Stoller: “The Hamilton Hustle”
From The Baffler:
Why liberals have embraced our most dangerously reactionary founder
I’m not just talking about the actual founder, though we’ll come back to him. I’m talking about the personage at the center of the Broadway musical, Hamilton.
The show is a Tony Award–winning smash hit, propelling its writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to dizzying heights of fame and influence. It is America’s Les Misérables, an achingly beautiful and funny piece of theater about a most unlikely icon of democratic inclusiveness, Alexander Hamilton.
… Miranda’s play is one of the most brilliant propaganda pieces in theatrical history. And its construction and success tell us a lot about our current political moment. Before it was even written, the play was nurtured at the highest levels of the political establishment. While working through its material, Miranda road-tested song lyrics at the White House with President Obama. When it was performed, Obama, naturally, loved it. Hamilton, he said, “reminds us of the vital, crazy, kinetic energy that’s at the heart of America.” Michelle Obama pronounced it the best art she had ever seen. …
Conservative pop-historian Niall Ferguson opened up a book talk, according to one witness on Twitter, “with a rap set to music inspired by Hamilton.” Former secretaries of the treasury praised it, from Tim Geithner to Jack Lew to Hank Paulson. So did Dick Cheney, prompting Obama to note that the wonder of the play was perhaps the only thing the two men agreed on. … Hillary Clinton quoted the play in her speech accepting the Democratic nomination, and told a young voter, “I’ve seen the show three times and I’ve cried every time—and danced hard in my seat.” …
… But Alexander Hamilton simply didn’t believe in democracy, which he labeled an American “disease.” He fought—with military force—any model of organizing the American political economy that might promote egalitarian politics. He was an authoritarian, and proud of it. …
Indeed, most of Hamilton’s legacy is astonishingly counter-democratic. His central role in founding both the financial infrastructure of Wall Street and a nascent military establishment (which supplanted the colonial system of locally controlled democratic militias) was rooted in his self-appointed crusade to undermine the ability of ordinary Americans to govern themselves.
During the next decade, as populists put constraints on big money, Hamilton fell into disrepute. … By 1947, a post-war congressional report titled “Fascism in Action” listed Hamilton as one intellectual inspiration for the Nazi regime.
Hamilton, or shall I say Hamilton! (i.e., the character in the musical, not the historical A.H.), is an immigrant, a nonwhite, and, maybe, secretly Jewish and, as the star of a Broadway musical, gay. That makes him Good.