Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Few Final Remarks on Hamiltongate

Before I launch into some more discussion of the Hamilton incident last Friday, I'd like to share another fantastic song from the show as a gesture of good faith.

Listen to the respect with which Manuel-Miranda treats Washington. Here, our first president is portrayed, without irony, as a hero who voluntarily steps down from his seat of power, consequently teaching us that America's institutions were crafted to transcend and outlast the fame of any one person. Such a number implicitly rebukes cults of personality and leader worship -- one message among many in this show that are undeniably timely.

The text of Hamilton also does something that I think is vitally important in this age of identity politics: It invites people of very different backgrounds to embrace American heroes, American ideas, and an American identity as their own. Too often, the social justice left discourages its favored groups from finding any inspiration from our history, effectively segregating minority populations from the American heritage entirely. Whether accidentally or no, this only enhances people's sense of "otherness" and existential discomfort. Manuel-Miranda's approach, on the other hand, is much healthier; instead of dismissing Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries as "dead, white males" whose biographies have nothing to offer to Americans of color, he shows how our Founders' struggles and triumphs are universally edifying.

Which brings me to one reason why the now infamous Friday night curtain call still rankles. To echo Robert Pondiscio's remarks in the New York Daily News, the cast members didn't let Manuel-Miranda's art speak for itself. Or, to put it another way, they assumed that Pence was so incredibly dense - so lacking in any sort of human feeling - that he would fail to grasp the pro-diversity message described above without having it explicitly spelled out in simple words.

Further, the speech wasn't delivered in a vacuum. Context matters. Intonation matters. Truth matters. Several writers and commentators whom I respect greatly have dramatically missed the boat by focusing on the superficial mildness of the words and not on the event in toto. Consider, for example, the audience in attendance: a crowd of overwhelmingly liberal Manhattanites who are already convinced Trump and Pence represent a threat to their rights despite much evidence that flatly contradicts their views. These are people whose smug sense of superiority didn't need to be strengthened or legitimized -- yet Dixon (and presumably the rest of the cast, who allowed Dixon to speak on their behalf) went ahead and flattered these folks anyway. I'm sorry, but to those of us who don't live in that particular milieu, that was gross as hell and needed to be called out.

Consider too where they were. Dixon was not just a private citizen addressing a politician; he was also, essentially, an employee of a business talking to a paying customer. And if you've ever worked customer service, you know you always put your personal opinions aside at the moment of a business transaction. Nobody here is questioning anyone's right to dissent; what many of us do question is the appropriateness of the time and place. Dixon and the other cast members could've invited Pence back stage for a private conversation later; if making their concerns heard was their only motivation, such a conversation would've succeeded brilliantly. But when Dixon tells the audience to film his remarks and spread them far and wide on social media, an additional - and more problematic - motivation becomes strikingly apparent. This wasn't just about exercising one's right to question our incoming executives; this was also one giant virtue signal meant, once again, to congratulate an already unaccountably arrogant group of people on their supposed "right thinking." And quite frankly, we conservatives are sick to death of listening to these Pharisees endlessly trumpet how great they all are when their actions don't justify their pride.

I'm happy that Pence was not offended and responded to the speech with equanimity and grace -- but that does not mean we should set aside this incident's troubling undertones or refrain from critiquing the people involved.

Oh, and by the way: Trump doesn't actually believe in safe spaces -- at least, not in the leftist sense. Haven't you figured out yet that the soon-to-be Cheeto 'n Chief is the ultimate troll?

And with that, I'm going to head out for my Thanksgiving break. I shall return next Wednesday with a post (or two) on the beauty of Constitutional federalism. I hope all of you have a peaceful holiday in the meantime!


  1. As I've said before, I didn't vote for the guy and I'm not expecting much from him. That said, using the situation to virtue signal to your elitist audience was a dick move. They weren't interested in an actual dialogue, they just wanted "their kind of people" to know who's side they are on. It's the exact kind of asshatery that convinced millions of Americans that betting on a billionaire reality show host was worth the risk.

    1. Not just virtue signaling, but demonstrating the left's "definition" of discussion: "I can say anything I want about you, but you're not allowed to reply."

      I'll grant you that the latter probably wasn't their intent, however.

    2. Unintentional or not, they have proven they don't really believe in this whole democracy thing unless their side wins. They deserve the president they helped put into office.