The Hamilton–Trump Duel: Apologies Accepted


Dear Mr. Trump,

With all due respect, President-Elect, stop reacting to every political statement that challenges your worldview, your beliefs, or your statements — or the statements or actions of those on whom you depend. You — and Mr. Pence, your family members who are participating in your administration, your transition team, your Cabinet, your advisors, and the senators and representatives who support your policies, all who speak and act in your name — are a public figure engaged in public activities at the behest of the public. The public has a right, an obligation, to speak. You have a right to speak too, but your obligation is to listen as much as speak, particularly if you have any interest in sustaining your credibility.

Loosen your grip on your phone. If your goal is to unite the country, which you continue to claim, then stop seeking to divide those who disagree with you and yours from those who don’t. The cast of the play Hamilton spoke respectfully; Mr. Pence listened respectfully. Did actor Brandon Victor Dixon — speaking the words of director Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, producer Jeffrey Seller, and cast members — say anything incendiary? No; the speech expressed fear and concern about the very issues that you made central to your campaign and what you now promise now will remain central to your administration:

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,” he said. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.

If you can’t hear the simple expression of fear and concern, then how will you react when responses to your actions and policies, including critiques and criticisms, get more detailed, more precise, more intellectually complex, more emotionally expressed? Yesterday, you announced the choices of three cabinet members. The views and statements of these men are speech too. The very choices, themselves, comprise speech, your speech. And it is a speech of action, a whole cascade of actions that will affect millions and millions of people. It is enormous speech. Don’t mistake your position: the people still reign in the United States. In fact, you have made this populist position synonymous with yourself. You cannot be both a populist and silencer of public opinion. Our speech counts as much as yours, perhaps more. But you, not we — not your voters, and not Clinton voters, or Johnson voters, or Stein voters, or the many millions of non-voters — have an obligation to listen. You have an obligation to care, and “caring” means cherishing. You have an obligation to cherish your fellow citizens, whether or not we voted for you. We would be wise to be respectful, but it’s in your interest and ours for our speech to be clear and effective, to communicate as well as it can our interests, so you can take these interests into account as you govern. If you “hear” only the language that supports your already existing goals — and I am sure that as a skilled negotiator, you already know this — you risk inhibiting the flexibility you need to respond to the complexity of the world. You risk your ability to accomplish the task, we, the people, have bestowed, with all the gravity of our very lives, on you.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, each, at times, rightly or wrongly, has been accused of being “prickly,” of not connecting with the people. You, however, through your unofficial speech, continue to present yourself as prickly, big league prickly. You will never succeed as President if you cannot change, expand into a position of magnanimity, of generosity of spirit. I suggest, humbly, that you start now by humbly Apologizing.

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