Artistic expression, a common proxy battlefield of partisan passion, is once again the center of a conflict that threatens to tear civil discourse asunder.
Late last year, President-elect Donald Trump and many of his supporters were outraged when the cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton,” disturbed by and concerned with the inflammatory and derogatory rhetoric that dominated the Trump campaign, implored Vice President-elect Mike Pence to “defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”
On a similar thread, earlier this year, comedian Kathy Griffin sparked a national furor after tastelessly posing with a mock-severed head of President Trump (a lá ISIS). It faced harsh criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, especially piqued the rage of Republicans.
Now, a Donald Trump-inspired Central Park interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which enacted the gruesome slaying of a red-tied Trump look-alike, is the latest target of Republican ire.
The stakes raised after James Hodgkinson, a Trump-hating, Bernie Sanders volunteer, opened fire on Republican members of Congress. Many right-wingers are decrying “Caesar,” claiming the production and the preceding escalation of hateful liberal rhetoric have spawned a culture where violence against Republicans has become acceptable.
They claim that the depiction of the assassination of a sitting President, even when it is part of a timeless Shakespearean tragedy, allows violence to seep into the national consciousness. Stoking the left’s id, as the line of thought goes, opens the door to further bloodshed. In other words, as protestors of the performance hollered, “Liberal hate kills.”
In and of itself, the play provides a validation of and catharsis for the fears of the many New Yorkers — and by extension, Americans — who rightfully feel threatened by a Trump presidency.
However, it is distressing and awful that many take pleasure when their president is, for all intents and purposes, stabbed in effigy. That particular aspect of the play serves no constructive societal purpose and only widens the already yawning chasm between right and left.
But “Julius Caesar” is more than just a stabbing. On a personal level, it explores jealousy, misguided suspicion, and heart-wrenching betrayal; on a macro level, it explores devotion to country and the dreadful effects of an ill-conceived coup.
It is on that level that many Republicans are missing the forest for the trees.
Yes, it is distasteful that this rendition of “Caesar” appears to depict the assassination of President Trump. However, in the play, the Roman Republic is torn apart by infighting after Caesar’s death. This indicates that if a Democrat-led impeachment attempt of Trump is analogous to the slaying of Caesar, such an effort would hurt our nation, not help it.
After all, can one argue that the result of the play — two of the primary co-conspirators dead, and death and sorrow on the minds of all survivors — is somehow better than the peaceful tension that Caesar presided over?
Barring any damning revelations of new evidence, impeaching Trump and removing him from office would ignite a fire under many Americans — those distrustful of the media and disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises of Beltway politicians — which no amount of reasoning could extinguish. Trump’s impeachment would be seen as a Liberal coup, an affirmation of the Middle American fear that the whole political system is rigged against them, that their voices don’t matter at all.
At the very least, it would forever sow mistrust in the American political system. At the most, it could arouse rebellion.
So, in effect, the overall plot of “Julius Caesar” serves as a warning: the removal of Donald Trump from the office of the presidency through impeachment could have ghastly unintended consequences.
Democrats and never-Trumpers should take heed of that hidden lesson if they want to defend the very same institutions they claim President Trump blatantly disregards.
If they want Trump firmly out of office and staunchly value the preservation of the structure of our great nation, the ballot box of 2020 is the way to go — not the impeachment vote of 2018.
There is a reason elections provide for the peaceful transfer of power. If this nation is going to persist, they must continue to serve their purpose as the arbiter of the voter’s will, and must not be rendered obsolete by a miscarriage of partisanship, no matter how well-meaning.
That is the real lesson “Julius Caesar” dispenses.