Members Of White House Arts Panel Resign En Masse To Protest Trump

Kal Penn on stage at National Geographic Channel 2015 Winter TCA on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

This post has been updated.

Nearly all of the remaining members of the Presidential Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in protest on Friday, citing President Donald Trump’s failure to fully denounce white supremacists following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Of the 17 remaining members on the council, who were all holdovers from previous administrations, 16 members signed a letter to Trump announcing their resignations and strongly condemning his response to the car attack carried out by an apparent white supremacist that left one woman dead and at least 19 others injured.

“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,” they wrote in the letter. “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 Wind advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions.”

“Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American,” the members added.

Members of the committee who resigned include actor Kal Penn, artist Chuck Close and author Jhumpa Lahiri.

The mass resignations follow the dissolution of two of Trump’s jobs advisory panels, the manufacturing council and the Strategy & Policy Forum, after prominent business leaders spoke out against Trump’s pandering to white nationalists. The disbanding of those panels began when Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier resigned from the manufacturing council and issued a blistering condemnation of Trump. Several CEOs on the council followed suit, and members of the Strategy & Policy Forum privately discussed leaving the panel. As the advisory councils began to fall apart, Trump abruptly announced he was disbanding them himself, in an apparent attempt to prevent further public fallout.

The members of the arts commission decided to resign this week and spent the past few days drafting the letter, according to the Washington Post.

Andrew Weinstein, a lawyer appointed to the committee by former President Barack Obama, told TPM on Friday that Kal Penn reached out to the group this week about quitting in protest. Weinstein also confirmed that the members of the committee purposefully spelled out the word “resist” with the first letter of each paragraph, crediting Penn with that idea.

“For a President who has crossed so many lines, this was just one too many,” Weinstein told TPM of his decision to quit the committee now. “They’re all too many, but this in particular.”

He also noted that he submitted his resignation in January, but that it was never recorded. He said he then agreed to stay on to help the committee finish some work, but since the inauguration, the panel hasn’t heard from the Trump administration at all. The committee made efforts to safeguard certain programs they managed by transferring them to different agencies, but has been mostly inactive this year, Weinstein said.

“We weren’t interacting with the Trump administration,” he told TPM.

The members went beyond Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville violence in their letter, however, criticizing him for attacking the press, threatening arts and humanities funding and pulling out of the Paris climate agreement as well.

“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,” the members concluded. “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 your to resign tour office, too.”

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