President-elect Donald Trump got butt-hurt over a group of Americans respectfully addressing Vice-President-elect Mike Pence over the weekend. After their performance on Nov 18, the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical respectfully addressed Pence with a message of concern, asking him to consider the show he had just watched and to uphold American values while working on behalf of all Americans. Pence stood in the hallway outside the auditorium, heard the full remarks, and left the theater smiling.
Surprise, surprise, Trump inserted himself into a situation that, realistically, required no input from him. Taking to his Twitter on Saturday morning, he posted the following:
“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theatre by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!”
“The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior.”
It appears Trump has regained control of his account (remember when his campaign staff barred him from tweeting just before the election?) and is back to throwing his characteristic tantrums online. Like the orange ShamWow that he is, he had to absorb the media limelight and wrestle for control of the story narrative, when he evidently didn’t have any details on what happened. Of course, Trump has yet to demonstrate that he bases his opinions on fact, so I’m not that shocked.
My favorite part of this latest episode in the Trump scandal show is that on Sunday, Mike Pence appeared on Fox News and said that he was not offended in any way by the cast’s message. In fact, even as he was getting booed upon entering the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, he claims to have turned to his daughter and told her, “That’s what freedom sounds like.” If the man in question wasn’t even offended, who is Trump trying to protect? Maybe himself, as his angry tweets at Hamilton were a convenient distraction from his $25 million settlement for the Trump University lawsuit, or his appointments of controversial Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, and Mike Pompeo to his cabinet. That’s probably giving him too much credit though, seeing as how Trump still doesn’t understand the numerous conflicts of interest he’s been invoking.
Does Trump even understand what harassment is? A group of professional actors (read: Americans) chose to respectfully address the vice-president elect about some worries they had regarding future policies. The American Civil Liberties Union phrased the perfect responses online to Trump’s harassment accusation:
“Americans don’t need to apologize - not even to presidents or vice presidents - for the lawful and proper exercise of their constitutional rights…Democratic and Republican presidents have understood freedom of speech makes our country stronger, even if it makes our leaders uncomfortable.”
What is so disturbing about this latest Trump tantrum and something that many officials and notable people don’t seem to realize is that while many of them are bashing anti-Trump protests across the country, they’re encouraging the notion that Americans are not allowed to fight for what they want. That’s what America is all about.
Here is your official friendly reminder: freedom of speech and the right to protest are built into the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Free speech matters. Protests matter. The cast of Hamilton chose to use their platform to exercise their First Amendment rights. It’s a very logical course of action. The show’s politics- particularly its celebration of diversity and the essential role immigrants played in the American Revolution and early republic- stand in sharp contrast to the negative, insulting, and racist language Trump used during his campaign. His focus on appealing to white middle-class men with statements about returning America to “the good old days” are disturbing to a cast and show working towards inclusivity and acceptance. Why shouldn’t they address the direct discord in their values and beliefs with those whom Trump supports? Only those fearful of democracy and citizens would want to squash contradictions and criticism of themselves and their administration. Make of that what you will.
The real irony is how Trump’s overreaction to Friday’s incident is hypocritical of his stance on political correctness. As he’s said many times, he believes that one of the biggest problems with America is its obsession with being politically correct. Republicans everywhere dismiss political correctness and repudiate safe spaces as a concept, and yet here is their president, calling for the theatre to be a safe space. That’s hilarious. Theatre, art, and music have long been used as mediums for self-expression, exploration, and of course, political ideologies. I’m beginning to doubt Trump has any real grasp on culture if he thinks what the Hamilton cast did was harassment and was inappropriate for the venue.
Then again, this isn’t an isolated incident. Trump is well-known for his outbursts of aggression, negativity, and hate. He simply acts like that playground bully we all knew from our childhoods. Former CBS Evening News anchor, and anchor of his own news show on AXS TV, Dan Rathers, made a rather poignant remark regarding Trump’s bullying behavior:
“Bullies are often thin-skinned, quick to overreact when challenged, and undone when people are no longer afraid to speak truth to their face. Great presidents are almost always the opposite in all those categories.”
By demanding an apology, our bully of a president-elect is exhibiting all the classic signs of trying to emotionally manipulate the population. (Sidenote: many psychologists classify emotionally manipulative relationships as abusive). Trump is trying to create a negative image of the Hamilton cast and make them feel guilty for sharing a message with Pence politely in a public forum.
In his book, The Art of Deal, Trump specifically states that, “…My general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.” And that rang true throughout his campaign: if you hit him, he’d hit back twice as hard. Trump is concerned about winning over all else—over the Constitution, over doing the right thing, over hearing out those he claims to protect. Yes, it was only a series of tweets he directed at those actors, but I shudder to think of what may happen in the future with a president who is so unwilling to take criticism that he escalates every fight to try and protect his pride. He was so easily offended by a group of people contradicting what he’s said that he demanded that apology. Who knows where his next tantrum may take place?
We should never apologize for feeling the way we do, and we should never feel guilty about expressing our fears and concerns to those in charge. Governments need to be held accountable to their people. They should be made aware of what the people want so they can make decisions and policies in accordance with their desires. We should never limit non-destructive speech against our government if we want to maintain the democracy we fought so hard for.
So no, cast of Hamilton, you should not apologize. Stand up for your right to free speech, because you’re standing up for all of us who are just as terrified as you are about how Trump might affect the rest of us. Do not renege on your message, because it’s the embodiment of what we want. We want to hold Trump and Pence accountable for their hateful rhetoric and ask for change.