionary.
“Staggering wealth, intense competition, unbreakable ties ― growing up Trump,” reads a sub-headline on the most recent cover of Us Weekly, featuring a photo of five Trump “kids” (one is nearly 40) appearing to stage a goofy family moment. The titular article details the various Trumps’ affluent lives, noting that Tiffany had been picked to be featured on the “Rich Kids of Instagram” account, that Michael Jackson once watched an 8-year-old Ivanka dance, and Don became a “ski bum” for a year after partying “pretty hard” in college.
There’s a dark absurdism in the contrast between the weeklies’ sunny headlines (”The First Family!”) and Trump’s Twitter account.
Down in the comments on social media, one word keeps coming up ― “normalize.” Objectively gross pictures of wealth aside, could the magazine’s conventional coverage of the Trump family be affecting readers’ politics? If the Trump family is shown favorably, sweetly, normally ― does that make it easier to swallow their patriarch’s threatening rhetoric?
After tweeting out its latest cover, Us Weekly’s followers were not happy. Commenters’ general sentiment was critical of the publication, and while some voices opposing that stance made themselves heard, they tweeted less in defense of Us Weekly’s editorial decision than against apparent Trump dissenters.
The story follows another on Us Weekly, published in December, that featured photos of the first family under the title “Donald Trump’s Family: His Kids, Grandkids, Wives and More.” Since then, their father, grandfather and husband (or ex-husband) ― our president ― has issued judgments in 140-character spurts on topics ranging widely from a beloved Hollywood actress, nuclear arms and, bizarrely, crowd size. Governing by stormy tweets is a departure for U.S. politics and, to some, a disturbing one. Yet on the cover of tabloids, the Trumps smile on. And President Trump himself is inserted into a narrative ― happy member of a happy family ― that represents an alarmingly small sliver of the current reality. Perhaps one that’s more palatable to look at than the state of current political affairs.
Us Weekly isn’t the only one handling the Trumps in such a ho-hum manner, either. People magazine, too, has published its share ― most notably right after Trump’s election victory.
“Donald Trump: His life, his family & his astonishing journey to the White House,” read a People magazine’s headline the week of Nov. 8, after weeks and months of insensitive and counterfactual comments by Trump during his campaign. (A spokesperson for People told The Huffington Post the magazine does not comment on editorial policy.) While much of the country was left stunned by the election results ― perhaps even fearful if they belonged to minority groups decried by the former candidate or if they relied on certain healthcare access ― People had quickly opened up a fresh new page in history for the president-elect, continuing as usual.
There have been more. “27 Photos of Ivanka Trump and Her Family That Are Way Too Cute,” read yet another, published Nov. 27. Not to be left out, Star and OK! have run some photos and video of the Trumps, too. (“The First Family! President Trump, First Lady Melania, & More STUN At Inaugural Ball,” read a recent headline on OK!)
Even Entertainment Weekly, a sister publication of People specializing in on-screen topics, took an eyebrow-raising spin on the inauguration weekend’s news about Washington crowds. “Trump inauguration ratings second biggest in 36 years,” EW wrote, making no mention of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s heftier ― and widely discussed ― claim that the president attracted the largest audience ever. (As it turns out, the article was published before Spicer’s comments and not updated.)
Such tabloids survive the fluctuating media landscape by trafficking in celebrity ― any celebrity. From Tila Tequila to Tiffany Trump, they are happy to offer little cultural or political context as they lure in readers with pretty faces and pretty lives. That seemingly limitless escapism, however, could hit an ugly snag if the president’s policies spark more serious protests, or if his violent language translates into violent acts.
Because American presidents sit at a juncture of pop culture and politics, curious citizens are interested in knowing about their lives beyond the oval office. (Plus, one executive face is easier to picture than a sea of hundreds that make up the legislative side.) But if a president begins enacting harmful policies, at what point does continuing to elevate his celebrity become something else ― a distraction, or propaganda?
Trump’s family is intrinsically linked to his platform. Their smiling faces, though, may not be able to gloss over his policies throughout his term.
HuffPost did not receive comment from Us Weekly by time of publication.
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This post has been clarified to include information about the publication time of an aforementioned EW article.