Broadway and Dead White Men and the Current Race

Once again we have been shut out of the Pulitzer Prizes, a slight we’re starting to take personally, but in looking over the mostly uninspiring list of this year’s winners we were tentatively pleased to note that someone named Lin-Manuel Miranda won the drama award for a big Broadway hit called “Hamilton.” We haven’t yet seen the show, as we’re located way the hell off Broadway and are a few hundred bucks short of the price of a constantly sold-out ticket, but by all accounts and the snippets we’ve seen on YouTube it’s a hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, so we can’t help but love the idea.
Although we aren’t particularly avid aficionados of the hip-hop genre, save for a cherished 12″ 45-rpm copy of The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and De La Soul’s more hippie-than-hip-hop “Three Feet High and Rising” album with the Johnny Cash samples, and a few other albums that mark us as “old school,” we are huge fans of Alexander Hamilton, the most controversial and under-rated of the Founding Fathers, and we think he’d be pleased to know that after all these years he’s a hip-hop star.
The idea seems counter-intuitive at first, given that Hamilton is a Dead White Male and one of the guys who established the Establishment and created Wall Street and was arguably the man most responsible for laissez-faire American capitalism, and would surely be a Republican freaking out over the national debt if he were alive today, which is pretty much the sum of all the fashionable and hip-hoppy left’s bogeymen. On the other hand, he was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean, he did immigrate to New York City to hustle his way into some sweet gigs, he did prove his bad-ass machismo in the Revolutionary War, he did have some undeniable sex scandals, he did wind up getting fatally shot in a duel over a “dis,” and all those bling-laden and soon-to-be-shot rappers obviously aren’t entirely averse to some red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism no matter how often they vote for Democrats, so there’s definitely some hip-hop material there as well. Call it the internal contradictions of anti-capitalism.
Hamilton was also blameless of America’s original sin of slavery, too, as he never owned slaves and was outspoken in his opposition to the practice and contributed generously to abolitionist causes despite having the rather modest income of a scrupulously honest public servant, so there’s no reason that a hip-hopper can’t embrace him, or any reason to think he might refuse that embrace. Given how Hamilton embraced all sorts of good ideas from all sorts of places, even from the English systems of government and economics that he had urged and fought a revolution against, we don’t think he’d at all resent a mostly Black and Latino and Asian cast trying to find the truth of his dead white male self in what was a pretty much all-white moment in American history. When white people avail themselves of the best ideas of other people’s cultures it’s now derided as “cultural appropriation,” which is one of the dumbest ideas that’s come along since Hamilton’s time, but at least the rest of the world can still help itself to the best what of white people have come up with. Call it the internal contradictions of cultural Marxism.
The once-prestitigious Pulitzer Prize is just the latest wet kiss planted on Miranda’s face by what’s left of the cultural establishment, which has already rewarded him with countless glowing reviews and Tony Awards and a reception at the White House where the First Black President admitted he found the whole idea rather counter-intuitive, but of course there’s lately been a backlash. Nobody’s complaining about “cultural appropriation,” yet, but now some are complaining that Hamilton is still a Dead White Male no matter how hip-hoppy his story might might be, and of course others are noting that he failed to end slavery, and at Salon they’re worried the play’s popularity might prevent Hamilton from being kicked off the $10 bill to make room for a woman or better yet a woman of color and maybe even a trans-gendered woman of color. The ethnic and sexual and otherwise diversification of America’s currency could just as easily be accomplished by kicking the slave-owning and Indian-oppressing President Andrew Jackson off the twenty-note, but Jackson was the founder of the Democratic party and plunged his country into the second-worst depression ever by his populist stand against the Central Bank that Hamilton had championed, so Hamilton might have to settle for a Broadway hit and hip-hop hero status.
Sooner or later a roadshow of “Hamilton” will hit Wichita, and we’ll try to scrape the cost of a ticket, which shouldn’t be three figures by the point. We might not like the show, but we like the idea.
One of the most Pulitzer Prizer-worthy reads we’ve come across about Hamilton lately was written by The Weekly Standard’s excellent Noemi Emery, who wondered “What Would Hamilton Do” as she recalled how he swung the presidential election of 1800 to longstanding political enemy Thomas Jefferson, who championed an agrarian and aristocratic notion of individual liberty at odds with his own vision of an urban and classless notion of individual, because the alternative was Aaron Burr. Although Burr’s stated political views were far closer to Hamilton’s than were Jefferson’s, Hamilton’s personal political and professional dealings with Burr in New York City with had convinced him the alternative was “unprincipled both as a public and private man … for or against nothing but as it suits his interests or ambition,” and that “no agreement with him could be relied upon,” and that his presidency “would disgrace our country abroad,” and despite his own admitted failings he went with the flawed man who at least showed some indications of a sense of moral restraint. There was a best-selling novel by left-wing nutcase Gore Vidal about Burr, who luckily escaped two treason trials and shot Hamilton in the most cowardly way, but his life doesn’t offer the same lessons as the flawed but more admirable Hamilton.

— Bud Norman


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