On Friday night, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton. The hit broadway show notably features a diverse cast as America’s founding fathers, and celebrates the contributions of immigrants in American history.
The message of the show is thus deeply at odds with the divisive rhetoric employed by the Trump campaign. As Pence entered the theater, he was reportedly booed by some in the audience. After the show, the cast read out a statement in which they addressed Pence as “sir” and asked him to “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
— Hamilton (@HamiltonMusical) November 19, 2016
Pence reportedly listened to the statement from the hallway and left the theater smiling, without commenting. Saturday morning on Twitter, however, President-elect Trump tore into the musical.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
On cue, the internet erupted.
Debates broke out on Twitter about whether the booing, and the statement, were brave dissent or a show of disrespect. #BoycottHamilton began trending. And immediately, the spat overshadowed the other negative news dogging the president-elect.
As soon as Trump tweeted, interest in the multi-million dollar fraud payout he agreed to the day before, his breathtaking financial conflicts of interest, and the white nationalist figures he selected for his administration receded into the background.
This is a Google Trends comparison of interest in Trump University compared to Trump and Hamilton in the past day:
The two lines cross when Trump tweets.
Here is a Google Trends map of interest in Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general pick and an Alabama Senator with a history of racist remarks:
Trump’s overblown reaction to his VP’s Hamilton experience is indeed telling: Once again, the president-elect is applying a dubious version of freedom of speech that specifically casts constitutionally-protected dissent against himself and his team as out-of-line. He mischaracterized what happened. And an elected leader who hasn’t used his Twitter to decry the hundreds of acts of hate committed after his election, without irony, insisted that his elected running-mate deserves a safe space against booing.
But in setting both the traditional media and social media chasing after boos at a Hamilton performance, Trump is also distracting everyone from the damaging, substantive moves he has made since being elected.
Here is what happened just on Friday, immediately before Trump seized on the Hamilton moment:
Trump agreed to settle a 25 million dollar fraud case against him
The case was a class-action fraud lawsuit brought by thousands of students of Trump University, who allege they were deliberately mislead about the quality of the instruction they would receive, and were urged to max out credit cards and wipe out their savings to pay for the expensive programs.
Trump settled, despite having claimed that he never settles and having repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. On Saturday morning, he also tweeted implying that despite insisting throughout his campaign that he was sure to win the case, he could in fact have been liable for much more money than the millions he paid out.
Democracy marched deeper into kleptocracy
Unlike previous presidents, Trump has made no attempt to separate his personal business interests from the presidency. Since his election, he’s made unprecedented moves that undo hundreds of years of democratic tradition separating personal and public interests.
The Washington Post reported Friday that over 100 foreign diplomats gathered at Trump’s new downtown D.C. hotel to “to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.”
Before the election, Trump’s new hotel was reportedly struggling to attract clientele driven away by Trump’s divisive rhetoric and the bruising election campaign. Now, those looking for access and favor are flocking to the hotel as a way to curry favor with the president-elect.
“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’ ” an unnamed Asian diplomat told the Post.
Trump has previously waved aside concerns over the unprecedented conflict-of-interest his business dealings cause, saying that he’ll hand his company over to his children in a “blind trust.”
Handing control of his business to his children, however, is the opposite of a blind trust, in which assets are handed to a neutral third party. Trump has also made his children prominent members of his presidential transition team, meaning the same people shaping the next administration are also the ones in charge of growing Trump’s personal wealth.
Late on Thursday, his team also distributed a picture of Ivanka Trump sitting in on a diplomatic meeting. Ivanka is likely to be the next acting CEO of the president-elect’s companies.
The photo, and Ivanka’s presence in the meeting, sends a message: When you deal with Ivanka Trump as a businesswoman in charge of the Trump empire, you also deal with the power of the American presidency. And as Trump is essentially retaining ownership of his empire, her success means profit in his pockets.
Interestingly, interest in Ivanka Trump was also overshadowed by the Hamilton story.
Trump stocked his cabinet with white nationalist figures
On Friday, Trump announced that he had chosen Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as his choice for attorney general and Former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.
When the two join Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and former head of Breitbart news, three of the five selections Trump has made since his election are giveaways to white nationalists.
Flynn has made it clear he sees no distinction between extremist terrorist groups like ISIS and Islam as a religion. In February, he tweeted, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” (emphasis his), which could be the dictionary definition of Islamophobia.
Sessions, meanwhile, was previously denied a federal judgeship because of his history of racist remarks. At the 1986 hearings, testimony about Sessions joking about the KKK being okay except for their drug use and other comments tanked his confirmation.
And while some headlines in the mainstream media have euphamistically described Trump’s picks as “[shadowed]” by a “specter of race,” and “a nod to [his] anti-Washington base,” actual white nationalists and neo-Nazis are celebrating the appointments.
“Basically, we are looking at a Daily Stormer Dream Team in the Trump administration,” wrote Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer on Friday.