History has its eyes on you, Mike Pence.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence wanted to be in the room where it happens. So he went to see “Hamilton” on Nov. 18, 2016.
But when Pence arrived at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City to see the critically acclaimed hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, he was met with a chorus of boos and jeers (and, for the record, a few scattered claps).
Matthew Anderson, a theater buff visiting New York from Minneapolis said the display before the show was unlike anything he’d seen.
Pence was brought to his seat shortly before the show began.
“All of a sudden it was this rising, booing, general sounds of disapproval,” Anderson said. “You couldn’t miss it. Everyone in the mezzanine and the upper levels was standing up and craning over to see what was going on.”
From his seat, Anderson heard mostly jeers and hissing, though one man yelled out, “We love you, Mike.”
But once the show started, Anderson said things were essentially back to normal … almost.
“Everyone was just in it, immediately,” he said. Though the audience did respond with thunderous applause and cheers during certain moments, including Angelica Schuyler dreaming of including women in the founding of the country.
“I have to think it was a much bigger reaction than that line usually gets,” Anderson said. “I’m sure it’s usually warmly received, but this definitely felt like it was … as much about who was in the house hearing the support for it.”
Meanwhile, news of the brief but raucous display quickly spread to the internet, where a virtual debate fired up on Twitter: Was the audience right to boo Pence?
First, he’s vice president-elect, and for some people, that was enough of a reason not to boo.
And vice president-elect or not, seeing a show starring people of color about an immigrant leading America to victory in the Revolutionary War and founding some of the nation’s most sustaining institutions isn’t a bad thing, right?
On the other hand, Pence has done little for women, people who are LGBTQ, and people of color — the very people starring in the show he happily paid to see.
With tensions high in and outside the theater, the cast of “Hamilton” came to the stage for their curtain call and read a letter to Pence as he left his seat.
Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr (a former vice president), called to Pence. According to The New York Times, a show spokesman said that Pence stood outside the entrance to the auditorium and heard the full remarks from the hallway.
The message, written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, and lead producer Jeffrey Seller, with contributions from cast members, is worth a watch and read:
The key part is this:
“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical,’ we really do. 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 that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”
“It was the opposite of the audience reaction at the top, which felt very hostile and confrontational,” Anderson said. “It was deeply respectful. It was warm, and it felt like it was very much in keeping with the spirit of the show we had just watched.”
Despite the unifying message, Donald Trump couldn’t help but get involved as the story continued the day after.
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
But here’s what the president-elect, the vice president-elect, and all of us need to remember, especially in uncertain times: Dissent is not disrespectful; it’s American.
In the United States, we can dissent, demonstrate, debate, and disagree without fear of prosecution or imprisonment. At least that’s what our founders, like Alexander Hamilton, intended.
Those booing were voicing their frustration and displeasure at a man with a long and storied history of disrespect and outright wrongdoing toward traditionally underrepresented people.
And here is his record.
Pence suggested women seek funerary services for miscarried or aborted fetuses. That’s disrespectful.
Pence supported diverting taxpayer money to conversion therapy programs for gay and lesbian people, including children. And he suggested Congress oppose any measure that would put same-sex marriages on equal footing with heterosexual marriages. That’s disrespectful.
Pence slashed public health spending in Indiana, forcing a Planned Parenthood to close in Scott County, the one HIV testing center in the area. As intravenous opioid use rose, so did needle sharing. Pence opposed needle exchanges too. Soon, the county saw as many as 20 new cases of HIV each week. More than 200 cases were diagnosed before the outbreak ended. That’s disrespectful.
Pence runs the transition team for a newly elected president who has yet to condemn those committing hate crimes and violence in his name on Twitter but has spoken out against The New York Times six times and the cast of “Hamilton” twice. That’s disrespectful.
But people who disagree with him should keep their mouths shut when he steps out to enjoy a night of entertainment performed by men and women of color and led by a gay, HIV+, Latino actor? No. Not today. Not ever.
Disagreeing with Pence and others of his ilk isn’t disrespectful; it’s powerful and necessary.
Comparing a few minutes of hurt feelings with the systematic oppression and silencing of women, people who are LGBTQ, low-income people, and people of color is not just incorrect — it’s dangerous.
The actions, decisions, and campaign promises of the Trump-Pence administration are not OK. They’re divisive, hateful, and xenophobic. Standing up to toxic bigotry like that, by marching in protest, with calls to elected officials or boos in a theater is absolutely vital.
And if the president-elect or vice president-elect have a problem with this, they can take a cue from “Hamilton” itself:
“‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less.”
Thanks to Matthew Anderson for the interview.