Meryl Streep ‘overrated’? Donald Trump fires the latest salvo in the culture wars

74th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show
Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. (Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s rebuke of Meryl Streep for criticizing his past bullying was less about Streep than two imperatives for the president-elect: portraying himself in the best possible light and convincing the public that he’s more “us” than “them.”

The back and forth unfolded in a fashion that has become familiar. Streep issued a nuanced denunciation of Trump during Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. It avoided mention of his name but focused on his 2015 speech in which he formed his arms into bent positions and mimicked Serge F. Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who has a congenital disease, arthrogryposis, that distorts his arm and leg joints.

The videotape of that speech “sank its hooks into my heart,” said Streep, who supported Hillary Clinton last year but is not typically central to the Hollywood political establishment.

“I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life,” she said in an address that focused on an actor’s need for empathy.

The “instinct to humiliate,” she said, coarsens all of society. “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

As regular as an atomic clock, the president-elect early Monday returned fire. He derided Streep, the most decorated American actress of her generation, and denied once again that he had ever mocked Kovaleski, despite the video evidence.

“Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes,” Trump tweeted.

“She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16-year-old story to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media.”

Trump’s comments displayed his unwillingness to turn aside any personal slight, a potentially troublesome attribute 11 days before his inauguration to the world’s most criticized job.

His response was also the latest iteration of culture wars that for decades have cast Hollywood’s glittering and mostly liberal denizens as the enemies of real America.

The tweets also repeated a pattern of Trump making statements that were false on several counts: He had imitated Kovaleski’s arm movements after verbally calling attention to them: “Now, the poor guy, you ought to see this guy,” he had said before contorting his arms and waving them spasmodically.

And Kovaleski has not changed the story Trump referred to, which centered on Trump’s long-debunked statement that he had watched Muslims in New Jersey cheering and dancing in 2001 as the World Trade Center in New York was attacked.

Trump represents an odd combatant in the culture war’s fisticuffs, despite his political alliances. He’s a billionaire residing in elite and liberal Manhattan known for his own television show, over which he retains the role of executive producer and for which he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Two of his key White House selections — Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon — amassed considerable personal wealth in Hollywood. Mnuchin financed movies such as “Avatar” and this year’s “Sully,” for which he was executive…