Laurel Raymond argues in Think Progress that the "Trump circus" -- in this case, Donald Trump's feud with Broadway actors -- is a "distraction": "... setting both the traditional media and social media chasing after boos at a Hamilton performance, Trump is also distracting everyone from the damaging, substantive moves he has made since being elected."
Not really. And if you read Charles Blow's column today, he will help you understand why. Trump's choices may feel "like a small collection of poor judgments and reversible decisions," Blow writes, but they signal "an enormous menace inching its way forward and grinding up that which we held dear and foolishly thought, as lovers do, would ever endure."
I would argue that this applies to Trump's little tantrums as much as it does to his policy prescriptions -- awful -- and personnel choices -- worse.
Look at who and what Trump is attacking in his anti-"Hamilton" tweets. The actor who spoke out to mike pence -- Brandon Victor Dixon -- is black. Most of the cast he spoke for also are racial minorities. Dixon's point -- that the Trump administration must recognize the diversity of the nation & serve all equally -- scarcely seems controversial to us. Even pence, not exactly Mr. Civil Rights, says he "wasn't offended by what was said. I will leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it."
Trump's objection -- and demand for an apology -- also seemed to be venue-based: "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!"
But it was not the "venue" that troubled Trump (and perhaps pence). It wasn't that Trump thinks the theatre should be nothing more than a fun place to enjoy meaningless fluffy musical comedies. (This is how media critics at the New York Times and Washington Post interpreted it.) Rather, it was the profession of the speaker.
Dixon is an actor. He is a performer. Since Trump is both of these as well, most white people miss the point. Trump appears to be whining person-to-person. But if you grew up in the South, or nearly anywhere in mid-century America, you'd know better. Black performers, once they gained hold in particular art forms and sports games, became acceptable -- if they stuck to their professional roles. Wealthy white people flocked to hear Lena Horne perform at Miami's Fontainebleau Hotel, but she wasn't allowed to stay there. My racist neighbor used to love to watch Nat King Cole's 15-minute TV show, but she sure as hell would not have let her daughter date anyone who looked like Cole. I watched girls swooning over Sam Cooke, the same girls who would have spat on any child of color who might try to integrate our whitey-white school. Hank Aaron used to dress up as an African diplomat and feign a "foreign" accent so he could get into toney Washington, D.C.-area restaurants when the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves were on the road.
Remember when Trump complained about President Obama's saying that "Muslims are ... our sports heroes"? “What sport is he talking about, and who?” Trump asked, implying that Obama had invented the sports-hero thing to make the Islamic faith more acceptable. Trump didn't even recognize that he had personally met Muslim sports heroes like Muhammad Ali & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It never occurred to Trump these stellar athletes -- these performers -- had lives outside their sports. Of course when Trump met these Muslim-Americans, it was in the context of their professions. Likely, they did not say anything to him outside that narrow frame. Nor should they, in Trump's view.
This is Trump's attitude. A person of color does not have a right to speak out -- even politely, as Dixon did -- to a white man, particularly a white man who holds a position of authority. A black actor may entertain, but his "rights" end with his performance. He may not express any notion that suggests he is in some sense equal to a powerful white man. In Trump's view, it is acceptable for Dixon to play a white man, minstrel style, but he cannot -- in real life -- speak on a par with white men. A black actor must know his place. He is not a person but a role-player. When Dixon stepped out of his role to directly verbalize the message of the play, he made the theater both "unspecial" and "unsafe," according to Trump. Real black men are "dangerous intruders" into "real America's" beautiful, "special" space.
It is all right for a Broadway musical to portray the country as one of diversity or even to implicitly or explicitly criticize the country for its failure of diversity, but it is not all right for an actor of color to jump out of his play-acting role to express, in his own words, those same sentiments. Racial diversity is now acceptable to Trump as an abstract fiction, particularly if only those who get to watch the joke are people who can afford $1,000-a-seat tickets. The rich theatre-goers are people, Trump assumes, who won't be fooled into believing the fictional message. Diversity is not acceptable as reality.
When Trump hires as his lead "team" racists Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn, he is expressing the very same belief that his tweets on the "Hamilton" musical convey. Yes, what Trump does is more important than what he says. But in this case, word and deed are perfectly consistent. Trump's beef with "Hamilton" is not a distraction; it is an expression of his actions. White supremacy is of the essence of the scheme.
P.S. Trump continued to tweet, berating the entire cast & the play itself.