Mike Pence got booed by the audience, and then schooled in democracy by the cast, while attending Hamilton the Musical last night in New York City. Which sent Donald Trump into an over-the-top Twitter tear this morning.
Authoritarians, you see, don’t like to be challenged.
Take, for instance, Donald Trump’s bff country, Russia. Near-dictator Vladimir Putin doesn’t stomach dissent, he squelches it. If you take on Putin, you’re lucky if you simply get beaten. You’re more likely to have your livelihood destroyed and be sent to jail on trumped-up charges. And if you’re really a thorn in Dear Leader’s side, he’ll simply have you killed.
Which takes us back to Donald Trump.
Trump has proven himself to have the emotional maturity of a turnip. Everything about the man screams for a decades-denied hug. New Yorkers, who know Trump best, say it always bothered the Donald that he was never really accepted into the city’s big-boy club of Richie Riches. Trump’s problem, you see, is that he’s (moderately) old money that acts like new. Trump is what southerners call “rich trash” — people who strike it rich, but never quite manage to get beyond their common-culture past.
The Trump family hit metaphorical oil while shooting possum in their backyard. And you can gild Trump Tower all you want; Jethro will always be a hillbilly.
Which takes us back to Hamilton. Putin, rather Trump, is demanding an apology because the blockbuster musical’s actors respectfully read a reverential statement to Pence, onstage, expressing their hope that the incoming Trump administration will work on behalf of all Americans, regardless of race, creed or orientation. (Pence also got booed by the audience on the way out, though the actors urged the audience not to.)
On hearing the news, Herr Trump ran to Twitter and lost it, claiming that Pence was rudely “harassed” by the cast and crew of Hamilton, and demanding that they apologize to the incoming VP.
Twelve hour later, unable to let it go, Trump tweeted again:
Then an hour, Trump deleted the tweet.
Before going any further, it’s worth reading, and fully appreciating, the cast’s words that so incensed Donald Trump:
“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do,” Dixon said to further applause. “We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for (sharing) this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”
So what exactly did the cast and crew of Hamilton say to Pence that so affronted Donald Trump?
1. We are worried that your administration won’t protect us or our planet.
2. We worry that you won’t defend and uphold our inalienable rights, as defined and explained in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
3. We hope that our show inspires you to uphold America’s values.
4. On behalf of a diverse cast and crew, we thank you for joining us.
That’s about as nice a “rebuke” as any politician could ever hope for. In fact, it’s no rebuke at all. It’s a plea. An incredibly polite, deferential plea for the putative incoming #2 of our government (it’s still not clear if Bannon and Kushner will let Pence do anything more than mop the floors) to respect the American ideals that are the basis of Hamilton the musical and the man.
No, what so incensed Donald Trump isn’t the content of the words, it’s the fact that a ragtag collection of queers and colored people dared address the King at all.
Donald Trump is an authoritarian. He isn’t used to being challenged. And when he is challenged, he’s accustomed to using his adoring mob, or the threat of lawyers, to shut down even the whiff of opposition. Trump’s entire adult life has been one huge safe space, where money creates the false patina of a respect long denied.
But art, like history, has no safe spaces. The story of America is about common folks speaking truth to power. Two hundred and forty years ago, an immigrant to New York named Alexander Hamilton served as George Washington’s top aide in the War of Independence. Hamilton, like the rest of our nation’s founders and first citizens, chose to bow down before no king.
Hamilton’s spiritual descendants, at a show honoring his life and his ideals, chose not to spare our elected leaders from witnessing a people’s cry to breathe free. For that, they owe no man an apology.