Barry Saunders

Boos for Pence at Broadway show are an uncivil act – Saunders

Please tell me we don’t have four more years of this to look forward to.

The people who booed Vice President-elect Mike Pence when he went to see “Hamilton” on Broadway last week may think they struck a blow for freedom, or simply exercised their constitutional right to freedom of expression.

They may even have, upon grabbing a’holt of their favorite social media device after the performance, tweeted out a defiant “I showed him” selfie to their followers.

The only thing their disputatious display of derision for the man who’ll soon be second-in-command showed, in reality, was a lack of home-training.

Regardless of how one feels about Pence or how reprehensible you find his views, respect is owed to the office he’ll hold. Respect is also owed to the people who paid $700 to see “Hamilton.”

The last time I attended a Broadway show was to see “Man of La Mancha,” and a fellow theater-goer offended me as deeply as Pence’s presence offended the boobs who booed. The jackanape seated next to me wore a red fleece North Face jacket – while I was borderline flawless in a black cashmere sportcoat and a pair of full-cut, tailormade, charcoal-gray trousers with a deep drop – and constantly checked his cellphone for messages. He even texted while Don Quixote was singing “The Impossible Dream.”

That, as Blanche Dubois said about something else in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “is the one unforgivable thing.”

It was my home-training – as well as the realization that anyone uncouth enough to wear a fleece jacket to a Broadway show and constantly check his cellphone might be dangerous – that prevented me from asking him if it were an impossible dream to hope he might shove that cellphone up his North Face.

As President Barack Obama said in response to Republican intransigence after he first took office in 2009, elections have consequences. So does sitting out an election because you feel morally superior to one candidate, because the person you favored didn’t get the nomination or because you’re just a lazy bum.

People had an opportunity two weeks ago to express their disapproval of Pence and what they presume he stands for, and too many of them sat it out.

This past summer, after Congresswoman Renee Ellmers publicly called a former political pal-turned-adversary “fat,” I asked Dear Abby if the apparent breakdown of civility we’re witnessing today is related to what’s happening in politics – or if what’s happening in politics is related to what’s become acceptable in society.

“Dear Abby” is Abigail George, who runs an etiquette school in Durham. Who we elect, she said, “is a reflection of our attitudes... These are interesting times, and we’re seeing something very different from what we’ve seen before with our presidential race. As far as there being a link between the breakdown in our culture in regards to etiquette and protocol (and politics) or the lack thereof, I think the frontrunner is a representation of the choice of the people.

“A lot of people are searching for authenticity,” she continued at the time. “The question is, ‘Should we sacrifice being respectful and civil for that desire to have someone honest and authentic?’ 

That question has since been answered, so this time I asked George if it is ever OK to boo an elected official in a public setting.

“The answer to this is no,” she said. “It’s not only disrespectful to the candidate, who should be able to go into public settings and be respected... but it’s also disrespectful to the voters he represents and not to mention whomever he came with... What we saw happen at ‘Hamilton’ resulted in what? A beautiful evening turned sour.”

Right on.

Even booing at a political convention – which I find acceptable because it makes great theater – “is in poor taste,” she said. “What is booing? An attempt to express disapproval. A rude one at that. There are better ways to express your opinion that may actually result in something positive. Letters to candidates, peaceful demonstrations, letters to the editor, and social media are just a few of them.

“There are times and places that we may find ourselves ‘put off’ by someone’s presence,” she said. “Since when did it become OK to humiliate them through rude booing?”


George, who teaches business executives and others how to be appropriate in all social settings, said she thinks it’s appropriate to speak to a public servant “about your opinion – if you can do it respectfully. I think a courteous thing to do is introduce yourself to a candidate and ask if you may ask him a few questions.”

So, if I saw Pence in front of me in line at the Dairy Queen, I could go, “Say, homes. Can you do something about that blinding street light in front of my house?”

That’s fine, apparently, but what if I asked him for a quarter so I could get extra nuts on my Dilly Bar?

In addition to the audience, one of the “Hamilton” cast members addressed the veep-to-be directly from the stage. That’s easy to do when you’re surrounded by likeminded confederates. Far more courageous was what Carol Feraci did in 1972 when at the White House as a member of the as-mainstream-as-you-could-get Ray Coniff Singers – even President Richard Nixon can be heard on tape calling them “kind of square” – she pulled a note that read “Stop the killing” from her evening gown and admonished Nixon to stop bombing in Southeast Asia.

Before that, Eartha Kitt had cornered Lady Bird Johnson at the White House and aired her anti-war views.

Regardless of what one thinks of their tactics or philosophies, both of those women deserve some credit for going straight into the lion’s den to voice their protest. They didn’t boo in the dark at a public event.

If anything, theatergoers should’ve been heartened that Pence, who it wouldn’t surprise me to learn showers with his clothes on, deigned to take in a raucous, hip-hop-based historical play in which the nation’s founding fathers are portrayed by minorities and the title character is a bastard orphan born in the Caribbean who survived a sex scandal but not a duel.

Years ago, after dropping out of college for a semester, my favorite place to hang out in Rockingham was the local library. One day a former high school teacher of mine, Mr. Sanders, saw me sitting at a table reading for fun and, unprompted, came over.

“You’d better be careful,” he said, smiling. “You might learn something.”

Had I been in the audience of “Hamilton,” that’s what I would’ve said to the veep-elect: be careful, homes: you might learn something – about respect for others’ rights, about tolerance, about open-mindedness.

As difficult as tickets are to obtain at any price, Pence probably had to become vice president in order to get on the waiting list.

Regardless of how he came to be there, gratuitous displays of public disaffection are as unappealing as gratuitous displays of public affection. To paraphrase Willy Loman’s wife in “Death of a Salesman,” America’s greatest Broadway play, respect “must be paid” – if not to the man, at least to the office he’ll hold.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9