Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why Sally Yates, Colin Kaepernick and the Hamilton Cast Were Wrong


“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn't feel like it.”
Alistair Cooke (British-American journalist)

First, I want to be clear that I am aligned with the causes that each of these individuals felt the need to protest, but completely disagree with the manner in which each chose to do it. Their actions showed a lack of maturity, social decorum and professionalism, and these things have never been more important than now, when we have a President who completely ignores them.

I would like to discuss each individual event and the reasons for my disagreement because each one pertains to a different, but important, point.


First, I applaud that a cast member tried to dissuade the audience from booing, and stated that this was not a personal repudiation, but a plea for diversity and inclusiveness.

Two, Mr. Pence deserves credit for waiting in the wings to listen to their message and later adding that he was not offended as a supporter of free speech, but that he would leave to others whether that was the appropriate venue to say it.” (Source: Washington Post).

Now to my point of disagreement: there was an argument thrown around in the mainstream media, in the cast’s defense, saying that theater has historically been a venue for protest and dissent. This is true; but it conveniently ignores one vital fact – that protest has always transpired between the curtain’s rise and fall and not after the performance has ended.

Shakespeare often used his art as a powerful weapon for dissent, but always constrained his message within the substance and subject of his play. I am not aware of a single instance in which he or his cast showed up after curtain call to give the Queen or King of England a lecture.

The cast also failed to respect the fact that Mr. Pence was there as a private citizen, accompanied by his niece and nephew, and not his capacity as an elected official. This was not the time or place to raise their protest.

I have similar issue with the way in which Sally Yates (the acting Attorney General) behaved.

To be clear, I fully agree with Ms. Yates stance against President Trump’s ill-conceived travel ban and do not believe such a ban will help make America safer. My issue is with the way in which she took action. The professional thing for her to do would have been to resign on moral grounds.

Ms. Yates admits as much in her internal letter. She states that the legality of the order was not in question; it was cleared by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), whose job is to rule on legality. She goes on to say that her main issue was a moral one, driven by “…statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just.” (Source: “Letter from SallyYates” via NYTimes).

Ms. Yates had every right to protest the order by resigning, but it was reckless of her to refuse to fulfil her job responsibilities. More worryingly, she signalled to all Justice Department staff that they too were free to disobey direct orders from the President based on personal whim, rather than compel them to always act professionally and follow the correct channels and protocols when in disagreement.

Morality is a grey area and that is why in a professional setting such behaviour sets a dangerous precedent. We must consider the flip side of government employees taking unilateral action. For the short period that President Trump’s travel ban was in effect, there were reports of US Customs agents detaining people not covered under the order. Like Ms. Yates, these men and women also justified their unprofessional behaviour as a moral obligation to protect the nation.

For this reason we must never defend Ms. Yates actions, or those of the rogue customs agents; both failed to live up to the level of the professionalism we must demand of all elected and non-elected officials. In a democracy we must always use the courts and the many other systems of checks and balances we have to fight when we disagree, but must never circumvent them or make exceptions (even when we are right) because this is exactly how civilised societies collapse.

This brings me to Colin Kaepernick. I care deeply about the cause he has been protesting and have researched and written about the gross inequality that exists between Blacks and Whites in America, even today, one hundred and fifty plus years after slavery was abolished.

Kaepernick is fighting to bring awareness to an important issue, but his chosen method serves to alienate and divide people because he has gone about it in a wrong-headed fashion. The issue for me is not whether he is disrespecting the flag or people who served, but that his actions were unprofessional.

When Kaepernick and his fellow players put on their uniforms, they cease being private citizens and become professional representatives of an organisation, who are being paid a salary to perform a job. Sports fields and offices are not places for personal protests and must never be used as such, no matter how worthy the cause.

Just imagine if everyone decided to take the same liberty and start using the professional environment to protest personal causes.

That said, there is nothing stopping Kaepernick from using his off-field celebrity to raise awareness for this cause. He can and should use his star power to gather support and get people involved in finding solutions, but never feel like he has a right to do it while wearing the uniform, or at the office, where he is just one member of a team of professionals.

And we must never justify or condone someone’s actions based on the weight of their cause or our agreement with it. What is at issue in all these instances is not the moral weight of the cause, but the preservation of the rules that govern and protect our way of life. 
Adherence to these rules is solely what underpins the health of a free society. For democracy to thrive everyone needs to respect the rules and maintain a level of professional decorum.

At a time when we have a man who ignores all of these rules, occupying the highest office in the land, it is even more important that we set the example for our children and lead the way, never lowering ours principles or high standards. 

The future of American democracy depends on it.

3 comments:

  1. It's hard to strive for higher standards when the one in charge has debunked all professional and ethical standards. But just as other past presidents who have created imaginative theories to favor their oppinions and needs, so too must the people commit to higher standards and hold others accountable, even the fearless leader. As for the future of America, well it just like it's always been, how to manipulate power and as we have seen in our last election, no on in power wants to loose their stakes in the contest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's hard to strive for higher standards when the one in charge has debunked all professional and ethical standards. But just as other past presidents who have created imaginative theories to favor their oppinions and needs, so too must the people commit to higher standards and hold others accountable, even the fearless leader. As for the future of America, well it just like it's always been, how to manipulate power and as we have seen in our last election, no on in power wants to loose their stakes in the contest.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's hard to strive for higher standards when the one in charge has debunked all professional and ethical standards. But just as other past presidents who have created imaginative theories to favor their oppinions and needs, so too must the people commit to higher standards and hold others accountable, even the fearless leader. As for the future of America, well it just like it's always been, how to manipulate power and as we have seen in our last election, no on in power wants to loose their stakes in the contest.

    ReplyDelete