Oxford Dictionaries defines its official Word of the Year, post-truth, as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This month, we will briefly highlight each day a major moment from 2016 that most exemplifies the concept of post-truth. Many of these moments will, inevitably, pertain to our president-elect.
On Friday, November 18, the vice president-elect took in a night of theater. Depending on who you ask, he was either caving into the irrepressible hype or participating in a secret mission to distract from the day’s major story. This was the day Donald Trump settled a fraud lawsuit over Trump University, the School of Soft Taps which left 5,000 students-cum-plaintiffs feeling ripped off. The amount he settled for, $25 million, is a sum that NBC News legal analyst Lisa Bloom says only happens in a civil case “when there is powerful evidence of guilt.”
This should have been a big story. (It still can be if hundreds of reporters simultaneously decide to write more about how unusual and foreboding it is for a president-elect to settle a multimillion dollar fraud case immediately after election.) Although Trump swore many times that he was innocent of the charges and that he would never settle, he did so anyway. Why? According to him, he just didn’t have time for a “long and winning” trial. What he has time for, instead, is a victory tour of rallies in the states that voted for him, which sounds more like something Fleetwood Mac would do, rather than a president of the United States of America. In any case, the settlement was the story of the day and it probably should have carried through to at least the weekend. But then Mike Pence went to see a historical musical.
may have definitely heard, Pence was booed by the Broadway crowd when he stepped into the theater. Then, after the show, performer Brandon Victor Dixon addressed the future veep directly from the stage. If you have not watched Dixon’s speech yet, penned by the ultimate winner of 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda, consider doing so below.
Dixon offered Pence a respectful, well-considered plea for tolerance. Considering the political subject matter of this particular musical and the diversity of its cast, this entreaty could scarcely be more relevant. When some members of the audience booed this man, who recently vowed to “see Roe vs. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs,” Dixon quieted them down. The cast of Hamilton, and the mastermind behind it, saw an opportunity to send a message straight to the incoming administration and couldn’t resist exercising their first amendment rights to do so.
When Donald Trump found out what happened, though, he couldn’t resist threatening those rights.
Trump’s first tweet went as follows: “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!” Here is a supreme example of post-truth. That he mentions those blazing cameras at all means that viewers are able to venture forth online and see what happened for themselves; that he categorizes what did happen as harassment is an easily disprovable brazen lie. Trump went a step further and doubled down on his indictment of the performers’ rights to express themselves, by demanding an apology. Let aside for a second that the president-elect had tweeted numerous times about the “failing” New York Times and now Hamilton, but not once about the rising tide of hate crimes being committed in his name or the planned KKK parade to celebrate his election, the cast of Hamilton was being “rude” and that “shouldn’t happen.”
These tweets set in motion several days worth of soul-searching about whether artists should refrain from addressing elected officials in public and why or why not. A boycott of the musical from the Trump faithful followed, although it remains unclear how you “boycott” the most popular, profitable Broadway show of the 21st century. In the meantime, the verdict in the Trump University settlement fizzled out into nothing. (Who cares that he settled in a fraud lawsuit, did you hear he is trying to appoint the Babadook as Secretary of Transportation? )
The kicker to the whole story came a couple days later, though, when Mike Pence gave a version of events that directly contradicted his boss’s, saying that he wasn’t offended by what the cast said to him, and that the boos from the audience were “what freedom sounds like.”
The play is not the thing; reality is.