Hypocrisy Abounds As Conservatives Whine About Trump-ish Julius Caesar (TWEETS)

When you think of parodies of Donald Trump, the first person who comes to mind is Alec Baldwin and his epic send-ups of the Donald on “Saturday Night Live.” But another parody of Trump has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. This summer, New York’s Public Theater is performing a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”–with a title character that looks a lot like Trump. Those similarities recently generated a firestorm of wingnut outrage that has sent at least two sponsors running for the exits. But upon closer analysis, that outrage is terribly misplaced.

The Public began previewing its version of “Julius Caesar” on May 23 at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, with Gregg Henry as the title character. Henry’s Caesar appears in a reddish-blond wig, and usually wears a navy suit with an American flag pin. Any doubt that the Public was taking a jab at the First Family is eliminated with how Tina Benko plays Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia. Her version is a nattily-dressed woman with a Central European accent–an obvious play on Melania.

The preview went on without incident until last Tuesday, when Laura Shaeffer, a producer with right-leaning radio owner Salem Media, dropped by “SNL” alumnus Joe Piscopo’s radio show on WNYM in New York to discuss what she saw at a Saturday performance. When several Senators stabbed Caesar/Trump, Shaeffer thought it was “shocking and distasteful.” She believed she’d just witnessed “the on-stage murder of the president of the United States,” and thought it sent the message that it was okay to kill a president if you don’t agree with him.

Breitbart quickly picked up the story, claiming the Public was taking a page from Kathy Griffin’s mock beheading of Trump a week earlier. Trumpland took it as a call to arms.

However, the right-wing outrage really boiled over on Sunday, when Fox News ran a story on the “disgusting” portrayal of Trump’s apparent assassination. Within minutes, the First Family’s de facto attack dog, Donald Trump, Jr. rushed out with a burning statement on Twitter condemning the play.

Considering that this play had been in previews within a mere stone’s throw of Trump Tower for almost two weeks, Donald, Jr.’s outrage is just a little bit misplaced.

By Sunday afternoon, Delta Air Lines, one of the Public’s longest-standing sponsors, announced it was cutting ties with the theater.

Hours later, Bank of America pulled its support of the play, though it maintained its overall partnership with the Public.

One would have thought that there were people in Delta and Bank of America’s PR departments who have read Shakespeare. After all, anyone who knows anything about Shakespeare would know that “Julius Caesar” doesn’t advocate assassination. Quite the contrary–it is a warning to anyone who thinks about resorting to undemocratic means in the name of saving democracy. Shakespeare portrays Caesar’s murder by Brutus and his cohorts as a colossal blunder, even if their intentions may have been good on paper. The Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, wrote a note underscoring this, saying, “To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.”

Indeed, as anyone who has taken high school English knows, Marc Antony uses his eulogy to turn the Roman people against the plotters. He and Octavian–soon to become the first “official” Roman emperor–begin rubbing out their enemies, and the plotters are ultimately forced to run for their lives and commit suicide. Indeed, in his review of the play, The New York Times’ Jesse Green concluded that “even a cursory reading of the play” could not possibly suggest it was calling for Trump’s murder.

But even without that to consider, there is a long history of Shakespearean rulers being portrayed as contemporary politicians. In 2012, for instance, Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater teamed up with the Acting Company to present a Caesar that bore a striking resemblance to Obama. Delta sponsored that tour, and continued its sponsorship for the entire season. Additionally, Delta didn’t bat an eyelash when an Obama-like character was blown up in the 2015 movie “Kingsman.”

All things considered, it’s hard not to conclude that this play was the victim of some spectacularly bad timing. Remember, Griffin’s beheading stunt took place just two weeks ago. That doesn’t make the reaction any less ignorant, though. It looks like lot of people slept through ninth-grade English literature.

The Public’s version of “Caesar” formally premiered on Monday night. Eustis took the stage to address the crowd before the show started.

Eustis said that this show was intended to uphold the Public’s mission–that “art has something to say about the great civic issues of our time.” Truer words were never spoken.

Send the Public some love here. They’re going to need it. You can also stand with the Public with the hashtag “#WeArePublic.”

(featured image courtesy Playbill’s Twitter)

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.