You might have heard about the latest cultural outrage incident: Vice President-Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the mega-hit musical Hamilton and, after it was over, a member of the cast read a brief statement expressing “alarm and anxiousness” about President-Elect Donald Trump’s policies.
After thanking Pence for attending, Brandon Victor Davis (who plays Aaron Burr in the production) said this:
“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. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
— Hamilton (@HamiltonMusical) November 19, 2016
Pence later noted that he wasn’t offended by the statement and remained committed to bringing all Americans together in the wake of a highly divisive presidential campaign.
But Trump was furious, and penned several critical tweets.
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
Public reaction was similarly mixed: liberals cheered the cast of Hamilton for exercising their free speech rights to stand up on behalf of marginalized Americans who have every reason to fear a Trump presidency, while conservatives lamented the disrespect shown the vice president.
But libertarians appear split, too. Libertarian economist and author Steve Horwitz echoed my political-correctness-backlash-aided-Trump theory in his post on the Hamilton kerfuffle, writing on Facebook: “Want to understand one big reason why Trump won? Just look at what the cast of Hamilton did when they discovered Pence was in attendance last night. There is your urban/professional media consumers elitism right there.”
He later added:
My point in the Hamilton post was not that I disagree with the cast’s concerns, but that when leftists do things like that, it’s exactly what makes many people feel like they are being condescended to and treated like rubes for having voted a certain way or thinking a certain way. Or because they don’t think everything should be politicized. You piss them off at your own peril. They don’t respond well to seeing elected officials disrespected too, even if I’m all in favor of it.
Meanwhile, libertarian comedian Jeremy McLellan complained about libertarians who believe, “Trump won because of some stuff I already thought before he won. Truly an amazing coincidence.” (Yeah, he considers me to be one of those libertarians.) On Hamilton and Pence, he writes:
One of the most common characteristics of abusers that I noticed when I worked with people with disabilities was the attitude that the client’s resistance to the abuse was itself thought of as justification for the abuse. Once that feedback loop is established, control is justified through both acquiescence and resistance, and there’s nothing the client can do (behavior wise) to escape. The same holds true for abusive relationships, prisons, police, or any other kind of authoritarian regime. The broader message is “Your resistance to my behavior is the reason I behave this way in the first place.”
Remember this over the next four years when you hear the trope “See this is why Trump won.” If you call his appointees racist, that’s why Trump won. If you boo Mike Pence, that’s why Trump won. If you protest in the streets, that’s why Trump won. If you insult him or his supporters, that’s why Trump won. It’s a rhetorical tool for neutering resistance. Always ask what function it serves.
A couple things.
1. This should go without saying, but it’s absolutely fine for actors to use their platform to criticize the president or vice president after a performance. This isn’t bullying. You can’t really bully the second most powerful person in the country. He always has more power than you.
2. The actor’s statement wasn’t even particularly mean-spirited. Rather, it expressed well-founded concerns about the kinds of policies President Trump has vowed to enact. Trump has promised to deport immigrants, bar Muslims from entering the country, and generally sides with the police over communities of color. It’s perfectly legitimate for members of those groups to be worried—and for their allies to be worried, on their behalf.
3. As evidence of the fact that the statement wasn’t “offensive” (and who cares if it was?), I would cite the fact that Pence wasn’t offended.
4. Trump’s tweets about the incident were revealing in that they appropriate the language of leftist grievance mongering. Trump said Pence was “harassed” and that the theater should be a “safe space.” If you think it’s pathetic when students complain about their delicate feelings being hurt by inappropriate Halloween costumes, you should probably also roll your eyes at the idea of the most-powerful man in the country feeling micro-aggressed by an encore.
5. The fact that Trump complains about this sort of thing is yet more evidence of a disturbing truth: he is vastly more easily offended than the average politician. No one should actually expect Trump to destroy political correctness: he is just as offended by hard truths and defined by identity politics as the leftists he defeated in the election.
6. One more thing about Trump: narcissism, thin skin, and a penchant for authoritarian solutions are quite the toxic mixture.
7. All that said, it could still be the case that people are wrong to be outraged about Hamilton standing up to Pence, but are outraged, nevertheless. Perhaps some people are sick of the relentless politicization of all facets of life. Maybe they think they should be able to attend a play, or watch an awards show, or sit through a Thanksgiving dinner without being relentlessly lectured about how wrong and stupid they are.
8. Like Horwitz, I would prefer to live in a world where elected officials were shown less respect, because people who want to take away our rights (and that’s nearly all of them) don’t deserve it. But supporters of individual liberty have to be tactical. If Hamilton-esque demonstrations actually drive people into the arms of Trump, there may be cause to eschew such theatrics on purely pragmatic grounds.
9. Many people, including many libertarians (including McLellan) think this thesis is fundamentally wrong, or at least unproven: political correctness isn’t a significant factor that explains Trump’s win. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting points out that most of the people promoting this explanation—Bill Maher, Jonathan Haidt, George Will, David Brooks, Damon Linker, and yours truly—”hated identity politics to begin with” and are thus guilty of confirmation bias. It’s true that we don’t know exactly what’s in the hearts and minds of Trump voters, and there are no comprehensive polls asking them why they did what they did. So yes, the political correctness theory is a bit speculative, and is being advanced by people who were already concerned about political correctness. But it’s not hard to connect the dots: when surveys of Trump voters are done, political correctness invariably comes up. Personally, I have received emails from Trump voters who told me that political correctness was exactly why they voted the way they did. If there’s a danger in making too much of this theory, there’s also a danger in writing it off.
10. That’s because virtually no one in the media saw Trump’s win coming, and political correctness has something to do with that. The polls were wrong (partly) because people who planned to vote for Trump did not admit this to pollsters. The kind of person who supported Trump is someone who believes that he couldn’t be honest or vocal about what he thinks, and saved his rebellion against political correctness for the ballot box. This left foes of Trump less prepared for what was coming. The “unbearable smugness” of the liberal media, as CBS’s Will Rahn describes it, blinded us to reality.
Libertarians and other advocates of a free society should recognize that those inclined to resist Trump and Pence are allies, and that includes the cast of Hamilton. But such tactics deserve serious scrutiny, even if they are justified. The point is to stop Trump, not just feel better about having made some futile gesture of resistance.