On Trump, the theater, and political dissent

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The cast of Hamilton having a word with Mike Pence

So Trump’s buddy Kellyanne Conway asked, “why do you care?” when discussing Trump’s feud with Broadway’s Hamilton.

I’d like to take a moment to answer that.

As some have suggested, the whole Trump/Hamilton thing may have been staged by him to distract people from his settling of the Trump University lawsuit. But I don’t buy it. Why? Because I really don’t think the man is that clever (seriously), and because it fits too well with everything we already know about him. The Hamilton rant, along with his critique of Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live, collectively show once again that he is a thin skinned narcissist that can dish it out, but can’t take it. (Just like every bully we’ve all ever known).  Even Pence acknowledged that what was said by the cast was not offensive, but Trump would have none of it.

Over the weekend, I went on a rant on Facebook and posted this:

“The thin skin on this man terrifies me. Every president must face public criticism and challenges, our democracy demands it. Further, Saturday Night Live has been roasting every president since Ford and none of them has lashed out, much less in such a immature and petulant way. (Heck, Bush Sr. invited Dana Carvey to the White House and let him sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. Alec Baldwin has not even come close to hammering Trump as hard as Carvey did Bush). The fact that such a thin skinned and vindictive man will soon control our military and nuclear codes should scare us all.”

That was my initial reaction, and I still feel that way. But there is way more going on here than just that. Theater and art have ALWAYS been an arena for political dissent and commentary, from Ancient Greece, to the Roman Empire, to the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment, to the 19th century, and to modern times (including TV and movies). Trump calls the theater a “safe and special place” that should be free of such political diatribes, but he clearly knows nothing about the important role that the performance arts have played in almost every era of human political history.

And while I am frightened that a man with such thin skin will soon have the military at his disposal, I am also scared by this latest evidence that the man has autocratic tendencies. We don’t need to rehash all of that here, including his admiration for guys like Louis XIV and Putin. But even before he takes office, Trump is already showing signs of being unwilling to be questioned and challenged. Once he has the powers of the presidency behind him, will he seek to curtail political dissent and opposition? I dunno, (and I still have faith in our system of checks and balances to protect us), but the prospect of it and its parallels with the rise of history’s great autocrats scares me.

So many people say, “those that fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.” Historians know that statement is way too simplistic, but it is a cliche which people seem way too willing to ignore right now. And that in and of itself is also scary.

Listen, I know that many of us have hope that Trump’s campaign rhetoric was just a bunch of garbage designed to whip up support from certain demographic groups (and no, I don’t think that everyone–or even most–of the people that supported him did so because they are racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, or homophobic. The people that insist on that are making a huge mistake of their own). And we hope that once in office he will turn out much different and surround himself with wise advisors and will use “the art of the deal” to make political compromises and get things done. Yet, with his appointment of that Bannon fool, and now this, isn’t Trump already revealing that he is exactly the man we have seen and heard from for the last year and a half?

That’s why I care, Kellyanne.

Stay vigilant, my friends.

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