Monday, November 21, 2016

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: 'I Threatened and Insulted You, So You Owe Me an Apology.'

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed and cheered when he entered the theater to watch the musical, Hamilton. At the end of the show, a member of the cast read a short statement directed at Pence. That's what actually happened. Trump tweeted that Pence was "harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton." That didn't happen. The cast didn't "harass" Pence. In another tweet, Trump wrote, "The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!" That also didn't happen. The cast wasn't "rude" to Pence. It doesn't owe him, or Trump, an apology.

What we have here is another post-election shot across the bow of the First Amendment. Trump is once again putting people on notice that criticizing him is dangerous business. For now he'll respond verbally. Later, well, we don't know what will happen later. His response as president could be more than words. The country could become a Trump rally writ large, with dissenters treated like protesters were treated during the campaign, with Trump's consent and assistance. "Get 'em out! Get 'em the hell out of here!"

Let's go through the Hamilton incident piece by piece.

The cast didn't "harass" Pence.
Here is the full statement read by Brandon Victor Dixon, a cast member, while the rest of the cast stood behind him, holding hands.
“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton, an American Musical, we truly do. 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 that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
That is a pointed, eloquent statement. There isn't a word of harassment, no threatening tone of voice. It is polite dissent, spoken with theatrical diction by a man wearing a formal, American Independence-era suit.

Dixon prefaced his written statement by noting that Pence was in the audience and that he was leaving, and he hoped Pence would stay to listen to the statement. When some audience members booed, Dixon said, "There's nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen, we're all here telling a story of love." You can watch a video of the statement here.

Trump criticized the cast, not the audience.
If anyone could be accused of harassing Pence, it's the audience, some of whom booed him when he walked in, then booed the mention of his name by Dixon after the show. Why did Trump go after the cast and not include the audience in his condemnation? Well, the audience is a well-heeled, predominantly white crowd who could afford to pay anywhere from $300 to thousands of dollars for a ticket. They're Trump's class of people, one percenters to five percenters, even though many of them are of the liberal persuasion. The cast, but for their costumes, could have been a Black Lives Matter demonstration, predominantly people of color with some white faces thrown in. They're among Trump's prime targets.

Obama wouldn't have reacted like Trump in a similar situation.
What if Obama or Biden had been called out by the cast of a play? Would they have called it harassment or asked for an apology? I doubt it, though since it didn't happen so far as I can remember, I'm speculating here.

To create a similar situation, Obama or Biden would have to be watching a performance where the performers and members of the audience had serious reservations about the administation's points of view. So imagine either of them attending a performance of a play with a conservative Christian theme, where the cast and the audience members tended to be against abortion and gay marriage. If someone in the cast read a statement similar in tone and sentiment to the one above but focusing on issues where they disagreed with the Obama administration, I'm reasonably certain Obama or Biden would have listened politely and, if they spoke about it later, would have defended the cast's right to express its views, maybe even applauded them for the polite way the views were expressed. They might say, for instance, "My family and I really enjoyed the show. We heard a few boos and some cheers. I nudged my kids and reminded them, that is what freedom sounds like." If it sounds like I'm glorifying our current administration for their level-headedness with the quote, in fact, it's almost the exact words Pence used to describe the incident. It's pretty much what any politician would, and should, say. Trump is the glaring, and frightening, exception.

Pure and simple, Trump went after a group of people, most of whom are minorities, because they dared to express alarm and anxiety about some of the policies Trump promised to enact if he was elected president.

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