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If You Stand for Nothing,

What Will You Fall For?

/By / Nov 19, 2016

Last night, American Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton. Pence was on his way out of the show when the cast—led by Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr—asked him to stay for a moment, because they had a message to share. Dixon read out a gracious, reasoned speech from the cast. “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us,” he began. (The whole speech is in the tweet below.)

Today, President-elect Donald Trump decried the “harassment” Pence faced. “This should not happen!” he tweeted furiously. In a later tweet: “Apologize!”

It’s hard to be surprised by him anymore. But it’s worth pushing through our Trump-said-something-insane-fatigue and think about the fact that no part of the future president’s response is even remotely reasonable. What, exactly, is he saying should not happen? Peaceful, respectfully worded critique of people holding the most powerful office in the world?

There are many reasons Hamilton resonated so deeply when it opened a year and a half ago. We can (and have) spilled a lot of ink gushing over how complex and how varied its songs are, how it pushes the boundaries of what’s expected from a Broadway musical. It’s fresh, it’s elegant, it’s energetic. But the most powerful thing about Hamilton is that it tells the story of the beginning of America in a way that reflects the country itself. Its narrative structure integrates rap and R&B and pop music. It was written by a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, and it cast actors of all races. It highlights the significance immigrants had in shaping the country, and it goes out of its way to acknowledge the voices who were excluded from the way we remember history.

It’s hard to know what exactly Mike Pence was expecting, then, when he chose to see this show. According to The New York Times, Pence seemed to enjoy it, applauding after most of the numbers. Does he really not understand how the principles outlined in the show—equality, justice, freedom—might apply to immigrants and Muslims and the LGBTQ community and black people and women and the disabled, all of whom are more vulnerable under his administration than they were before?

Theatre is a safe and a special place. It’s a place where empathy happens, and where we can be challenged if we allow our defences to come down. It’s always been a place where power can be criticized, and where all kinds of voices can be heard. Maybe Donald Trump and Mike Pence should go to the theatre more often. And next time, they should try to listen.

Maija Kappler

Maija Kappler

Maija is the co-founder and former co-editor of Intermission. She’d like you to know that her name is pronounced just like “Maya.”



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