Sixteen members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities have resigned over the president’s recent comments defending participants in the Unite the Right Charlottesville, Virginia, in which he said “some very fine people” had marched alongside white supremacists and again assigned partial blame for the violence that broke out to counter-protesters. In a letter posted on Friday by actor and committee member Kal Penn, all but one of the committee’s private members announced their resignation, stating that “reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.”
Playwright George C. Wolfe, the only member of the committee whose name is not signed to the letter, reportedly also supports the decision:
In addition to Trump’s Charlottesville comments, the letter also addresses other actions the president has taken while in office, including his Muslim-targeted travel ban, his many attacks on the press, his proposed ban on trans service members, and his budget proposal from earlier this year, which would have eliminated the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and other related agencies. “We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions,” they wrote. As Steve Vladeck points out on Twitter, if you add together the first letter of each paragraph in the statement, they spell out RESIST.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, created in 1982 under Ronald Reagan, acts as a cultural advisory committee to the president. As First Lady, Melania Trump is the committee’s honorary chair, but none of the current members were appointed by Trump, having held their positions since before he took office.
Trump was also forced to disband his American Manufacturing Council and his Strategy and Policy Forum this week as CEOs fled both advisory boards after Trump’s Charlottesville comments. Meanwhile, two of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees, Norman Lear and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, have said they will skip this year’s White House ceremony, and Lionel Richie has said he is considering doing the same.
The full text of the resignation letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions. We are members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The Committee was created in 1982 under President Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues. We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does with your federal partners and the private sector to address, initiate, and support key policies and programs in the arts and humanities for all Americans. Effective immediately, please accept our resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American. We have fought slavery, segregation, and internment. We must learn from our rich and often painful history. The unified fabric of America is made by patriotic individuals from backgrounds as vast as the nation is strong. In our service to the American people, we have experienced this first-hand as we traveled and built the Turnaround Arts education program, now in many urban and rural schools across the country from Florida to Wisconsin.
Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. The Administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act, and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country. This does not unify the nation we all love. We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and culture delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections we enjoy here. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.
Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.
Howard L. Gottlieb
Kalpen Modi (Kal Penn)
Jill Cooper Udall
John Lloyd Young