On the weekend before Thanksgiving, vice-president elect Mike Pence attended a performance of “Hamilton” and was confronted by the cast about the concerns they share over the new administration. The cast were extremely courteous, thanking him for attending but expressing anxiety that his administration “will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights”. They ended their brief statement by noting that they hoped their show had inspired him to “uphold American values and work on behalf of all of us.”
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump took to Twitter to claim that the cast had harassed Pence and demanded an apology.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
This was an unusually sharp rebuke, although some saw it as a strategy to distract from his $25 million settlement in his Trump University lawsuits. Trump supporters even started a movement to boycott the play, which would be nice because maybe I’d be able to get a ticket without waiting for years.
Trump stated that the theater should be a “safe space”, which is pretty ironic considering the negative connotation of the term in regards to liberal universities. Calling the actions of the cast “harassment” is ridiculous, it was at worst mild criticism and was given in a very respectful manner. As cast member Brandon Dixon pointed out, conversation is not harassment.
Yet conservative commentators assailed the performers, claiming that it was disrespectful to insinuate that Pence and the Trump administration would not fight for all Americans. That’s funny, because there’s been an awful lot of disrespect for the presidency from the same pundits over the past eight years.
It’s all quite comical, but there is real danger in repressing criticism of the president. Repressing and targeting criticism of government is a dangerous form of political correctness, especially when we begin this new era by targeting such mild criticism. It is ridiculous to actually be upset over what most people nowadays regard as “political correctness”. People saying or not saying “Happy Holidays” doesn’t matter one way or the other, not really. But the political correctness where an administration demands an apology from a Broadway cast is the first step on the road to an authoritarian government that silences critics with force and has no regard for free speech.
Getting back to conservative pundits reacting to the statement, it is not at all disrespectful to speak the truth. Do they honestly believe that Trump and Pence will protect our planet when Trump is a massive climate change denier and appointed a climate skepticist to head his EPA transition team? That they will protect all Americans when Pence’s most notable achievement as governor of Indiana was signing legislation allowing businesses to refuse service to homosexuals? When, in addition, the Republican platform supports gay conversion therapy? And they call the people protesting across the nation naïve.
You can’t get angry when people criticize someone for things they said they were going to do. If protesters were saying that Trump was going to take away everyone’s guns or that he was a Muslim that hated America, I would not approve of such criticism because his actions have in no way indicated that these accusations are valid. The criticism we need of any president, of any government body, should be based on stated policy positions. This is the form of criticism Hamilton had for the new administration, and they should not be insulted as people somehow “disrespecting” the government.
While the citizens of this country can and should have every right to criticize our government for made-up reasons, protesters who make these claims should be condemned as the fools they are. Protesters speaking out for valid reasons should not be dismissed out of hand, even if you disagree with them. People protesting Trump’s presidency are not whiny, they’re simply disgruntled that we elected a person who regularly makes racist and sexist comments and appoints white supremacists to important government positions. If you are disparaging or trying to silence their voices, you are helping to engage in a form of political correctness far more sinister than any “PC Culture” you were upset about in the past.
Jacob Kowalski is a weekly columnist to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org