In a letter released Friday morning, 16 of the 17 members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities—a committee chaired, ceremonially at least, by Melania Trump—offered their resignation to protest Donald Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. “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 letter, addressed directly to the president, begins. “The false equivalencies you push cannot stand.”
The letter is endorsed by actor Kal Penn, artist Chuck Close, writer Jhumpa Lahiri, and 13 more members of the PCAH who were convened by Barack Obama. Of the committee’s 17 members, only the director George Wolfe was absent among the signatories—according to Variety, because “he could not be reached this week.”
“Some committee members said that they had expected to resign once Trump took office, but they were asked to stay on by Trump’s team, at least during a transition period,” Variety wrote Friday, but since then, “some members said that they were not sure that the president knew that the group existed.” Melania, for her part, has reportedly been similarly disengaged.
“We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does,” they go on, citing the myriad ways in which Trump has spoken and acted in direct opposition to “the important work”—including his ongoing condemnation of the “vibrant free press,” his reckless statements about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities “while gutting diplomacy funding,” his attack on “our brave trans service members,” and his commitment to banning refugees and Muslims from immigrating to the United States. And that’s just the start. As producer Soledad O’Brien noted on Twitter, the first letter of each paragraph in the resignation spells out “resist”—“Was wondering who was gonna catch that,” Penn responded.
“I wanted to make sure that we were on the right side of American history,” talent manager Eric Ortner, one of the Committee members, told Politico.
The PCAH isn’t the first group of artists to take a stand this week: Earlier on Thursday, dancer Carmen de Lavallade, one of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees and one of the first black ballerinas at the now-disbanded Metropolitan Opera Ballet, declined an invitation to the reception at the White House—though she still plans to attend the official ceremony at the Kennedy Center this winter. She joins Norman Lear in her boycott, while Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan have still not confirmed their attendance (Richie said he is “gonna just play it by ear,” according to Jezebel).
“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” she wrote, the Washington Post reported.
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