With a rant that took aim at everyone from President Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Beyonce, all while floating over a sad mosh pit of flabbergasted and furious fans at Golden 1 Center on Saturday night, it’s tough to take Kanye West seriously.
But there’s a larger lesson to be learned from the very existence of the rapper’s bluster, assuming psychiatric issues aren’t to blame. It’s the same lesson the cast of “Hamilton” tried to teach the Trump administration on Friday, and the one delivered week after week by the “Saturday Night Live” cast.
Artists should always feel free and, hopefully, unafraid to say something about people in the highest echelons of politics. When artists feel forced to pipe down, we should all be worried, because the arts are a reality check to those in the echo chambers of power.
President-elect Donald Trump and some of his supporters don’t seem to understand this, which is worrisome. On Saturday, Trump launched into a series of tweets, needlessly defending the honor of his running mate, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, from the cast and crew of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
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“The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” he tweeted, proving his ignorance of the point of the arts. “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
Pence, to his credit, needed no such defending. He arrived on Friday night to a mix of boos and cheers from the attendees of the sold-out show. He later told “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace: “I nudged my kids and reminded them that’s what freedom sounds like.”
As the show ended, actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, read the statement that irked Trump: “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, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”
Pence said he wasn’t offended, but sidestepped a question about creative freedom by adding, “I’ll leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it.”
West wasn’t even close to being that classy, even though psychiatric issues might be to blame. He was rude to his fans, arriving late and performing only a couple of songs. He then launched into a bewildering torrent of supposed “truths,” questioning Obama’s blackness and Clinton’s ability to be relevant. That’s “relevant” like the Saint Pablo Tour he just canceled at a cost of $30 million – and we were gonna let him finish, too.
Obama didn’t respond to West, nor did Clinton. He also didn’t get a response out of then-President George W. Bush in 2005, after he said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a live telethon to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Many presidents have endured skewering by artists. It comes with the territory. Thin-skinned Trump had better get used to it. The arts are something to be celebrated, not controlled.
The show must go on.