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CHRIS SCHILLIG: Mike Pence's lesson in free speech

Published: November 27, 2016 4:00 AM

So Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to the theater and was "harassed," according to his boss and protector-in-chief, Donald Trump.

The evening didn't start out well for Pence. He was greeted by a mixture of boos and cheers when he entered the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City to see a sold-out performance of "Hamilton," the Broadway play whose cast is largely black and Latino.

It didn't end well, either. During the curtain call, Pence was schooled by Brandon Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr. Dixon read a prepared statement written, in part, by "Hamilton" playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Whether calling out a patron in a theater constitutes harassment is debatable. What's less debatable is the statement itself, which is far kinder than many utterances by Trump on the subject of various minority groups.

Dixon read, "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."

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Pence was on his way out of the theater when Dixon requested that he stop and listen to the statement. To the vice president-elect's credit, he did.

Trump, who was allegedly too busy last week safeguarding the future of the country to battle in a Trump University fraud case (his attorneys settled out of court for $25 million, instead), nevertheless found time to take to Twitter about the incident. In his first comment, he said Pence was "harassed" by the cast. In his second, he became Donald Trump, patron of the arts, by noting that the theater "must always be a safe and special place." He then issued a curt directive: "Apologize!"

A third tweet, later deleted, criticized Dixon --- identified only as a "cast member" --- for not memorizing his statement to Pence. A fourth called again for an apology to Pence and said the musical was "overrated." So much for Trump, patron of the arts.

No apology is owed, and no apology should be given. Remember, during the course of his campaign, Trump openly mocked a disabled reporter; vowed to deport millions of undocumented Americans, many of whom have been in this country since childhood; and hinted --- some would argue far more than "hinted" -- that a registry or database of Muslim Americans would be desirable.

For none of these comments has Trump apologized. Nor has he had anything to say on his vaunted Twitter feed about the spike in harassment against various minority groups, much of which can be attributed to his inflamed rhetoric.

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Instead, he and Pence have given us a list of potential cabinet appointees that includes some eyebrow-raising choices. Among them are at least one white nationalist (Steve Bannon, chief strategist), a federal judicial candidate rejected by fellow Republicans for racism (Sen. Jeff Sessions, attorney general), and an islamophobe (Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, national security adviser). And let's not forget Pence himself, who has long fought against equal rights for gay couples.

So cast members of "Hamilton" -- many of whom are minorities, some of whom are members of the LGBTQ community, and all of whom perform in a musical that, among other things, extols the economic and cultural power of immigrants -- have good reasons to be concerned about Trump's presidency.

But even if they didn't, what happened Friday night falls under the auspices of federally protected free speech. Perhaps the most alarming part of the whole "Hamilton" incident is that Trump doesn't seem to have a genuine understanding of free speech (although he exercises it quite often himself) or of the anxiety his election and subsequent cabinet choices have created among many constituents.

After all, he's going to "make America great again" for "all Americans," and who would want to speak out against that?

As it turns out, a great many Americans believe his definition of "great" threatens to exclude many people who make it great already.

Chris Schillig is an Alliance educator. Contact him at chris.schillig@yahoo.com or @cschillig on Twitter.


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redleg6 Nov 30, 2016 1:28 PM

A comment from the RC's hard copy of the SOUND OFF column 30 Nov 2016...

**** Chris Schilling is crucifying Trump without giving him a chance. Your paper is so liberal it is pathetic. It is bad...

eureka Nov 27, 2016 9:05 PM

> vowed to deport millions of undocumented Americans

They are illegal aliens.

> members of the LGBTQ community

They are homosexuals.

> American values

And what would those exactly be ? If you have refusal to assimilate, you have a moving target of values. In other words "progressive" - or leftist.

> Chris Schillig is an Alliance educator

No, I'd call him an "indoctrinator".

amt_ Nov 27, 2016 8:14 AM

The bigots and hypocrites at Hamilton put out a casting call for non-whites only, violating Actors Equity policy and common decency.

And the actor Dixon has tweeted vile racist and sexist messages.

But of course that was not mentioned in the article. Can't the Record Courier find a decent writer?