America's culture war flared up again on Friday night, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence faced a hostile reception at a performance of 'Hamilton' on Broadway. Upon entering the theater and finding his seat, Pence heard a mixture of boos and some applause, followed by several mid-show bouts of jeering and heckling, and capped off with a lecture delivered at curtain call by one of the leading actors on behalf of the cast:
President-elect Donald Trump blasted the move, calling the actors' behavior rude and out of place, and demanding an apology:
Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
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
Here, Pence traverses the high road by praising the show, addressing the cast's concerns, and declining to escalate the controversy. An impressive showing. As someone who is a fan of both Mike Pence (despite holding serious disagreements on some issues) and 'Hamilton' (regardless of the performers' apparent political views), this whole episode attracted my attention as reports of the confrontation spilled onto social media. My initial (and still overall) reaction was similar to Pence's: A virtual shrug. After all, booing is a grand New York tradition:
Meh. Some liberals booed a conservative in NY. Others clapped. The show is great. https://t.co/urnhTK5olt— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 19, 2016
Details like this, however, bothered me:
During "You'll Be Back (Reprise)" they had to keep pausing the song while people jeered Pence on every line. https://t.co/ZSIG7qnfiM— Shannon (@TheStagmania) November 19, 2016
Wait, really? Interrupting the performance to heckle an attendee is garbage, selfish behavior. https://t.co/aLj2JTUFlT— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 19, 2016
Sorry for the middle class theater fans who saved up for tix/waited months to see the show, only to have it disrupted by a petulant mob.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 19, 2016
In other words, the pre-show boo birds and even the players' special post-show commentary weren't especially objectionable. Even if you're inclined to believe that both were out of place, I don't think they crossed any bright lines. But audience members disrupting the performance and forcing stoppages during musical numbers in order to vent fury over an election result is appalling conduct, especially for reasons noted in the tweet embedded immediately above. Many of the rich, liberal New Yorkers in that theater no doubt relished the opportunity to experience political catharsis and "speak truth to power," as they'd self-congratulatingly frame it. But other theatergoers were Trump/Pence supporters, or merely ambivalent observers just trying to enjoy the hottest show on the planet. It's a shame that they had their experience marred by these selfish partisans. Some will argue 'but Pence deserved it!' My retort to that line of thinking is here. Others will argue that it was totally out of line for the cast to deliver a political message to Pence at the end of the production, given the circumstances and context. How many of these same critics cheered Dr. Ben Carson's famous in-person admonishment of President Obama from the rostrum of the National Prayer Breakfast a few years back?
Finally, I've seen some conservatives calling for boycotts of 'Hamilton' as a result of this whole kerfuffle. This is deeply misguided, in my view. Not only do I disdain the politicized life in general, Americans who respect our nation's founding should celebrate this musical. It is both a spectacular work of artistic genius and an inspiring, moving tribute to the courageous men who launched the American experiment. It is an unabashedly pro-America show that has made a bunch of dead guys suddenly relevant and cool again. Students are learning about the statesmanship and sacrifice of towering historical American figures. They're discovering the contours of the cabinet battles that shaped the direction of our fledgling republic from its earliest days. They're memorizing lengthy passages of Washington's farewell address, and laughing at tyranny in the form of King George III's snotty, effete character. People are understandably riled up by what happened on Friday night (bulletin: Manhattanites and musical theater performers aren't necessarily big Republicans). But it would be a mistake to reject this beacon of culturally-accessible gratitude for our founders because of a fleeting partisan controversy.
Parting thought: While citizens are raging and counter-raging about the next Vice President getting booed at a musical, millions of Americans' healthcare costs are spiking, the Iranian regime is violating the terms of the nuclear deal, and the President-Elect is settling a massive fraud lawsuit, as related conflict-of-interest questions swirl. Much, much bigger issues endure.