This month, three conservative protesters rushed onto a New York City theatre stage—and briefly into the national spotlight—enraged by the mock-execution of a character dressed to look like Trump. As a New Yorker fond of civilization I was alarmed at this barbaric behavior because this is how cultures unravel.
Frankly, this is a bad indicator of the current state of conservatism. These were not leftist hooligans barging onstage to disrupt the Central Park performance of Julius Caesar. They were pro-Trump right-wingers: Laura Loomer on June 16, and Javanni Valle, with special guest star Salvatore Cipolla on June 18.
Just last month, Valle (a.k.a. Jovi Val) was a self-proclaimed patriot counter-protester down in Union Square, where loud-mouthed protesters belong, opposing a left-wing May Day rally. That I applaud. But I do not applaud thinking one’s political rage overrides Shakespeare in the Park’s right to control property. Nor, if the likes of Loomer and Valle want to look beyond legality to broader morals for guidance, do I applaud forgetting the long-standing etiquette rule that requires keeping one’s mouth shut while other people are enjoying a performance.
One might naively contend that this was a special, rare occasion for protest, a necessary response to the faux-assassination of a very Trump-like Julius Caesar in the play’s anachronistic setting. Once respect for the Bard gives way to letting the groundlings run amok onstage, though, there is no telling where such behavior will lead. This fear seems all the more warranted given that a few troglodytic right-wingers have followed up the Loomer/Valle protests with angry pro-Trump letters sent to random theatres with “Shakespeare” in their names, reports the Boston Globe.
Even if angry protestors are a bit more focused than that and restrict themselves to denouncing plays that flirt with tastelessness by setting old plays in politically-startling new environments, they’re going to be very busy people. As I wrote years ago in a footnote in a book by the comedic Reduced Shakespeare Company, every time you turn around in New York City, someone’s mounting an anachronistic, experimental play in which, say, Oedipus gouges his eyes out with ice cream scoops in a 1950s malt shop. I defend people’s right to do that as ardently as I defend their right to engage in “cultural appropriation” or un-PC stand-up comedy. Experiment once in awhile.
If instead you’re trying so hard to conserve your culture that you attack your culture’s noblest expressions, you’ve become some sort of political reductio. Reductio is not a Shakespeare character, by the way.
If rushing the stage is what “populism” looks like, it’s no friend to civilization. If this is what “conservatism” now looks like, it may be time to ditch that philosophy, too. (I say this as a conservative of sorts, or at least a libertarian—technically an anarcho-capitalist, though influenced by various parts of the political spectrum over the years.) That’s sad, since the left has lately made it so easy for others to seize the moral high ground.
The high ground won’t be seized by people as culturally tone-deaf as Loomer, though. Mere weeks ago, much of the country was aghast at comedian Kathy Griffin holding a fake bloody Trump head. Now, real audience members have to live in fear of other morons wanting to disrupt performances to get their fifteen seconds in the spotlight.
You’d think Loomer might have gotten it out of her system six days earlier, when she threw a burqa over the Fearless Girl statue down near Wall Street. That protest, too, seems like a logical misfire. A statue that had been widely mocked for being implicitly anti-capitalist was briefly transformed by Loomer into an object of sympathy beset by implied religious fundamentalists. What better testament to the statue’s symbolic flexibility and power? The artist must be delighted.
It’s ironic. Trump was condemned as an embodiment of “New York values”—presumably liberal and urban ones—by rival Ted Cruz during last year’s Republican presidential primary. Yet now Trump is described as the great hope of populists and paleoconservatives, though they in theory lean rural and traditionalistic. When you see something like the disruption of Julius Caesar, though, cheered on by Trump supporters, you have to wonder where dwell the savages. Maybe Trumpers should be more like Manhattanites, if they really want to preserve society.
Believe me, I grew up in a rural area, even spending much of my time on a farm, and I’ve been complaining about Ivy League and Manhattan elitism frequently ever since. But if you hicks start rushing my theatre stage, I might just have to look with new fondness upon snootiness and the civility that often goes with it. Don’t force this conclusion upon me, Trumpers. Rise above.
To be honest, I slightly preferred Cruz to Trump for at least a few fleeting weeks of the strange primaries last year and thought Cruz was probably correct to see Trump as too crude, too decadent, and insufficiently conservative. The past year or so has proven, though, how ardently constituents will rally around any leader or policy once it becomes “theirs,” even if doing so demands shocking flexibility in their stated principles. Tribal instinct takes over, contradictions notwithstanding. I honestly can’t keep track of who opposes what/whom anymore, and I’m ostensibly a professional political writer. (I may just have to hate everyone now.)
But this much I know: in a city as uncivil as this one, where a terrorist gets to ride on a Puerto Rican Day parade float and a public school event features a drag performance for five-year-olds, it really shouldn’t be the conservatives who end up setting a bad etiquette example and dragging down discourse. There have been forty-five-minute delays on the subway here lately. Instead of attacking Shakespeare, how about getting back to attacking government inefficiency and promoting ideas like privatization?
That’s the sort of political conversation I still recall conservatives having. It seems like only yesterday, and conservatives are supposed to have long memories—long enough to respect 400-year-old theatre productions. Or do we only applaud the groundlings now?