Hamilton: What comes next?

This is the fifth and final installment of a series, Lessons from Musicals.

Why am I bothering to talk about musicals I performed in 40 years ago? Aren’t there more pressing things to deal with in the present? I’ll answer by looking at a musical created by someone who hadn’t even been born yet when I was in high school, Hamilton.

Hamilton has been therapy for me ever since last November 8. Whenever a CNN notification pops up on my phone, I have to listen to a song or two to cope with whatever happened. (Three after Comey was fired.) Hamilton reminds me of what America can and should be and of a time when we were, well, young, scrappy, and hungry. While it is easy to get pumped up by “My Shot,” “Right Hand Man,” and “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” the real core of Hamilton takes place in the second act. It’s the question King George III posed, “What Comes Next?

It’s a question all of us who demand change have to ask ourselves.

While we must focus most of our energy on resistance, we also have to think about the steps ahead. Hamilton expressed a similar awareness of this issue in his song:

And? If we win our independence?
Is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants?
Or will the blood we shed begin an endless
Cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?
I know the action in the street is excitin’
But Jesus, between all the bleedin’ ‘n fightin’
I’ve been readin’ ‘n writin’
We need to handle our financial situation
Are we a nation of states? What’s the state of our nation?

What does this mean for us in our situation? We must remember that 63 million people voted for President Trump. He still commands high approval ratings among his supporters. What matters to us might not matter to them and vice versa. How do you reach out to them? How do you get them to change their minds? Of course, there are people who won’t, and talking to them seems like a waste of time. But when the change comes, they will be a part of it too. How do you convince them to accept it because it improves their lives as well? More importantly, how do you encourage them to participate in a positive way?

This is the challenge we face. For too long, Americans on all sides have shown contempt for those they disagree with, writing each other off as either “libtards” or “deplorables.” That’s why we’re in the mess we are in today. Think of all we could have accomplished in recent years if our major political parties tried to compromise instead of demonizing each other.

Today’s problems are complex and difficult, formulated over generations, and worsening each day. We can’t pretend that a single fix will solve everything overnight. Unless we come up with some lasting solutions that involve all sides, change will be fleeting, and the escalating resentment and anger will cause even greater problems in the future.

Alexander Hamilton and our other Founders understood this. They brought about a change that endured, but only because they argued, negotiated, and compromised to bring about workable solutions. And by workable, I mean imperfect and, in a number of cases, tragically flawed. These would require more struggles until they can be made right or at least improved. Progress is not a moment, it’s the movement. But it has to start with an agreement to work together.

That’s why it can take a musical for us to understand something we would gloss over by watching news channels and talk shows. Music can make us feel. At a time when facts are suspect, it takes feeling to get ourselves to open up and see the truth. Musicals like Hamilton can be the inspiration and driver of the changes we want for our nation and the world.

View all entries in the series.


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