There are things that don’t matter anymore. Professional boxing was once a big deal – in the twenties and thirties Americans were glued to their radios to listen to the blow-by-blow as Max Schmeling beat the crap out of Joe Louis and then Joe Louis returned the favor. Boxing was still a big deal well into the fifties and sixties, on television, until Muhammad Ali hung up his gloves. Then no one cared. Television networks couldn’t find advertisers. Boxing moved to pay-for-view and to the third or fourth page of the next day’s sports section – and now the NFL is beginning to worry about the same thing – their ratings are dropping like a rock. No one knows why. Perhaps the game has become tedious – too hyper-technical – or perhaps every time-out shouldn’t be four and a half minutes long to accommodate all the thirty-second spots they’ve sold to finance the edifice they’ve built. They think their new deal with Twitter might help. It won’t. Who cares? Voters in San Diego just rejected a proposal for a new football stadium. The Chargers will leave. That’s fine. The Rams finally returned to Los Angeles. Los Angeles yawned.
The same thing happened to Broadway musicals. They were everything in the twenties, and then silent movies became talkies and there were the movies about Broadway musicals – Ruby Keeler in “42nd Street” and that sort of thing – and finally Broadway musicals only mattered when they were made into extravagant movies – “South Pacific” to “West Side Story” to “Les Misérables” and all the others in between. Few knew what was happening on Broadway otherwise. Few cared. Broadway was not central to American life anymore, if it ever was.
And then, suddenly, it was. A small man made a small part of American life big again:
A surprising confrontation erupted on Saturday between President-elect Donald J. Trump and the cast and creators of the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” setting off furious debate over American principles like free speech, respect and the ability to challenge authority in the Trump era.
President-elect Trump demanded an apology from the cast for making a rare, politically charged appeal from the stage on Friday night to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience, urging him and Mr. Trump to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.”
Mr. Trump’s response significantly escalated an unusual protest inside a theater into a furor on social media and cable news.
Mr. Trump, who has stirred bipartisan concern over his habit of attacking those who challenge him, said on Twitter that the actors had “harassed” Mr. Pence, and he issued a battle cry to his supporters by saying that the musical’s cast had criticized “our wonderful future VP Mike Pence.” He continued to assail the show on Twitter on Saturday night, writing that the actors had been “very rude and insulting” to Mr. Pence and claiming that they “couldn’t even memorize lines” – though he offered no evidence and then deleted the message…
Mr. Trump framed the cast’s appeal as a violation of “a safe and special place” – borrowing a favored phrase of the left and of campus protesters; it was not clear whether he did so derisively or in earnest.
This was a small man lashing out. Mike Pence later said he wasn’t offended. He listened. He nodded. This sort of thing comes with the job. There’s no safe and special place for sensitive souls who either weep or rage at any criticism – not in politics. Take positions, deal with the consequences. That’s the way an open democracy works.
Pence should probably have a chat with Trump, because Trump is stirring up trouble:
His maneuver, in two posts to Twitter early Saturday, stunned the cast members and, judging by social media, jolted many Americans who are worried about the president-elect’s tolerance for dissent after a campaign in which he was criticized for inflaming racial tensions. But it also touched off reaction among other Americans who treasure the traditions of, and respect for, the office of the presidency, and viewed the statement – and the booing of Mr. Pence by some theatergoers before the performance – as out of line.
On Saturday, one supporter of Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that the “Hamilton” statement was “a staged hit job.” Another wrote that actors should never “humiliate a member of the audience.”
Many theater artists cheered the “Hamilton” cast on Saturday. “The theater will always be a place that encourages self-expression and free thinking – which is exactly what makes the art form so vital and, frankly, exciting,” said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theater Wing, a nonprofit that supports the arts and helps oversee the Tony Awards.
“Hamilton,” itself a deeply political show about the United States as a nation of immigrants – with black or Hispanic actors playing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers – has been celebrated by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats, as well as Republicans including former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Yes, even Dick Cheney – so perhaps Trump didn’t know what this thing was about. This isn’t tuneful romantic fluff about some flower girl at a diplomatic ball, so what happened had to happen:
The “Hamilton” company learned late Friday that Mr. Pence and his family members would be attending that night’s performance. The show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and others discussed the appropriateness of making a statement from the stage and decided to do it only after the show was over. Remarks were written and refined, and after curtain call, Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, took a microphone and pointed toward Mr. Pence.
“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening – Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments,” Mr. Dixon said. As some in the audience booed, Mr. Dixon hushed them, then added, “Sir, we hope that you will hear us out.”
As Mr. Pence stood by the exit doors, Mr. Dixon said, “We, sir, 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 this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
Dixon hushed the booing crowd. Dixon politely asked Pence to hear him out. Pence did. Was this harassment? That depends on your point of view:
Although Mr. Pence listened to the entreaty inside the Richard Rodgers Theater on Friday and then stepped onto the sidewalk smiling, Mr. Trump took time out of preparing his new cabinet on Saturday to rally his supporters. Around 9 a.m. he wrote two Twitter posts saying the “Hamilton” actors had harassed Mr. Pence and had been “very rude last night to a very good man.”
“Apologize!” Mr. Trump wrote.
Dixon immediately tweeted out thanks to Mike Pence for listening, saying that he really appreciated that. That will infuriate Trump. Dixon is a troublemaker, and now Republicans will have to deal with Trump’s petty smallness:
Some Republican strategists said they were not surprised that Mr. Trump chose to attack “Hamilton,” noting that the president-elect believed deeply in trying to project strength in the face of any kind of opposition.
“President-elect Trump is signaling that he will fight for his team and his policies,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a strong Trump supporter. “Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would have approved” – a reference to the former conservative leader in Britain who often tangled with artists and the left.
But other Republicans said Mr. Trump’s posts on Twitter were inappropriate.
“Fidelity to the First Amendment is an absolute requirement for an American president,” said Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican strategist who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “The address from the cast was respectful, but even if it wasn’t, they have a right to say it.”
They do? Trump doesn’t think so, but this may be how America works:
The plea to Mr. Pence was written by Mr. Miranda; the show’s director, Thomas Kail; and the lead producer, Jeffrey Seller, with contributions from cast members, according to Mr. Seller. In an interview after the show, Mr. Seller said he learned “very late that Mr. Pence was coming to the show, and the creative team and cast members quickly reckoned with how to respond.”
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we cope with this?'” Mr. Seller said. “Our cast could barely go on stage the day after the election. The election was painful and crushing to all of us here. We all struggled with what was the appropriate and respectful and proper response. We are honored that Mr. Pence attended the show and we had to use this opportunity to express our feelings.”
That may be how things are supposed to work, but Daniel Politi notes the weekend’s other incident:
On Sunday morning, the president-elect took time out of planning his transition into the White House (and from criticizing Hamilton) to weigh in on this weekend’s SNL that featured yet another sketch in which Alec Baldwin played him. The verdict? He may have won the election, but a sketch comedy show can still get under his skin. SNL is decidedly not funny, ruled the soon-to-be leader of the free world. “It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”
What was it that rubbed the president-elect the wrong way? Perhaps it was the cold open of the show in which Baldwin played a clueless Trump who had to Google ISIS and quickly backed away from his main campaign promises, including getting rid of Obamacare and building the wall. Baldwin’s Trump seemed to believe that picking Mike Pence as his vice president was one of the smartest moves he made: “You’re the reason I’m not going to get impeached.”
Trump is demanding equal time to rebut that? He cannot let anything go. He is a small man, but Politi notes that this goes back to what Trump tweeted in October:
Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!
Hamilton and Saturday Night Live – Donald Trump is pissed at both. He pretty much said that NBC should shut down Saturday Night Live – period. He wants the cast of Hamilton to apologize for talking about politics to Mike Pence when Pence only wanted to see their light-hearted little bit of musical fluff – but if they don’t apologize?
There are possibilities. In September 1642, the Long Parliament ordered a closure of the London theaters. The order cited the current “times of humiliation” and their incompatibility with “public stage-plays” representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity” – which is a fine description of much of what pops up on Saturday Night Live. That 1642 ban, which was not particularly effective, was reinforced by another in 1648 that provided for the treatment of actors as rogues, the demolition of theater seating, and fines for spectators. In 1660, after the English Restoration brought King Charles II back to power in England, the theatrical ban was lifted – but there had been a ban. There is precedent. There is tradition. Hamilton and Saturday Night Live – shut them down?
That might be a bad idea. The Interregnum – those years between Charles I (beheaded) and the return of Charles II from France, with his apologist Thomas Hobbes in tow – those years without a king – were a bit unpleasant. Cromwell was a nasty piece of work – those who disagreed with him died. The Puritans were pure and godly and all that – but they were also a pain in the ass. Think of our self-righteous evangelical scolds. And Restoration drama – the stuff just after 1660 – was bitter and nasty – mostly farce. They picked that up from the French. No good came of the whole thing.
Donald Trump, however, isn’t going to shut down anything. That can’t be done, yet. He’s just a small man, an insecure little man lashing out – it’s becoming a bit of a national embarrassment, and an embarrassment for most Republicans – and he clearly doesn’t understand the job. The incoming president should understand the job. Obama shouldn’t have to explain it to him – nor Mike Pence.
But he isn’t just small. He’s greedy, and as Josh Marshall notes, that’s a problem when he doesn’t know the job:
Let’s review the stories of the last two days. Trump’s DC hotel is soliciting foreign diplomatic delegations to switch their business to the incoming President’s new hotel. On Tuesday Trump took a break from transition work to meet with his Indian business partners about expanding the Trump Organization’s business in India now that he’s president. Trump included his adult children in the meeting – the ones who will run his ‘blind trust’. The news didn’t reach the American press until it was reporting in an Indian paper. Now we learn that Trump’s Philippines business partner Jose E. B. Antonio has been named the Philippines new trade envoy to the United States.
The man can’t let go of his own stuff – his need to be the big rich man – to become the president for all of us. He’s not going to grow into the job – that is, he’s not going to get bigger, for the greater good. He’ll stay small, and the Washington Post does a deep dive into the details of this:
Turkey is a nation in crisis, scarred by government crackdowns following a failed coup attempt and on a potential collision course with the West. It is also home to a valuable revenue stream for the president-elect’s business empire: Trump Towers Istanbul.
Donald Trump’s company has been paid up to $10 million by the tower’s developers since 2014 to affix the Trump name atop the luxury complex, whose owner, one of Turkey’s biggest oil and media conglomerates, has become an influential megaphone for the country’s increasingly repressive regime.
That, ethics advisers said, forces the Trump complex into an unprecedented nexus: as both a potential channel for dealmakers seeking to curry favor with the Trump White House and a potential target for attacks or security risks overseas.
The president-elect’s Turkey deal marks a harrowing vulnerability that even Trump has deemed “a little conflict of interest”: a private moneymaker that could open him to foreign influence and tilt his decision-making as America’s executive in chief.
But the ethics experts eyeing Trump’s empire are now warning of many others, found among a vast assortment of foreign business interests never before seen in past presidencies. At least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East, a Washington Post analysis of Trump financial filings shows.
It may be that he’ll be his president, not our president:
The business interests range from sprawling, ultraluxury real estate complexes to one-man holding companies and branding deals in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Panama and other countries, including some where the United States maintains sensitive diplomatic ties.
Some companies reflect long-established deals while others were launched as recently as Trump’s campaign, including eight that appear tied to a potential hotel project in Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich Arab kingdom that Trump has said he “would want to protect.”
It seems he used his presidential campaign to drum up new business, but the small man sees nothing wrong with that:
Trump has refused calls to sell or give his business interests to an independent manager or “blind trust,” a long-held presidential tradition designed to combat conflicts of interest. Now, policy and ethics experts are scrambling to assess the potential dangers of public rule by a leader with a vast web of private business deals.
“There are so many diplomatic, political, even national security risks in having the president own a whole bunch of properties all over the world,” said Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
“If we’ve got to talk to a foreign government about their behavior, or negotiate a treaty, or some country asks us to send our troops in to defend someone else, we’ve got to make a decision. And the question becomes: Are we going in out of our national interest or because there’s a Trump casino around?” Painter added.
But it’s more than that:
Though Trump rose to prominence as a New York builder, most of the Trump Organization’s business growth in recent years has been through real estate, management and licensing deals with developers and investors overseas.
Many of those deals involve licensing the Trump name: a valuable quantity when Trump was a famous businessman, now made more lucrative when attached to a U.S. head of state. Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman and general counsel for George H. W. Bush, said foreign investors could seek to seal deals with Trump’s children in hopes of cozying up or currying favor with America’s businessman in chief.
Other Trump properties, like most large projects in the real estate industry, are buoyed by a river of loans, including from big banks in China and Germany. Deutsche Bank, Trump’s biggest lender, is negotiating what could be a multibillion-dollar settlement over housing-crisis-era abuses with the Justice Department, whose leaders will be Trump appointees.
Deutsche Bank keeps this amazing Trump Empire afloat. If the Justice Department fines them for all that mortgage fraud way back when, will they call in Trump’s loans? All they have to do is hint at that. Will President Trump call the folks over at Justice and tell them to back off? The Justice Department could cost him five hundred million dollars. It’s the same with the Bank of China. Or maybe it isn’t – he never released his tax returns so we’ll never know. There’s only this:
Trump’s global business interests also make him vulnerable to legal risks, including a passage in the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause that forbids government officials from receiving gifts from a foreign government.
A payment from a foreign official or state-owned company to a Trump hotel or other branded company could potentially violate that clause, constitutional experts said.
That’s not much – that doesn’t cover his massive debt to foreign banks, some of them state banks – but there’s more:
The potential conflicts entangle not just Trump, but also his advisers, including Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general tapped to become White House national security adviser. Flynn’s consulting firm has been hired to lobby on behalf of a group tied to the Turkish government. Flynn recently wrote an opinion piece calling for dramatic changes to U.S. policy that would parallel the Erdogan government’s goals and declaring that the country “needs our support.”
Other congratulations came from the head of Azerbaijan, where in the capital, Baku, plunging oil prices crashed the local economy and froze construction on a five-star hotel project set to bear Trump’s name.
While making millions of dollars through the branding deal, Trump partnered with a billionaire whose family is part of a long-ruling regime that the State Department has accused of corruption and human rights abuses.
After the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, called the president-elect last week, Trump was said to thank him for his attention and “noted that he heard very good words” about Aliyev, according to the country’s state-run news agency.
This country is about to get very small, as small as Donald Trump’s insular world of interlocking deals involving massive debt and tricky licensing arrangements that have made him rich, but maybe not all that rich, if key parties to those deals call in any of those loans – unless he does what’s best for them. This country is already as small as his latest petulant tweet. So and so should apologize. This or that should be shut down. Why? He’s worried that people are making fun of him – and they are. No one will EVER make fun of him!
What kind of man says that? That would be a small and greedy man. Voters loved his anger. They were impressed by his amazing success at everything. The anger was almost pathological insecurity. The success was built on massive debt he cannot possibly repay – all he can do is shift it around and hope for the best. On the other hand, that describes the lives of most Americans. Maybe we elected one of us. That’s not a comforting thought.