“I am not throwing away my shot!”
-- Alexander Hamilton in Lin Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’
A good person, a friend of mine really, treated me to a ticket to 'Hamilton,' the musical.
It was the same day Jeff Flake blew up Mitch McConnell’s plan to “plow right through” the Democratic opposition to placing Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. And the country was reeling as my friend and I and his wife drove up Route 24, heading to a night at the musical of all 21st century musicals.
A bit of a confluence of big events, it seemed.
My friend is on the conservative side and I’m, of course, on the liberal; but we’re really not that far off on anything when you come right down to it. It’s all about talking and respect and good will. My life is much the better for knowing him and I hope vice-versa.
Anyway, we’re yukking it up about the Senate hearing as his wife plows through the Friday night traffic and my friend is upset by it all. And I’m upset too but we’re keeping it light, looking for the ways to broach the topics while still hearing what the other person has to say. I’m making sure I say out loud the areas of commonality and that I’m admitting the very legitimate points of the other side.
He’s threatening to dump me off in Stoughton if I get out of control.
Like a lot of the country, my heart was going hard last week as I saw the anguish of both Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh as they laid bare their souls in front of the entire nation. Not that I think either one of them has the complete ownership of the truth. More like I’m sad that these old wounds that lasted 36 years have never been able to be spoken about before, never been able to have be resolved through the long decades.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m every bit as capable of retreating to ‘My side is the right and the other side is wrong,’ as any other partisan. But in the end, on my best days I don’t see where that approach really gets either me or the country.
Anyway, we manage not to brain each other before the start of the play and then we’re in the world of high art and it’s all so familiar.
I’m not remotely capable of capturing how astonishingly good ‘Hamilton’ is. The power choreography and hip-hop, and especially the minority majority cast and Manuel Miranda’s libretto. Let me just say it takes all of this contemporary artistic magic to let you know some time-honored truths about America. Like that we’ve always been a country of high ambition. Like that we’ve always been a country that has been at each other’s throats.
At least Mitch McConnell and Elizabeth Warren haven’t challenged each other to a duel yet.
There’s a few themes in ‘Hamilton’ that resonate especially in these times of my tribe and your tribe. Like Lafayette and Hamilton singing “Immigrants get it done.” Alexander Hamilton, the West Indian son of a woman reduced close to prostitution by poverty, certainly earned his way into the country by his brains and his writing. And even though he invented the American commercial system, he was nonetheless “the other” to much of the American colonials of the time.
And then there’s that famous dinner party at which Thomas Jefferson and James Madison agreed that Hamilton could create a national bank. Many believe Hamilton’s plan made America the financial juggernaut it became. In return for the bank, Jefferson and Madison got Hamilton to agree the nation’s capital could be moved south, where it would become Washington D.C. It was a plan Hamilton’s fellow New Yorkers forever felt sold out by. And to his dying day, Jefferson rued the “unconstitutional” philosophy behind the bank deal (though of course he grudgingly used it himself to get the country on a firm financial footing).
I liked Aaron Burr’s refrain in this segment. “No one else was in/The room where it happened.” Government backroom deals, it seems, did not begin in the late 20th century.
I’d been busy in the newsroom Friday so while we were riding up to ‘Hamilton’ I didn’t know that the early vote to advance Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment had later collapsed when two formerly assaulted women shouted down Sen. Flake in an elevator, and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons broke up crying when talking about Flake’s betrayal of the moderates. I didn’t know that Flake had reversed himself and struck a backroom deal to make his fellow GOPers do a limited FBI investigation.
Backroom deals. Liberals and conservatives at each other’s throats. Not that much has changed in 225 years.
The story of Alexander Hamilton, of course, does not end happily — that misguided 18th century concept of honor involved dueling to preserve your integrity. In the end, Hamilton pulled up on his gun and was shot to death by rival Aaron Burr. Thankfully for America, he’d already used much of his best shot creating the American financial system and writing the Federalist papers, with some of their broad interpretations of the Constitution.
Now, as Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court well shows, we’re still very much fighting about liberal and conservative interpretations of the Constitution. Perhaps more bitterly so than in a number of generations. But hopefully we’re doing it with good conservative or liberal friends. People whom we have confidence have the best interests of our country as a whole at heart. And that one way or the other, the two sides will keep talking to each other enough to somehow, some way make it through these latest of hard American times.