Last December, I was in New York City. That’s right, Christmas in the big city…be jealous. I won’t bore you too much with the particulars, but suffice it to say; my wife and I were hooked. There is something about that city. If you’ve never been, you need to go.
It was around this time last year, I started to ask recommendations on what to do, what shows we should see, how to have a great time without having to take a second mortgage, and it was during this time where a theater friend of mine looked me square in the eye and said: “if there is any way you can make it happen, you gotta see “Hamilton”. This is a guy whose opinion I respect, so I checked a couple of ticketing websites, and discovered that the chances of us getting tickets were somewhere in the neighborhood of laughable.
This is to demonstrate the cultural phenomenon that Hamilton has been for over a year, and deservedly so. If you haven’t listened to the soundtrack, fire that bad boy up, musically, I’m a fan.
Flash forward to the weekend before Thanksgiving of this year. The Vice-President Elect wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and since he was the VP-E, he probably had a guy to give him the hookup. That’s when the political drama of the week started.
Most likely, you’ve heard the story. The crowd boos, the crowd jeers, VP-E Pence shows grace, VP-E Pence nudges a family member and says that this is the sound of freedom, the crowd grows more abrasive during the play (especially during the “immigrants, we get the job done” line in the play), the play ends, the cast thanks the VP-E, the cast shares the message, that message posted to Twitter, and we’re off to the races.
So before we continue, I want to detail you what this piece is not. This is not an article defending the cast or the crowd. Questioning whether or not the crowd should have been so abrasive to the VP-E, or whether or not the cast’s message was appropriate in timing, place, tone, or even content are valid conversations. It is also a valid conversation whether or not the cast served or sabotaged their cause, to which time will tell. Responses by some to boycott the show in the future are a totally valid response in a free society…boycott away. Of course I have an opinion on the matter, but at this point, my opinion is my own, and my opinion on these things are irrelevant to the larger conversation.
The larger conversation is not whether or not the cast should have shared their message to their elected leader, but rather or not whether they could have. To that there is no argument…the cast and the crowd could (and did) voice their opinions and concerns to an elected leader. They had an audience, and felt like they had an opportunity, and they ‘were not throwing away their shot’. They did this as an exercise of their rights granted to them by their creator and affirmed by our constitution.
This is where the most important aspect of the story comes into play, because we love the idea of freedom and free speech, but sometimes we hate the implications. The implications of freedom is that the freedoms that we enjoy are sometimes enjoyed by people we wish didn’t have them. Freedom means that we are free to be controversial. The 1st Amendments protection of speech doesn’t protect the popular speech, because that speech is not in need of protections. The 1st Amendment protects speech that is unpopular.
Our country is an exercise in AP freedom. The premise of our country is: “you want freedom…ok…that means that the guy who stands for something that you are against with every fiber of your being gets to speak his mind both vehemently and passionately without fear of retribution. The only thing you get to do is choose to not buy a ticket to listen to it, or stick around when he starts.”
Which brings us to the one part of the Hamilton story that I’ve saved, because of how concerning it is. As the stories traveled the 15 blocks from Broadway to 56th and 5th, the President-Elect was ready. As soon as the P-E heard of what happened, he immediately chastised (via Twitter) the cast of Hamilton and demanded that they apologize for the actions that were directed at VP-E Pence.
That is where the problem lies. Because in less than 2 months, President-Elect Trump will become President Trump, and he will be president for all Americans, not just the ones that voted for him. Which means that he will take an oath to protect and defend the constitution…the same constitution that prevents the abridgment of free speech.
But I hear some people say that what Trump did was not necessarily an abridging of the casts rights, rather it was a call for decorum. I understand that argument, but the nature of freedom is that it is hardly ever taken away with a dramatic event. Freedom is something that is lost incrementally. Because calls for apologies for speech that would offend, can turn to demands for apologies, can turn to punishments if apologies aren’t offered, can turn to…
Ronald Reagan is right. Freedom is not a trait that is shared in the bloodstream. It is a value that has to be instilled, fostered, understood, cared for, and defended. Freedom is costly. It costs the lives of those who would stand a post in her defense. Freedom is also fragile. Because freedoms conceded are not easily won back. I take this seriously because even incremental challenges to freedom on a passing level such as this have the ability to fester if left unaddressed.
Whether or not I agree with the cast of Hamilton is truly of no consequence. We must be a people that protect the freedom of those we don’t agree with, even against the incremental challenges, because one day, it may be our message…the message of the gospel…that may be deemed unpopular. If that happens, who will then stand on our behalf?