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Engaging Trump: Not just black and white

  Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Hamilton.” Photograph by Steve Jurvetson.

 Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Hamilton.” Photograph by Steve Jurvetson.

What should be the response of the loyal opposition to President-elect Donald Trump?

In the wake of the election shocker, we’ve seen people veer between extremes – Colin Kaepenick on the one hand, the cast of “Hamilton” on the other – when the Buddhist middle way might prove more prudent.

Kaepenick didn’t bother to vote, because neither major candidate was to his liking. This was a problem for many people. But as the Lotto saying goes, “You gotta be in it to win it.” And a vote for no one is still a vote for someone – in the most passive of ways.

Kaepernick’s non-vote smacked of the illogical and the racist.

"I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote," Kaepernick said. "I'd said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against a system of oppression. I'm not going to show support for that system. And, to me, the oppressor isn't going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression."

Was the system oppressive, Colin, when it enacted the Civil Rights Act? How about when Barack Obama – who, like you, is biracial – became president?

But apparently some prominent blacks have decided to join Colin’s stance.

“So I’m staying out of it. I’m just going to take a knee like Kaepernick and let the whites figure this out among themselves,” comedian Dave Chappelle said in his opening monologue on the first “Saturday Night Live” after the election. “Know what I mean? We’ve been here before, we’ve been here before.”

Apparently, we have. “I haven’t seen whites this mad since the O.J. verdict,” he said earlier in the monologue. “White people screaming on both sides, ‘Aahhh.’”

It’s telling that Chappelle should mention the O.J. verdict. That was 21 years ago, yet I still remember how blindsided, hurt, angry, shocked and marginalized I felt afterward. That’s just how I feel now. But, apparently, white lives don’t matter and white female lives in particular. We’ll see how much black lives will matter in the new world order, won’t we?

What then? Will we create two Americas? How about as many as there are demographic groups?

In contrast to Kaepernick, the cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton” – which had done a PSA to get out the vote – chose to engage the incoming administration in a public but, I think, inappropriate manner. At the end of Friday’s performance, actor Brandon Victor Dixon – who plays Aaron Burr in the multicultural interpretation of Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the (white) Founding Fathers – read a statement on behalf of the company:

“We, sir, 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 this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

I’m not a huge fan of gesture politics – whether it’s protesting on a playing field or reading a political statement after a performance – though we must remember that this is a free country, still.

Nevertheless, as a longtime cultural critic I can say that part of what makes sports and the arts great is that they transcend their times. And yet, by their very presence, they reflect those times as well. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his performance spoke more powerfully against racism than any speech.

When Jean Anouilh wrote “Antigone” at the height of the Nazi occupation of Paris, his play spoke more eloquently about the imperative of moral resistance – and, by association, the Resistance – than any curtain-call speech ever could. Theater is not the same as theatricality. One is art; the other, a gimmick. And I would agree with actor-musician Steven Van Zandt that this sets a terrible precedent.

You don’t embarrass a public figure – or anyone – as he heads for the exit by forcing him to stand there and listen to what “SNL” joked was “a free lecture.” That just makes Trump’s opponents look weak and desperate and plays into the right’s notion that the left is inclusive of everything but the right.

If it were that important for “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to engage Pence, then he should’ve invited him to a backstage reception after the show and said, “Congratulations, Mr. Vice President-elect. We hope you enjoyed ‘Hamilton.’ And, in the spirit of our show, we hope you remember all of us on Inauguration Day and as we go forward together.”

Period. You’d have to be an idiot not to get the point. All the cast of “Hamilton” has done is succeeded in reinforcing the notion that they’ve begun to believe their press and gotten too big for their colonial britches. (In reply, Trump demanded an apology and tweeted that he hears the show is overrated. Keep it classy, Mr. President-elect, keep it classy the way Pence did by nudging his kids and reminding them that the curtain-call speech was what “freedom sounds like.”)

This is not to suggest that they aren’t moments for speechifying. We mustn’t sacrifice the rights to free speech and lawful, peaceful assembly and protest. But we must choose how to be most effective.

As for me, the minute I learned Trump would be president, I, as a writer, took to the computer keyboard.

It is my Tara – home.