Monday, November 21, 2016

What’s Wrong with the Hamilton Cast Statement?

            As I’m sure many of you have heard, Mike Pence attended a performance of the musical Hamilton, after which the cast read a statement to him asking for the administration of which he is a part to govern on behalf of all races, religions, and orientations. Naturally, there has been an uproar from the right, and from the president-elect himself, over the indignity of poor Mike Pence for having been subjected to such an appeal. I happen to disagree with that position – I wholeheartedly support the right, even the duty, of the cast to use their platform to make an appeal to our nation’s elected representatives. If Mr. Pence thinks he is entitled to go to any public place and be free from appeals on his policies, then he signed up for the wrong job.
            I do, however, have a teensy problem with the appeal itself, the wording of which I have quoted here.
“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.”

            I don’t disagree with that sentiment at all. I do, however, feel that it fails to capture the nature of Pence’s position on the rights of the LGBTQ and non-Christian communities. And I should qualify this by saying that everything I’m about to write is based on the assumption that Mike Pence truly believes his professed religion, and doesn’t merely say the things he does because he believes it’s what he needs to tell his base in order to get and keep their support. But even if he doesn’t personally believe it, much of his base does.
            You see, when you ask Mike Pence to govern on behalf of the rights of people of all orientations and creeds, you may think you’re asking him to defend things like marriage equality, separation of church and state, religious tolerance, and anti-discrimination policies. But that’s not what he hears. In Mike Pence’s world, rights are things granted by his version of the Abrahamic god. And since that god does not say that people have the right to gay marriage, to identify with a gender other than their genitalia seem to indicate, or to worship other gods (or even a different understanding of his god, or no god at all), Mike Pence does not believe those rights exist. When he supports legislation curtailing those things, and even actively persecuting LGBTQ people and (for example) Muslims, he actually believes that he is still defending their rights. Those things simply aren’t a matter of rights to him.
            The problem with Mike Pence is not that he hates LGBTQ people or non-Christians. The problem with Mike Pence is that his god does. In Pence-world, you don’t have a right to be gay, or trans, or bi, or pan, or poly, or Muslim, or atheist, or Hindu, or Buddhist. Furthermore, if society says you legally do have those rights, that makes it likely that more people will act on those orientations, and those people will go to hell and suffer for all eternity. To that mindset, actively persecuting LGBTQ people and/or non-Christians is an act of tough love, because it lessens the likelihood of them going to hell. Pence doesn’t believe he is denying you a right; he believes he is potentially saving you from the wrath of an infinitely powerful being that will pour out infinite torment on you otherwise.

            So that, in my opinion, is the problem with the Hamilton cast statement. It fails to take into account the world view of the fundamentalist Christianity that Pence espouses, and therefore ends up failing to ask for what it intends to be asking for. Whether it’s a genuine failure to understand that mindset, or out of an excess of politeness in showing respect for Pence's religious convictions, I believe that the statement simply missed its mark.

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