Emily Articulated: Hamilton

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

This past week, while getting barraged by the whirlwind of local and national political fanfare, I found a foothold in positive political engagement by revisiting our nation’s founding story, and the chronicled life of one of our most influential Founding Fathers, one hip-hop number at a time. The Broadway sensation, Hamilton, follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, and is — I’m convinced — the comfort food of politics-related media consumption. 

Emily Erickson.

What began as me listening to an interview of composer Lin Manuel Miranda on Adam Grant’s Re:Thinking podcast, quickly spiraled into a days-long shuffle of the Hamilton playlist on my phone, and culminated with a 14-minute YouTube video clip of a live performance by the Hamilton cast at the White House in 2016 (which I watched… twice). 

The performance was preceded by an address by then-President Barack Obama, in which he reflected on the many ways Hamilton captured the spirit of America (and promptly turned my comfort food into hard-to-swallow food for thought). 

He described, “In each brilliantly crafted song, we hear the debates that shaped our nation, and we hear the debates that are still shaping our nation. We feel the fierce, youthful energy that animated the men and women of Hamilton’s generation. And with a cast as diverse as America itself, including the outstandingly talented women, the show reminds us that this nation was built by more than just a few great men — and that it is an inheritance that belongs to all of us.”

Despite this performance taking place a mere six years ago, it struck me how far away I’ve felt lately from the ownership of the America that Obama described; the inheritance somehow less “mine” than it was before. 

Every old, career-politician elected into a position of power, and every social milestone repealed in an effort to return to the fictional “good old days,” is like a wringing out of the youthful energy and belief in our dynamic ability to reflect an ever-growing and changing population.

Obama continued: “We hope that the remarkable life of Alexander Hamilton will show our young people the possibilities within themselves, and how much they can achieve in the span of a lifetime. And we hope that they’ll walk away with an understanding of what our Founders got started — that it was just a start. It was just the beginning. That’s what makes America so great. You finish the story. We’re not yet finished.”

It seems we’ve lately lost sight of the notion that America’s finish line wasn’t 240 years ago, and that our founding documents weren’t set in stone — to be amended with the most cumbersome chisel and hammer, and thus never (or extremely rarely) done. This lack of clarity — of America as a perpetually under-construction project — makes our system feel broken, cracked to its fundamental core.

While important, the “big issues” by which we’re so divided are also a distraction from this systemic brokenness, like someone hemorrhaging from a gaping wound demanding to know on which desk they stubbed their toe (an endeavor worthy of exploring, once the knife is removed, and the stitches have set).

The wounds in our system have names, just confusing enough to further the guise that we should be paying attention to other things, like gerrymandering, lobbyists and partisanship. What if instead of redrawing lines to manipulate the popular voice, we listened to what the majority of Americans wanted? What if every candidate running for office received the same amount of money for their campaign — a campaign in which they described their qualifications, practical solutions for the future, skills in negotiation and compromise, and personal values, rather than parroted ideas from the people lining their pockets? 

What if people could vote on the individual aspects of their life being affected by politics, and for the people best equipped to solve their unique problems, regardless of the letter next to their name? 

And what if the people that lead us did so not out of a desire for power and personal gain, but for the humble duty of doing a job well until it’s time to pass the responsibility to someone who can do it better?

Obama concluded: “We are the project that never ends. We make mistakes. We have our foibles. But ultimately, when every voice is heard, we overcome them. It’s not the project of any one person. America is what we make of it.”

And I guess, I just wonder what we’re making of it.

Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at www.bigbluehat.studio.

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