Ever since Victor Dixon addressed Mike Pence at Hamilton, conservatives have been heating up the Internet with calls for appropriate and dignified behavior. “This is not how we treat a Vice President of the United States,” they have scolded. “America has chosen her leader. It is time to get behind him and work together.”
In this call for unity, President-elect Trump seems to have softened his hard stance on “safe spaces” and “politically correct” language. In fact, he tweeted that the theater “must always be a safe and special place.”
Trump fans have argued that Pence paid good money for his tickets and deserved to enjoy his purchase without feeling harassed. Perhaps that is true. Yet this same crowd mocks college students for feeling uncomfortable in classes that cost far more than a Hamilton ticket. 18 and 20-year-olds are told to “grow up and get over it” when they get their feelings hurt, while Trump takes to Twitter when offended, claiming that being singled out in a public space is unfair.
No matter which of those two criticisms we embrace, the fact that opposing Americans are launching the same complaint about one another tells us that a conversation about American civil discourse is long overdue. So if we truly want to unify as a nation, let’s seize the opportunity to look at the mistakes we have made in our dialogue, and let’s establish standards that are consistent and fair. I think most Americans are weary from the mud that was slung during election 2016. It’s time to square up accounts, name the elephants left in the room, deal with them, and then begin to act like mature citizens of the greatest country in the world.
What I’m asking you to do won’t be easy. However, if it is true that the first to apologize is the bravest, if it is true that the first to forgive is the strongest, then we Conservatives have a fabulous opportunity before us. We have a chance to be the most honest, the most bold, the most mighty. Perhaps kindness, humility, and honor might accomplish for American unity what defensiveness and excuses cannot.
Your grandma was right when she said that it was important to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, even when they pinch.
Now’s our chance.
So to begin with, I’m going to cast six examples of dialogue that have occurred in the news recently, and I’m going to try to help us think through how they might have felt from the other side.
- When Trump mocked Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle in public, he lost respect in the eyes of many American women. Imagine how we would respond if Hamilton’s cast had taken a moment after the play to berate Melania Trump for her period, saying she had, “blood coming out of her whatever.” That would feel crass, bizarre, inappropriate.
- It is difficult for the whole of America to respond respectfully when masses of Trump fans have brushed off boasts about sexual abuse as locker room talk. I know people who have been sexually abused. You probably do, too. It’s not something to joke about. Now take a moment to imagine that a member of the cast of Hamilton had stepped to the front of the stage and bragged that he would grab Karen Pence by the p**sy. Horrifying, right?
- Many Americans were humiliated when Trump posted a vindictive, 3 AM tweet asking Americans to get online and watch a porn video. This felt impulsive, immature, and petty. Also, Trump’s own wife did nude magazine spreads. What room does he have to talk here?
- We are acting like the Hamilton request was over reactive, but have we forgotten that Trump encouraged a roaring crowd of supporters to “knock the crap out of protestors”? Visualize a Hamilton cast member saying, “You don’t like Trump supporters? Go beat the heck out of them!” Would we feel safe if a powerful figure had openly called for violence against us?
- Trump has talked sex with Howard Stern, rating women’s value on a scale of 1-10. Imagine a man talking this way about your wife, your daughter, your granddaughter, your little sister.
- Trump has advocated managing stress by using women as objects. Imagine Mike Pence responding to the strain of the Hamilton incident with a comment like, “It doesn’t matter what (actors say) as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass”?
Yes, Republicans may have a right to complain about the “indignity” of what happened at Hamilton, but we have to admit that after decades of Trump blasting insults and hostility into our nation’s airwaves, our critics have a right to balk over our grievances. And when we ask for safe spaces and apologies over hurt feelings after making fun of those same requests when others make them, we can’t expect much sympathy.
If you’ve done your research, you already know that Victor Dixon has some ugly past tweets of his own. But it’s one thing for a Broadway actor to be a moral hypocrite. It’s quite another for a President of the United States to behave badly. Calling “tu quoque” doesn’t remedy this situation.
I applaud Mike Pence for his Presidential behavior over the past week. He seems to understand his new role and the self-control it requires. His behavior stands head and shoulders above those Republicans who spent last week playing the part of the haughty big sister, trying to boss the other kids in the car while Mom’s running an errand. Nobody but Trump fans is listening to those complaints, and there’s a legitimate reason why.
Trump won the Oval Office by using harsh, incendiary dialogue. He roared, and he blasted, and he mocked, and he bragged. If we had wanted a culture of dignity, we probably should have elected a different candidate. But we apparently wanted a Republican Archie Bunker to dish out every insult in the book because we were tired of Obama, tired of Progressivism, tired of feeling pushed around.
And what do you know, we won.
But now that we’ve won, Trump is the dominant force in America. And now that he’s the big kid on the block, he can’t continue to knock people down on the playground without expecting an occasional punch in the face.
When Obama was in charge, we got tired of getting bullied. The other side will get tired of it, too.
Few things would make me happier than to watch America begin to engage in respectful, intelligent conversation. But if Trump wants civil discourse in this country, that probably needs to begin with him. Thankfully, Kellyanne Conway just announced that Trump plans to set aside some of the arguments he used to get elected so that he can present a different leader to the public. His platform is already flip-flopping on several issues. This is a perfect time for change in persona as well.
Because if Trump truly wants to make America Great Again, he needs to begin by making Trump great. We the people can certainly do a little on our own. We can try to be humane, try to be fair. We can try to be patient and generous. We can make little splashes in little ponds with little ripples. But if our Captain is willing to embrace the full weight of his new job, speaking with dignity and respect, it’s possible the rest of America will begin to follow as well.
And what a vision that is!
For no matter how huge Trump’s past accomplishments have been, no matter how much money he has made, no matter how many women he’s slept with, no matter how hot his latest wife is, no matter any other standard he has chased in the first 70 years of his life–bringing America into a respectful and humane union where civility prevails would be the most important thing Donald J. Trump has ever done.