The Rockettes will perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration, though not without some performers being very unhappy about it. Time has reported that one expressed concern about being “involved in a dangerous political climate.” Another dancer, Phoebe Pearl, expressed her distress on Instagram:
“I usually don’t use social media to make a political stand, but I feel overwhelmed with emotion. Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential Inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed,” Pearl wrote, according to the Reporter. “The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we’re against is appalling. I am speaking for just myself, but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. We will not be forced! #notmypresident”
Any talk of boycotting this event is invalid, I’m afraid,” an administrator for the American Guild of Variety Artists wrote in an email to the Rockettes, as reported by Broadway World. The owner, James Dolan, also responded in an email to the performers, asserting that politics should be kept out of the workplace:
“This has nothing to do with anyone’s political leanings (including AGVA’s), it has to do with your best performance for your employer, period. I will reiterate that if Hillary Clinton was the President-elect, nothing would be different, and there would probably be those who would not want to be involved because of her. It is a job, and all of you should consider it an honor, no matter who is being sworn in. The election is over and this country will not survive if it remains divided”, Dolan wrote, evoking the “unity” talk being used in various quarters to normalize Trump’s presidency. He concluded, “Everyone is entitled to her own political beliefs, but there is no room for this in the workplace.”
Some of us are always trying to separate certain zones of life from the political. Some assert that business is politics-free; others say it should be kept out of religion. Still others argue that politics and entertainment should not be mixed. Jewish tradition asserts that this compartmentalization is not valid.
In Jewish tradition, there is no site outside of halakha (religious law), not even how one ties one’s shoes. Halakha is in the last analysis the realm of the moral. Morality is, therefore, a domain which has no boundaries, and the political is not other than the moral, however some might wish to paint it so.
No sphere of life is magically free of ethical implications, and no detail is indifferent. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself. It is a silent justification affording evil acceptability in society.”
It is understandable that we crave for a small space where what we do is our concern alone, where we can put down the burden of self-examination, self-restraint, and guilt- some little garden of Eden- but there is no such place in the modern catastrophe, not even in the Rockettes. Dolan is wrong about that, and also wrong about this being a mere matter of “political opinion” — Trump’s presidency, for the thousandth time, is not business as usual. History would look at any performer who refused to play for tyrants and conmen as heroes, and any Rockette who refuses to dance for Trump will be regarded in the same light.
Matthew Gindin is a journalist, educator and freelance writer located in Vancouver, BC. He is the Pacific Correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News, writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Religion Dispatches, Kveller, Situate Magazine, and elsewhere. He also writes on Medium from time to time.