Last Friday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence took in a Broadway show. After the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical sang their final bars, clasped hands and bowed, they had a message for Donald J. Trump’s right hand man. Actor Brandon Victor Dixon,, who plays Aaron Burr, stood center stage and let loose a message to the former governor of Indiana.
“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,” Dixon said. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
As Mike Pence quickly vacated the theater — as cowardly bullies always do when confronted — the crowd began to jeer and hiss in approval of Dixon’s message. Watching video of the event, it’s clear that this crowd was not prepared to “root for his success” as President Obama had urged us to do for the newly-elected Donald Trump.
What happened next though was more angering. In the wee hours of the morning, President-elect Trump fired off a couple tweets, as is his wont to do. In those tweets, he expressed his disgust at the cast of Hamilton for not providing a “safe space” for Mike Pence and demanded an apology.
His choice of words is important. For years, activists on college campuses and around the country concerned with the security of black, LGBTQ, and immigrant Americans have fought to create safe spaces in their communities — places free from the intimidation of those who believe they don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else.
President-elect Trump’s initial rise was largely built on a reaction to dismantle these safe spaces, to free rich white men from the burden of “political correctness.” For him to turn around and demand a safe space for his ilk is more than ironic, it’s revealing.
What it reveals is that the Republicans, the Trumpists, never actually took umbrage with “safe spaces.” For all their blustering about free speech, about participation trophies, about coddled college students, what they were really railing against were spaces that were no longer safe for them and their destructive ideology.
Mike Pence never worried about safe spaces for women when he crusaded to gut Planned Parenthood. He never worried about safe spaces for gay Hoosiers when he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people. And he certainly never worried about safe spaces for working people when he defended his state’s anti-union right-to-work laws.
The fact of the matter is that Trumpism is inherently unsafe. It is unsafe for black people, for LGBTQ folks, for Muslims, for women, for immigrants, and for members of the working class. It is safe for one group alone: rich white men.
The Trump movement sought to make America great again; sought to make it safe again for racism, for nationalism, for bigotry. Whatever criticism you may have of “P.C. Culture” — and there is lots to criticize — Trump and his supporters were able to distort our country’s founding principle of free speech, rebrand it to benefit those who already reap almost all the benefits in our society, and weaponize it against those for whom the right to free speech should protect most of all.
Our message to Trump and everyone who believes in his twisted worldview must be this: America is not your safe space. You and your backward politics will find no quarter here. We will fight you tooth and nail, every step of the way. We will win.