2018-03-15 – Tweets are not the only way to over-communicate with great political (and self-destructive) effect. Once it took 140,000 characters to move a nation—or spill the beans on a sex scandal. And all those characters were written with a quill pen. The pen belonged to Alexander Hamilton. (Take note, Parkland students. Hamilton was only 21 when he joined the American Revolution.)
Last night was Kit’s and my night to see the Broadway-in-Chicago musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was a great night.
If you didn’t know the history of this musical, or the history behind it, you might think that is a satire of the current moment in American history. But Hamilton opened Off-Broadway four months before Donald Trump declared his candidacy in 2015. The book Alexander Hamilton, upon which the musical is based, came out in 2004. And the life, upon which the book and musical are based, came to an end more than 200 years ago.
Donald Trump is not original. He combines the objectionable characteristics of many of the founding fathers. The impulsiveness and adultery of Hamilton and his almost single-handed destruction of his own party. The opportunistic waffling on the issues of the day characteristic of Aaron Burr. John Adams’ hatred of immigrants. Jefferson’s draft dodging and his blind support for a foreign power even as it murders political opponents (Jefferson supported revolutionary France). Jefferson’s and Madison’s support for slavery and their use of character assassination to sink a political opponent.
The hopefulness of the Hamilton story is that, if we survived the turmoil and chaos of the early United States of American, we ought to be able to survive anything. They were worse than we are! (And the musical only gives a taste of this. Read the book!)
George Washington comes off as a hero. The story of our founding, in the eyes of Hamilton, is the story of two separations: first, was our separation from King George of England; second, was our separation from the hero of the revolution, George Washington. King George, in the musical, didn’t get it that George Washington was voluntarily “yielding his power stepping away.” He “wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.” But Washington’s courageous action is what made America America.
The story of Hamilton spans the three decades of Hamilton’s rise (and fall), from his impoverished birth on the island of Nevis in the West Indies, to his arrival in New York on the eve of the American Revolution, to his selection as George Washington’s right-hand man, to his leading of troops in the final battle of the war, to his writing of the Federalist Papers to support the adoption of the Constitution, to his selection as Treasury Secretary in the Washington Administration where he almost single-handedly created the financial system of the country, to Washington’s farewell and the Adams and Jefferson administrations.
At the same time, Hamilton is a story of his friendships and his loves, including illicit loves, and his growing sense of family. All told in dance and song. Hamilton is a classic tragedy: a flawed character accomplished great things but, in the end, is brought down by his flaw.
In it we also learn why Congress took guns away from the politicians. (Spoiler alert: Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.) Just kidding about Congress doing anything.
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