Over the past several weeks there has been a lot of coverage related to supposed controversy over the booking of entertainment talent for president elect Trump’s inauguration celebration. The band of Talledega College, a historically black school, encountered widespread criticism after announcing they would perform. Country star Toby Keith was also criticized despite explaining that he has performed for several presidents irrespective of their political party or platform.
Others have been shamed into backtracking from their initial acceptance of the invitation to perform. The Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli backed out of consideration after allegedly saying he was “getting too much heat”. Just a couple days ago, Broadway star Jennifer Holiday also backed out and issued an apology, saying her initial acceptance was an example of a lack of judgment and that her “only choice must now be to stand with the LGBT Community” and not perform.
If reports are to be believed, there have been several others who have refused to participate ranging from Elton John and Adam Lambert to high school marching bands and even individual members of the Rockets and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Before we go on any further, I want to point out that I do not really have a problem with individuals deciding not to participate in the event because they believe their participation would somehow compromise their integrity. I also do not have a problem with those who decided to perform or have done so for previous administrations. This article is not about the politics whatsoever. Rather, what I want to point out is a particular observation of how the interaction between worldview and culture influences the perceived ethical or moral value of the decision itself.
Many who are associated with liberal or progressive agendas are horrified by the thought of Donald Trump taking office as the President of the United States. Several of these performers see performing for Trump as somehow legitimizing the event and would rather use the opportunity to highlight the antithesis between certain values he appears to represent and their own. Many ordinary people who are fans also see the participation of cultural icons, particularly those they identify with, in his inauguration as somehow betraying important values they hold dear.
Frankly, as a Christian there are many things that Mr. Trump appears to represent that I also find quite concerning, but what I find more interesting is the way that these withdrawals and public refusals are being portrayed and responded to. It seems that it is now a virtuous act to stand on principal and refuse to participate in adding the perception of legitimacy to a cause that is morally opposed to liberal and progressive convictions. Those supposedly standing up for their “principals” are praised for their courage and integrity.
What is interesting about this is that the underlying logic has so frequently been denied to Christians whose convictions have run afoul of the quickly changing cultural mores. We have seen the criticism levied at company and charity executives who do not “get with the program” regarding company policies support various progressive agendas. We have seen it with pharmacies who are not comfortable with dispensing drugs to end pregnancies. We have seen it related to doctors who choose not to perform certain procedures and we have seen it with photographers and bakers who choose to not participate in homosexual weddings.
The idea that one should stand upon principal and refuse to participate wherever values would be compromised is something that is increasingly only seen as virtuous if the values are those of the new morality. Indeed, to take similar stands for traditional values is often decried as hateful and even criminal.
For example, it was not long ago the State of Colorado ruled that Masterpiece Cake Shop must supply cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies despite the fact that the proprietor was a devout Christian and felt that to do so would compromise his moral convictions. The court ruled that “his religious objections to the practice did not trump the state's anti-discrimination statutes.” Since the shop sold wedding cakes, they could not refuse a client that wanted to purchase one. Cultural progressives applauded this (and other similar decisions) as a triumph of equality. However, when high end fashion designers Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs refused to design a dress Melania Trump, this logic seemed to disappear.
Although the First Amendment is specifically concerned with political and religious speech, the roar of the crowd is growing stronger by the day. Cultural revolutions are not complete until the new consensus is enforceable through the coercion of the crowd and/or the power of the state. The divisions that this election has highlighted (and perhaps deepened) are complex and varied. Attempts at reducing them to simple explanations are bound to fail. What is clear, however, is that we are seeing more clearly the response of a new and still insecure orthodoxy when it perceives itself to be challenged and the picture is troubling for those who wish to proactively engage the culture but whose convictions are antithetical to its newfound morality.