Donald Trump has launched the beginnings of an insidious relationship between politics and the arts. A man who’s about to be the President is taking to Twitter to shame artists who oppose him; it’s not quite censorship yet, but let’s call it censorship-elect. Before his term’s even begun, his tendency to interact directly with dissenting artists is unsettling in what it foreshadows. As many noted this weekend, perhaps in part as a strategic means to take some attention off the $25 million Trump University Fraud settlement, Trump paired enormous power with the pettiness of celebrity beef twice this weekend, yelling at two groups of artists. Beyond his comment about SNL following Saturday’s episode (“I watched parts of
@nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”), the President elect also took to Twitter, as you probably already know, to demand an apology from the cast of Hamilton for directly addressing Mike Pence after a performance he attended last week.
It’s hard to know how to cover a story like this, one that is alarming in and of itself — and is also perhaps being used by Trump on social media because the fact that it’s sure to blow up means it can distract from other alarming developments. In this case, we can at least take some wisdom from the artists involved.
Brandon Victor Dixon, aka Hamilton‘s Aaron Burr and the actor who read the statement from the cast (penned with the help of Lin Manuel Miranda and director Tommy Kail) aloud to Pence in front of a live audience, has now come forth and very sensibly refused to apologize. And for the second time in a short period, he’s offered us a path forward by refusing to go back on starting a conversation.
Dixon appeared on CBS This Morning, questioning Trump’s decision to deem the very cordial if direct statement as “harassment.” Dixon said:
We recognize that Hamilton is an inherently American story told by the definition of the American community. We are men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations. The resonant nature of the show throughout the…global community demands that we make statements when there are issues facing us as a community, and so we wanted to stand up and spread a message of love and unity, considering the emotional outpour since the election.
He continued, when asked about how he felt about President Elect Donald Trump’s Tweets (yes, “President-Elect Donald Trump’s Tweets” will likely be one of the world’s most common phrases henceforth):
Conversation is not harassment. I was really appreciative that Vice President-Elect Pence stood there and listened to what we had to say. Some people have said a one-sided lecture is not a conversation, but it was the beginning of a conversation I hope we can continue to have.
CBS This Morning‘s Gayle King pushed back and mentioned that some people had critiqued how the cast publicly approached him, saying they should have spoken to Pence backstage instead. Emphasizing the importance of conversation — and thus tacitly underscoring how deeply unsettling it is that Trump sees conversations more worth bulldozing than having — Dixon responded:
He was welcome to come backstage; all of the guests we have at the show are welcome to come backstage and speak with us…If he was unaware at the time, I say to him, ‘Vice president-elect Mike Pence, please come and have a conversation with us.’…The most important thing to recognize with respect to all the emotions everybody’s feeling after the election is to make sure that people recognize we are not alone. We are here together, and we need to listen to one another and speak with one another, and those of us who feel like maybe their voice has been marginalized or might be marginalized is to recognize that there are allies all over the place.
When pressed as to whether he thinks he should apologize, per the demand of Trump’s Tweet, he said, “There’s nothing to apologize for.” And, when asked whether he’d like Trump to see the show, he said, very earnestly, “We welcome Donald Trump here at Hamilton, absolutely.”
Pence himself didn’t even take as much issue with the original statement, as The Hollywood Reporter notes, saying, rather, “I would leave it up to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it…If you haven’t seen the show, go to see it, it is a great, great show,” when he spoke on Fox News Sunday.