Last Friday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence took time from his busy schedule (which this author can only imagine consists namely of monitoring his running mate’s Twitter use) to see the pop culture phenomenon that is Hamilton: An American Musical. The cast took notice and Brandon Victor Dixon (aka Aaron Burr) addressed Pence personally:
“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.”
His request was polite, kind, and an embodiment of the project itself: an attempt to look at history through a new lens, with an empowering narrative that relentlessly reminds the audience that immigrants and people of color built this nation.
However, Donald Trump accused the cast of harassing Mike Pence, and the President-elect declared the sanctity of theater as a safe space (surely shocking scores of LGBTQ theater kids of color, who have heard their humanity insulted and demonized by Trump over the past fifteen or so months).
Of course then various news outlets picked up the story, viral videos made their rounds on Facebook, and memes have already been created in honor of the occasion.
Without disrespecting the feelings of those who feel Trump’s hypocrisy like knives (especially sexual assault survivors and immigrants, who have been forced to endure his violence with inadequate support), this story is a distraction. Trump’s inflammatory comments are nothing more than a red herring.
For the past several months, Trump has been embroiled in a series of lawsuits concerning his fraudulent for-profit educational company that scammed vulnerable individuals out of “yuge” amounts of money. Ronald Schnackenberg, a former salesman for the “university,” explained: “[While] Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could…. Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
Although Trump has claimed innocence, the lawsuits were sure to mar his first 100 Days in office. Except, last Friday, he settled the suit, all but admitting guilt. Last Friday, as in the same last Friday as Mike Pence’s Hamilton experience. Donald Trump was not so offended by the Hamilton cast addressing Pence- he was concerned, however, with the possibility that the media could dwell on his lawsuit. Pence himself wasn’t offended by the incident, and he responded mildly: “I know this is a very disappointing time for people that did not see their candidate win in this national election. I know that this is a very anxious time for some people…. And I just want to reassure people that what President-Elect Donald Trump said on Election Night he absolutely meant from the bottom of his heart — he is preparing to be the president of all of the people of the United States of America.”
Clinton lost the election for a variety of reasons that we will surely hash out over the next several years, but one contributing factor was Trump’s ability to jump from scandal to scandal. While Clinton’s emails consumed the media and allowed potential voters to dwell on her fatal flaws, Trump left very little time to harp before he committed yet another act. This not only garnered him undue (and free!) advertising, but it also kept any one scandal from sticking for too long in the eyes of the general public.
We absolutely cannot allow Trump’s antics to distract us from his extremist policy and his nationalist cabinet appointees. I know it stings to see a man consume the labor of LGBTQ actors of color, all the while harboring policy and views that would see those individuals’ dignity and sometimes lives stripped from them, but the more we harp over Trump’s tweets, the less we’re protesting his appointments. Jeff Sessions, Stephen Bannon, Michael Flynn, etc. can only benefit from our split attention. We cannot let him go unchecked, and holding him accountable begins with setting aside his Twitter and scrutinizing his policy.