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Here's all you need to know about the Mike Pence 'Hamilton' kerfuffle

Posted November 23

It’s kind of remarkable that in the wake of Donald Trump’s upset presidential victory, the thing people have found most upsetting is how the vice president-elect was treated at a performance of the Broadway smash “Hamilton.” Depending on who you talk to, this was either the single greatest moment of speaking truth to power ever witnessed, or it was a travesty of monumental proportions that must be avenged via presidential Twitter. Both positions seem pretty extreme to me, so I thought it appropriate to stake out some middle ground here.

From my perspective, this really wasn’t that big a deal one way or the other.

In the first place, the speech in question wasn’t particularly nasty. When actor Brandon Victor Dixon began to speak to Mike Pence, a handful of boos were heard in the crowd.

“There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love.”

Apparently, there had been a smattering of boos and a number of cheers when Pence took his seat before the show began, so the fact that Dixon would go out of his way to silence post-show booing shows that the cast message was intended to be both delivered and received respectfully.

As for the content of the message, it was short and sweet. The whole thing took just over a minute. It contained one pointed sentence, where Dixon described the “Hamilton” cast as “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.” But everything before that was kind, and everything that followed was hopeful that Pence would “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.” That’s a welcome message of unity to a deeply divided nation.

For his part, Pence was entirely appropriate in his response. He later praised the performance, welcomed the message and insisted that he wasn’t at all offended, before or after the show.

“You know, when we arrived, we heard — we heard a few boos. We heard some cheers,” Pence told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “And I nudged my kids and reminded them that's what freedom sounds like.”

Well played, Mr. Vice President-elect. Well played.

It was President-elect Donald Trump who tweeted this molehill into a mountain. Trump insisted that his vice presidential choice had been “harassed” and that the cast had been “very rude” and that the production was “very overrated.” His indignation was well out of proportion to the actual offense, which led to a number of commenters panicking that this represented some kind of horrible threat against freedom of speech and the rights of artists to express themselves.

But that’s nonsense, too. It’s important to remember that the First Amendment also applies to the president-elect. We’re not used to Twitter-happy presidents with thin skins, but if this is the worst thing Trump does, then we’re going to be fine. Sure, the president-elect’s tweets were tacky, but, in fairness, so was the lecturing of an audience member. One can debate which one was in poorer taste, but neither instance represents any threat to freedom, democracy or legitimate theater.

Perhaps the best thing from the fallout of this silliness is the burgeoning #BoycottHamilton movement. I really hope that catches on, as it may mean I can get my hands on tickets before Trump’s term is out.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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