Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Attack On The Queer Community – And How To Survive It

"Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says."
(L to R) Vice president-elect Mike Pence and president-elect Donald Trump on November 20, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey.
(L to R) Vice president-elect Mike Pence and president-elect Donald Trump on November 20, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey.
Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Make no mistake, Donald Trump sent a warning to the queer community (and other communities expressing dissent) over the weekend, launching an authoritarian attack on Twitter. As I wrote last week, pay no mind to his word-games in interviews, like his claim on “60 Minutes” that marriage equality is “settled,” and believe instead what he has said of his actual positions ― sometimes blurted out impulsively― and the promises he’s made to opponents of LGBTQ equality.

I don’t believe, as some have suggested, that Trump fired angry missives at the cast of “Hamilton” ― or “Saturday Night Live” or the protestors who rose up after the election ― because he was trying to distract from some other big stories, namely his having caved on the Trump University suit, shelling out 25 million dollars, and the dangerous conflicts presented by his having a business empire that spans the globe.

These are important stories, but if much of media isn’t covering them in addition to others ― nor playing them as big as they should be ― that is on our lousy corporate media, which seems to have already forgotten that Stephen Bannon is a white nationalist and Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions made racist remarks but now will be charged with protecting civil rights as attorney general.

It is giving Trump too much credit to say that he throws out crazy Twitter taunts as part of a strategy to distract. Much of the media could walk and chew gum at the same time if it wanted to do so ― and on occasion actually does, and many did so in this case. No, Trump does these things for the same reason he has throughout the campaign: He is recklessly impulsive, highly unstable and angry. Even as his advisors probably try to stop him, he often can’t be controlled nor help himself. He is driven by revenge and is intent on making threats against those who dared to speak out against him. It’s what he did to the Khan family for days, and it’s what he did to beauty queen Alicia Machado, also for days on end, events that cost him ― though obviously didn’t cost him the election in the long run.

Whether or not these outbursts will cost him as president remains to be seen, but they are exactly what they seem: impulsive blasts from an authoritarian who demands everyone bow to his feet.

The “Hamilton” eruption in particular, in which Trump demanded an apology from the cast, was directed in part at the queer community. The Broadway theater world has been a gay space forever, and the boos that came at Mike Pence as he entered the theater were directed at a man who has been an ardent homophobe, had tried to stop LGBTQ rights at every turn and promoted “conversion therapy.” He is a man who, as I explained last week, will be in charge of much of the day-to-day running of a presidential administration, likely halting or even rolling back LGBTQ rights during Trump administration.

Now here he is, coming to the New York theater, a space where we have historically found a home ― along with Jews, blacks and others ― and he wanted respect? (I know it’s speculation, but my instincts tell me that the cheers came from Midwestern tourists –- who are among those whose money keeps Broadway thriving ― who scored tickets to the show on their trip to New York.)

Boos – and cheers – from a crowd in public directed at a public figure are democracy in action, and guaranteed by the First Amendment. Pence – who was booed at a baseball game in his home state of Indiana last April ― even acknowledged this the next day, telling Chris Wallace of Fox News that he “wasn’t offended.” President Obama was booed at public events and was even shouted down by a member of Congress as he gave the state of the union. He did not send out tweets chastising people or demanding an apology, as Donald Trump did.

Furthermore, what Trump actually did was attack the cast of the show – not the booing crowd – which delivered a respectful, heartfelt message to Pence at then end of the show, which included these words:

We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out. Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at “Hamilton American Musical,” we really do. 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... Again, we truly thank you for [inaudible] this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women, of different colors, creeds and orientations.”

The reference to “orientations” was part of the message to Pence from the theater community about his brutal attacks on LGBTQ people.

In response, Trump tweeted:

Before Trump’s tweets ― and even before news of the cast’s message had surfaced ― there was strong criticism on Twitter of New York Times political reporter Maggie Haberman, after she tweeted that the booing was “disrespectful” of the vice president-elect.

(This is the same Haberman, by the way, who laughed mockingly on ABC’s “This Week” back in May when Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison warned that Trump could win the GOP nomination.) She was quickly rebutted by gay commentators and others who pointed out that, not unlike in the past, she was being tone deaf to the gay community. What she was also being was overly generous to the incoming Trump administration, something we’ve seen the Times and much of the TV media doing in recent days.

There’s a constant, hopeful portrayal since the election of Trump as “moderating” or becoming like a normal president. Then he does something crazy and they’re forced to pull it back. Even the Times’ coverage of the Hamilton incident stated that Trump issued a “surprisingly sharp rebuke.” What was surprising? This was the same Trump they’d covered for over a year. Don’t they know him by now?

That brings me to Masha Gessen, an expert author and commentator on Putin and Russia, and a Russian immigrant and lesbian I’ve known for many years, having worked with her at the pioneering LGBTQ weekly magazine, Outweek, 25 years ago. She wrote a piece for the New York Review of Books that is a must-read: “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” You should read the whole thing, but apropos of the “Hamilton” controversy, just some snippets:

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement...”

...Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality....

...Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself...”

So, believe what Trump is saying and dong, as he demonizes and targets groups. Don’t fall for those in the media and elsewhere who try to normalize him. And be prepared for the fight.

So believe what Trump is saying and doing, as he demonizes and targets groups. Don’t fall for those in the media and elsewhere who try to normalize him. And be prepared for the fight.

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