A Bastard, Orphan, Son of a Whore Salvages July 4th…And Maybe America

In just a few hours, a few thousand unmasked cultists will ignore a raging pandemic and, this time,1Last time, they descended on the swing state of Oklahoma, filling a 20,000 person arena to 1/3-capacity while the Tik Tok teens and K-Pop stans caused havoc on their databases. descend on South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore for a Donald Trump-engineered “fireworks” show that experts suggest may have up to a 60% chance of starting a forest fire.

And that is not the only fire Trump threatens tonight. He reportedly intends to stoke his supporters’ already incendiary fervor with inflammatory exhortations about “left-wing mobs” tearing down “our history.” The irony that this spectacle will proceed in South Dakota, a state that is 86% white, upon once-sacred Indian lands obtained under dubious circumstances, will go unheeded.

While Trump tonight delivers this live, extended version of his “white power” tweet, everyone else will be watching Hamilton on Disney+. If you have been spending the last five years touring Confederate monuments, Hamilton is the musical brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote it after reading Ron Chernow’s well-received Hamilton biography.2I have read it as well, and admit to not recognizing its lyrical possibilities. But I do have hopes for Grant. Since Hamilton’s debut, it has commanded massive box office dollars, playing to sell-out crowds purchasing tickets in some cases for thousands of dollars a piece.

I was unfamiliar with Hamilton, outside of a few mentions in the Wall Street Journal, until my theater children began listening to its music on an infinite loop after its opening. Being somewhat familiar with Hamilton’s life (remember, I read the book), it was a curious experience to match the biography to the musical cues. We finally saw Hamilton live in 2017, after which we had the opportunity to go backstage and admire the sets and costumes. Since then, it has been a doorway to impart knowledge to my children. Preparing for history tests often found me saying “Remember in Hamilton when….”

Shortly after Trump’s unlikely election, Hamilton found itself embroiled in controversy when Mike Pence attended the show. As Pence was leaving, the actor who played Aaron Burr that night delivered a message:

Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir.

But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

Four years later, it is more than apparent that no such inspiration was forthcoming. But at the time, Trump weighed in—where else but on Twitter—claiming that Pence had been “harassed” at the theater, which Trump claimed should be a “safe and special place.”

Leave it to a cultural troglodyte like Donald Trump to believe that a theater should be a “safe and special place.” Setting aside the extraordinarily respectful tone of the delivered message (a tone that proved undeserved by future developments), great theater challenges audiences. People should leave questioning their assumptions, not stroking their personal prejudices. This is why, among other things, Trump’s acolytes exhibit poor taste when they cheer his sordid and debased theatricality.

But, in any event, America tonight will once more be reminded about the kinds of places where Trump feels “safe” and “special”—surrounded by adoring, rabid, and most of all, white Americans, as he blusters about history and tradition and other things he knows nothing about. Ideological onanism is bad enough; celebrating it with fireworks is beyond the pale.

While Trump pilots his new prairie-based Confederate revival, the rest of us can take solace in Mr. Miranda’s attempt to fuse America’s complex history with today’s inclusive sensibilities. Americans of good will can disagree as to the merits of any artistic venture, and Hamilton is no different.3To be clear, Hamilton is one of the great musicals of all time, but that debate can be left for another time. But no one—at least no one outside Trump’s white-power orbit—should lack appreciation for Mr. Miranda’s effort to fill the political and moral vacuum Trump and his followers have created by offering a competing vision of both historical and present unification. And all with a hummable beat.

A last observation. In the musical, George Washington explains his retirement to Hamilton by reasoning that “if I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on. It outlives me when I’m gone.” Let’s hope.

One thought on “A Bastard, Orphan, Son of a Whore Salvages July 4th…And Maybe America

  1. Just watched Hamilton tonight. I wondered why so many of the roles were portrayed by African Americans. When reading history, it becomes apparent that Black and White lives have mixed and coincided for centuries. How appropriate to have the roles frankly portrayed by African Americans. I loved it.

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