Guessing how many Radio City Rockettes will show for the Trump inauguration will be something of a parlor game in the coming weeks.
A sad new day is dawning when such a classic slice of Americana is dragged into the political fray. Members of the famous high-stepping troupe are no longer under orders to perform for the president-elect. The choice to dance or not will be voluntary.
Or so goes the about-face from the Rockettes’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists.
Just before Christmas, members of the Rockettes joined the growing list of professional entertainers who have declined a role in the inaugural festivities for President-elect Donald Trump. Reportedly, a majority of the nearly 100-woman ensemble were repulsed upon learning that management had booked them for the Jan. 20 event.
One Rockette spoke at length with MarieClaire.com, detailing the concerns as a moral question on which the dancers wanted to express solidarity with their many support staff who were demoralized by the Trump campaign rhetoric and misogyny.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — this is a women’s rights issue,” the woman, who was quoted anonymously, said. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics.”
For those valid concerns, the ladies are being painted as petulant, hyper-liberal whiners who can’t get over the election results.
Nope. This is a workplace issue. The 13 full-time dancers in the Rockettes, in particular, know their jobs may be on the line if they refuse to perform.
For the rest of us, this saga is a taste of the next four years. When and how will it be appropriate or pragmatic to react to the latest Trump offense or to recall the heinous rhetoric of his campaign?
A tenor of the Trump administration is already on full display. His crazy becomes the norm that everyone else accepts. There appears to be little other choice. If you work in government, or in a business that deals with government, you will ultimately have to answer to Trump. And the only realistic check on his power, Congress and the courts, are dominated by Republicans who have zero or unknown inclination (respectively) to exercise it.
Thus, many Americans are behaving like families do around a member who is a volatile alcoholic or addict. They walk on eggshells, lest they ignite unwanted fury. Better just learn to live amid the dysfunction, they decide.
The problem is it tends to make people complicit, co-dependent.
We see a parade of business, military and political leaders march into Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago to genuflect before the gilded one. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Apple have been represented, along with past political rivals. Other industry giants, like Bill Gates, have apparently spoken with Trump by phone.
You can’t fault them for trying to take a measure of the man, or for trying to fill the empty vessel that he is with some of the understanding he will need to lead the nation. At times he seems to be listening, giving hints that he’s open to persuasion on issues of high importance such as climate change, the environment and torture as a tool of war.
But what one suspects their audiences with Trump are all about is flattering him, getting a good word in, kissing his ring, because the man will do as he pleases.
The Rockettes drama may seem trivial compared with the other items of the news cycle. Yet this may turn out to be an object lesson about preserving our core democratic values in the face of power. The office of the presidency is due respect, but we must also demand respect for everyone the incoming president maligned to get elected: women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants. Maybe it takes a chorus line to remind us.
Trump’s disgusting behavior and attitudes toward women are beyond disputable — his own words indict him. Need a reminder? Here are three: his demeaning talk of grabbing women’s private parts, his gross verbal assaults on female newscasters and entertainers who challenged him and his bragging about walking in on undressed teenaged beauty contestants.
His behavior is the very pattern and practice of sexism. No sane human resources director would countenance compelling a female employee to work for such a man. And yet the Rockettes are expected to dance.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes,” one dancer wrote in an email to her colleagues, according to MarieClaire.com.
Thank you, ladies. Without even stepping on stage, you offered a well-timed reminder of one of the major challenges we face in the coming four years: ensuring dignity for all.
The applause is deservedly yours.