In the glow of his election victory Nov. 8, after months of a foul and bitter campaign, Donald Trump invoked a familiar and reassuring message. “Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division,” he said. “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.” It was important for the nation, too.
Over the weekend, Trump grew infuriated when the cast of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” delivered a message aloud to Vice President-elect Mike Pence after curtain call, appealing to the new administration to be inclusive. Actor Brandon Victor Dixon implored Pence to “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
This was similar to the message of Trump’s own victory speech, but the president-elect took umbrage. On Twitter, he erupted, saying that the vice president-elect had been “harassed,” the cast had been “very rude,” that they should “Apologize!” and “immediately apologize” for “their terrible behavior.”
Then, on Sunday morning, Trump tweeted angrily about a satire of him on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” “It is a totally one-sided, biased show — nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” He also has used Twitter to attack the New York Times.
These kind of outbursts helped fuel Trump’s political rise; he has always been thin-skinned and prone to rapid-fire insults. But there is something new and deeply worrisome about the weekend’s tweet storm: Trump is soon to be president of the United States. His words matter.
What is so disturbing here is not just Trump’s hotheaded Twitter habits, but rather his casual disregard for freedom of expression and visceral intolerance of criticism. In his campaign, he regularly insulted journalists and sometimes leveled threats of retaliation. Now that he is president-elect, his complaints can no longer be dismissed as cranky late-night ramblings. And it is doubly disturbing that Trump can find more time to rebuke legitimate satire — but not the hateful speech being wielded, often in his name, at white-nationalist forums and other venues across the country.
Trump’s weekend tweets carried a tone of intimidation unfit for the presidency. The actor’s message and the television satire were examples of free expression. Whether Trump thinks they were rude or not funny is not relevant. He must embrace what it means to be president of all U.S. citizens: showing tolerance toward those who criticize him, now and for years to come.
Pence, who was greeted by a smattering of boos as he entered the theater, got it right when he said later, “I nudged my kids and reminded them that’s what freedom sounds like.”