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Dueling Values: Lessons from the Hamilton Contretemps

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Tulips, Washington Park, Albany NY
Tulips, Washington Park, Albany NY
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Can one get more ironic than to have an actor portraying the country's first disgraced vice president warning the country's next vice president that he and his cast mates represent the diversity of the country and American values? It's ironic even if one overlooks the fact that the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical is certainly diverse, but not representative of the actual mix of ancestries in this country.

I am not condemning the casting of the show. We certainly could stand to see fewer pinkish people and more women on stage or in films and television. As a playwright, I create quite a few roles that can be played by anyone with any genetic heritage and many that are not sex specific. Characters in my novels tend to have mixed backgrounds since the novels are set in the future and that seems to be the genetic path humans are taking. However, the Supreme Court is far more representative of American diversity save for continuing to have too few women, than the group of actors stalking the boards at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

I am happy to see underrepresented groups overrepresented. I agree with Justice Ginsburg that an all-female SCOTUS should not raise any more eyebrows than the all-male line-ups on that highest bench did for almost two centuries. I look forward to that and an at-least half-female Congress even more than seeing a female POTUS. This isn't about swinging some moral pendulum to compensate for past prejudices. When I looked at the countries that have had female heads of government or state, I found that those women did little to improve the status of women in their societies. A far more likely route to raising female standing is for greater representation in legislatures and courthouses.

Another of the ironies is that the cast is playing to an audience that has mostly paid ten times the cost of a typical Broadway ticket. People able to see Hamilton performed on Broadway (at least those who are not given comped or house tickets) either have incomes many times mine or more space on their credit cards than me. My only hope of seeing this show is to have my mother get an extra seat when the touring company visits the Smith Center in Las Vegas. The price, including roundtrip airfare from Albany, NY, will still be lower than almost every seat available for the foreseeable future for the show's presentation in Manhattan's Theater District.

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So, all those people applauding the cast's statement and all those people booing Governor Pence when he entered lack much diversity in terms of socioeconomic status. They probably also lacked much in the way of heritage diversity, too. I have yet to go to any Broadway performance of any play or musical where the audience wasn't almost entirely pinkish. Hamilton may draw a more POC proportion, but more is relative and a suspicious measure when the base is so close to zero.

The most reckless irony is the insistence that the cast members represent American values better than the POTUS and VP-elect. Counting votes for the Libertarian candidate, about fifty percent of the people who bothered to vote endorsed a set of values that does not reflect the values the cast is promoting. Progressives and liberals have this notion that inclusiveness and community are enduring features of our political culture, but they aren't even aspirational values to more than half of the population. The 2016 presidential campaign made clear that a majority of Americans place their dubious Second-Amendment right to bear arms above any of the First-Amendment liberties. It made clear that most Americans think it unnecessary to apply the Fourth-, Fifth-, and Sixth-Amendment protections to resident nationals of other countries and even Muslim USA citizens.

Is this a bad case of miseducation regarding our constitutional freedoms? Absolutely! Unfortunately, our system of government does not require that voters have any sort of understanding of the principles laid out in the US Constitution or any of the other founding documents of this country. Donald Trump knew that and exploited it. However, are American values based on texts written over two centuries ago or the living principles held by citizens today? The fact is that the authors of those texts were more closely aligned with the view of American values expressed by Trump supporters than the desiderata of the left.

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Claiming diversity, inclusiveness, and community welfare as American values ignores history. Those are values that have struggled to find acceptance. The only First-Amendment rights that have been warmly embraced are the right to speech and self-expression and freedom of religion. Trump supporters and their ilk demand that anything they say is protected speech, no matter how racist, incendiary, or bigoted their words are. Their agenda is Bible-based, so they are stout offenders of church-state separation in the name of their religious freedom. Extremists love to believe that liberties are absolute, despite the clear record of conditions placed on their exercise.

The values expressed by the Hamilton cast are my values. I am under no illusion that they are the only set of American values around. That very diversity that progressives and liberals support makes the existence of any one-size-fits-all set of principles implausible and impossible. Perhaps if we started to recognize that we do not hold a monopoly on what values best represent our society we might actually be able to engage neocons and alt-rights in a civil discussion of how to move forward before this nation is sundered in two by these competing notions of American values.

 

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Bear Kosik's evaluation of the state of democracy in the USA, Restoring the Republic: A New Social Contract for We the People, was published on March 30, 2016. His novels, novella, and full-length plays are available on Amazon and Smashwords. (more...)
 

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