Today the Tulsa World published an Opinion piece by me that I called “Hamilton Summer.” A Summer of deep-diving into the history and scholarship of the musical “Hamilton” made me think about how hard (and fragile) American democracy is.
You can read the Tulsa World article here.
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One comment on ““I hate to toot my own horn, but…beep-beep.””
If you’re from elsewhere and can’t see past the Tulsa World paywall, here’s the article:
As 2020’s COVID Summer winds down, around our house it also signals the end of “Hamilton Summer.” When Disney’s streaming service announced they’d be releasing the 2016 original Broadway cast production of “Hamilton” on July 3rd, it was marked on calendars.
My 14-year-old has been a Hamilton fan for quite a while, along with most of her friends, learning the songs and the raps, and as a family, we’ve been dragged along into it. All Summer, the most innocuous statements like “Take a break” have become song cues, and the soundtrack has been on heavy rotation in the car.
It’s warmed my old, Civics class-inspired heart to see so many young people learning the stories of our struggle for independence and the beginnings of the American Experiment. It’s spawned a lot of teaching moments in our house, from watching the 3-part History Channel documentary on George Washington, learning about the birth of America’s two-party system, exploring lyrics that use lines from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” and even diving deep into some of Lin Manuel Miranda’s rap callouts from Biggie Smalls and Grandmaster Flash.
I didn’t know it at the time, but we’ve been running a master class all summer.
In the process, it’s made me realize all over again what a fragile thing American democracy is. How from the very beginning people’s understanding of the issues was shaped by hundreds of colonial newspaper articles – some by the likes of men like Alexander Hamilton as well as pamphlets by Thomas Paine. The written word, consumed by literate and well-intentioned citizens, was as important to the creation of the United States as the sword and the musket ball.
It hasn’t always been a smooth progression. Over 240+ years our country has swung from liberalism to reactionary leadership and back with sometimes unpredictable and dangerous swings.
The part of Hamilton that covers the 1800 Presidential election made us go look up that contest – how it was a campaign that would look familiar to us now, with name-calling and threats: if the other party won it would be the end of our nation. In the musical, the cast sings about presidential candidate Aaron Burr that “he seems approachable like you could grab a beer with him.” Which I remember as a comment about George W. Bush during his 2000 campaign.
The short-form snipes on Facebook and Twitter are not really up to the task of conveying the deep material necessary to make an informed decision, then or now. We have an awesome responsibility to elect people at all levels who are the smartest and most capable. In Oklahoma, we seem to have an endless parade of state and local leaders who become sources of embarrassment. We must choose candidates based not purely on name recognition or the codewords on their signs that tested well with a certain demographic group. I don’t believe that either party has a lock on virtue or intelligence, both need to bring their best players and their A-games.
From the very beginning, the rest of the world has watched America as we showed how to choose a President over a King, and how to manage peaceful transitions of executive power at 4-year intervals. We did that by having smart and thoughtful people design our government in ways that made it something to be envied and copied around the world. That high regard won’t continue without each one of us doing our homework, beyond parties and back to finding “the smartest in the room.”
With less than two months to the November elections, it’s high time to start.