With civility and rebuke, Hamilton cast sets useful example for the Trump era

Vice-President elect attended Hamilton last night. He was apparently booed by the crowd. I sympathize with the booing. Pence and his colleagues abetted the election of a grifting demagogue as President. Pence’s own track record opposing LGBTQ rights also deserves condemnation. Still, booing politicians is ungracious and tacky. It’s not an especially good look. Most important, it squanders the opportunity to say something of substance.

Fortunately, as noted in Vox, Hamilton’s cast took a different approach. Actor Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Pence from the stage. Quieting some crowd booing directed at Mr. Pence, Dixon politely,  directly, and firmly said some things that needed to be said:

Vice-President elect Pence: We welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, 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 that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

That’s how the President-elect and his key advisors should be treated at all public events for the rest of the Trump presidency: With correct but cold civility. This presidency is not normal. We can’t let anyone forget that.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

22 thoughts on “With civility and rebuke, Hamilton cast sets useful example for the Trump era”

  1. I assume that we're going to get wall-to-wall coverage for months about foreign diplomats lining up to book rooms at Trump hotels.

    Right?

  2. How many European Royal Families have gotten into public embarrassment through unethical business behaviour by one of its younger members? I can recall Britain, Spain just recently, and Sweden.

    Trump's unashamed mixing of his public role, and apparent refusal to eschew his private interests, is a time-bomb waiting to go off. Apparently, Ivanka Trump, nominal head of the Trump business empire, sat in on the meeting with Shinzo Abe. For a shrewd business leader, there will be multiple opportunities to shape investment decisions in what they can pick up around the White House.

    Not to mention when the Federal Government starts to book Trump hotels extensively for travelling employees.

    1. In each of the cases of royal misbehavior, there were senior royals with clout who understood the nature of the problem and were in a position to put a stop to it and restore the public perception of respectability. In this case, Ivanka seems to be the most mature member of the family.

      On the other hand, this sort of thing does mean that, whenever Ryan and McConnell decide they've had enough, they won't have to look far for a basis for impeachment proceedings.

      To the point of the OP: I hope that members of this administration are regularly met with such simple and straightforward statements of concern. It really is a case of "when they go low, we go high." Words are things to rally around.

      1. I was thinking more of Spain's Princess Cristina who is on trial for fraud, along with others. The antics of Britain's young royals did severe damage to the brand, a situation that has only been remedied over time, but still flares up. For example, two years ago, a minor scandal erupted over Prince Andrew's connections to Gaddaffi's son. The Trump family might not have the luxury of time to heal their slip-ups.

      2. I think people vastly overestimate the potential for the Republicans in Congress to impeach Trump. Doing so would be a disaster for them. Not only would they anger and further alienate a lot of their own voters, it wouldn't really help them with the middle of the political spectrum. Barring something truly massive and surprising taking place, they would essentially be impeaching Trump for being exactly the person everyone knew he was before they endorsed him. The best they could manage would be to claim that they underestimated his venality and corruption, and they would be dogged by questions as to just why they changed their minds and now think that the same Donald Trump is unacceptable.

        They chose to ride this tiger, and they're stuck with him. Far more likely than impeachment is to have all of the relevant committee chairmen obfuscate and impede real oversight.

        1. We shall see. I'm no better a prognosticator than anyone else, but (a) Ryan and McConnell aren't happy with Trump and supported him only reluctantly; (b) many (most?) career Republican politicians aren't happy with Trump and supported him only reluctantly (if at all); (c) it's a mistake to assume that all, or even most, of the votes cast for Trump were for him personally, rather than "for the Republican nominee." If Trump is impeached, we get President Pence, and Republicans who voted for Trump because of Republican policy positions will be just fine with Pence, who holds pretty much all the positions Trump was elected on, but will follow up on them more reliably. (Trump has already ratcheted back a bit from his full-on stance on deportations and the wall.) I'm fairly sure there are Republican pollsters working on those numbers right now.

          I think the Republicans in the House will wait until Trump annoys enough Republican voters, and possibly until he impedes their program (right now, it looks like Trump is more interested in white supremacy than in, e.g., making same-sex marriage illegal), and then, with a great show of more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger, impeachment proceedings will begin. Certainly, if nothing else, the threat of impeachment proceedings can be used to keep Trump in line, presumably via communication with Priebus or, more likely, sub rosa with Ivanka.

          Where I think things will get very interesting (not in a good way) is if/when Trump catches wind that the idea of impeachment has been floated. He's big on loyalty and tends to react.

          However, note my earlier disclaimer about prognostication skills.

  3. After 8 years of being tired of being led by those they feel dishonest, self-enriching, divisive, and generally corrupt, Republicans have sent a message by voting in the most dishonest, self-enriching, divisive and corrupt people they could find. I think it quite appropriate that they be congratulated at every opportunity.

  4. How can you say how the president and advisors should be treated throughout the term of office without knowing what they will have done over that time? What if they kill TPP? What if they improve the ACA? What if there is a successful infrastructure program and job creation? Paid maternity leave?

    1. If all of that happens, I'll eat my shorts. Well, except killing TPP, about which I'm deeply ambivalent anyway. I'm confident that they won't improve the ACA; I'm already trying to figure out what I'm going to do once I can no longer get health insurance on the individual market. The infrastructure program outlined by Trump would actually be a corrupt morass of privatizing public assets, and nothing better than that has any chance to pass Congress. Ditto paid maternity leave.

      At the same time, Trump is installing white nationalists in high positions and indicating that he plans to allow himself to be bribed by foreign countries. The time to start vehemently opposing Trump, if you haven't done so already, is now.

    2. I really don't care whether the guy is the second coming of FDR. I say Donald and his fellow Republicans should be treated exactly as they have treated others. As Tony Soprano says "those who want respect, give respect ".

  5. So it was a civil address to Pence. Why did Trump get upset? D'uh…anything that isn't servile adulation is criticism to him. Mr. Insecurity.

  6. In our terrible little insulated, isolated, safe-spaced, trigger-warned bubble of arrogance and condescension – oh, and smugness, let's not forget smugness – we fail to see that the good folks on the other side will be outraged by the Hamilton cast. Not by Mr. Dixon's civil entreaty – who could be offended by that? No, they'll be offended even though they'll never even hear or read Dixon's actual words. They'll be offended by words they imagine he said, or words made up by some provocateur, possibly even a provocateur on the government's payroll. Or they'll be offended because anything short of the effusive praise and magnificent magnanimity with which they greeted the current occupant of the White House when he took office shows outrageous disrespect to the man raised to leader of the free world by the Will of the People.

    So, to all you writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, stop. Just stop. Truth has spoken to power often enough. We need to give power a chance to talk back. Otherwise, someone might get hurt, and if so, we'll know who to blame.

    1. Suppose a Broadway cast had singled out Obama in the audience before his term even started and said exactly the same things to him, insinuating that he was suspected of being incapable or unwilling to represent all Americans and not just his kind. How would you feel about that?

      1. Uh, I think you've missed @snideissue's snark. Viz: "Truth has spoken to power often enough. We need to give power a chance to talk back. Otherwise, someone might get hurt, and if so, we'll know who to blame."

        @snideissue: If I weren't so distraught, I'd laugh. But thank you for trying. Seriously.

      2. I thought about that. For one thing, Obama was the subject of pretty vicious attacks after his election. Some guy even got famous by claiming that he had sent investigators to Hawaii who were finding dynamite stuff about Obama's true birthplace (not Hawaii). Some Tea Party rallies featured guns and talk of "second amendment remedies." He was accused by some people, like Frank Gaffney, who may join the Trump administration, of being a secret Muslim. A whole lot of the Republican rank-and-file still believe that he's from Kenya, and a whole lot believe he's Muslim (not that there's anything wrong with that, other than the lack of factual basis).

        Just the other day, before the election, Obama had to quiet an unruly crowd booing a Trump supporter: “Everybody sit down and be quiet for a second. Now, listen up, I’m serious,” he said, warning that the US could end up with “problems” if people lost focus. “First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech,” he said to loud applause. "Second of all it looks like maybe he served in our military and we ought to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly and we’ve got to respect our elders. And fourth of all, don’t boo, vote!” Trump inverted the truth about this, accusing Obama of riling up the crowd rather than trying to calm them down.

        Obama responded to all criticism throughout his term, from complaints that he was a socialist to claims that he was attempting to destroy America on purpose, with extraordinary grace. It didn't stop the attacks, but he never stopped trying. So, I do not think it would be wrong for the cast of a play that booed Obama just by being there to respond by saying something along the lines of "But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us." And I can guarantee that Obama would not have gone on Twitter to demand an apology. I know this for an absolute fact because Obama has never gone on Twitter, or any other forum, to demand an apology for outrageous slurs against him.

      3. There is, of course, no possible answer to the accusation of hypothetical hypocrisy. In this case, there is a good reason that it is merely hypothetical.

  7. Actually, CJC, I did reply, but the moderator did not approve the comment. Apparently, the moderator is going to let me post it as a standalone comment, so here it is. You couldn't have known this when you said I had "no possible answer to the accusation of hypothetical hypocrisy," but now you do.

    I thought about how I would feel about a cast of a show where Obama was booed making a few polite but pointed comments to him. Let's start with the fact that Obama was the subject of pretty vicious attacks after his election. Some guy even got a lot of press by claiming that he had sent investigators to Hawaii who were finding dynamite stuff about Obama's true birthplace (not Hawaii). Some Tea Party rallies featured guns and talk of "second amendment remedies." He was accused by some people, like Frank Gaffney, who may join the Trump administration, of being a secret Muslim. A whole lot of the Republican rank-and-file still believe that he's from Kenya, and a whole lot believe he's Muslim (not that there's anything wrong with that, other than the lack of factual basis). Also remember that early in Obama's term, Glenn Beck said that Obama had a "deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture."

    There was also the incident near the end of this campaign where Obama quieted a crowd that was booing a Trump supporter by urging them to recognize his right to free speech, his possible military service, and his age, and respect his right to air his opinions. I note that Trump completely inverted this incident, claiming that Obama whipped the crowd into a frenzy against the Trump supporter.

    Obama responded to all these attacks, and numerous others I haven't mentioned, with grace, when he responded at all instead of just letting them pass. So I'm pretty sure that if he attended a play where he got booed and afterwards a cast member addressed him by saying "But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations" he would not demand an apology. I'm not aware of any instances where Obama went on Twitter, or any other forum, to demand an apology for criticism, whether delivered civilly, or hostilely. It would be un-presidential to do so.

    1. I think we may have misunderstood each other. I thought you were making the old, reliable, unrebuttable "hypothetical hypocrisy" charge. It appears that you were not, and that we actually agree about this.

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