Independence Day brings to mind fireworks, cold lemonade and a day off from work. If pushed, I can recall a bit about the Revolutionary War and the history of restlessness and the struggle for change in a newly formed country grappling with emerging views. This year, though, I’m thinking of Alexander Hamilton and a much broader view of those times. After all, aren’t these days kind of similar in terms of huge unrest and citizens clamoring for change?
Previously, my limited knowledge of Alexander Hamilton was Aaron Burr, a duel, the $10 bill and maybe powdered wigs and tri-cornered hats. Now with Independence Day upon us, I think about the history of that time, the Broadway show and how Lin-Manuel Miranda manages to weave the story of Hamilton, and the struggle of those times, with rap, R& B music and musical theater. Modern people playing the founding fathers, complete with period costumes but using modern vernacular made me sit up and take notice. Yup, that night at the Richard Rogers Theater changed me, because today I’m reminded of our current divide — oh, and Jake Gyllenhaal (that’s right – Jake Gyllenhaal!).
History was never really my thing. I learned what I had to. I managed enough knowledge to get through the rigors of school, pass exams and study in college (who can forget Western Civ 101 & 102). I was much more excited about the future than I was the past, or so I thought! Who’d have thought that I’d read the book on Hamilton by Ron Chernow, and I’d be one of the few people lucky enough to see the original Broadway cast in what’s been coined as the hottest show on Broadway. Beyond the fabulous music and the incredible staging and the rhyme, that is nothing short of amazing, I cannot help but draw a few comparisons to today’s front-page news.
The start of our country was rocky at best. There were militias, folks trying to find their way and a lot of unhappy people looking for a change. There were also big egos, those who thought they knew best, and a whole lot of unrest.
In terms of race and class, the mood then was one of separation. I listen to today’s news, friends talking and the information coming at us on the internet and now, like then, it appears a time of great divide. I cannot remember a time when our country seemed so split – it’s like the civil rights movement, part two.
We are surrounded with stories of strife — the 99 percent, black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter, those for gay marriage and those against. Those in favor of gun control and those who feel regulation interferes with their Second Amendment right to bear arms. People are so deep-rooted in what they believe, they are not open to listening to any other view. Individuals seem to only read and listen to news and current affairs from sources that support their already formed belief system. What happened to civility in the discussion? Why can’t people disagree without being so ugly?
I’ve been asked about my party affiliation, who I’m voting for, and how I feel about everything from immigration to abortion. I generally answer, I believe our country is great because we allow for the exchange fresh of ideas. I believe our country is a melting pot (certainly it was in NYC in the ’60s when I grew up).
But sadly, it seems we’ve changed our stance from being inclusive. It appears we are living in a tumultuous time of fear and rage. Some people fear that the "lower classes" are trespassing on their territory (literally and figuratively), while the immigrant population is trying to earn, or defend, their “place at the table.” I think this is perhaps not unlike the political climate of the American Revolution.
Hamilton was alone among the “founding fathers” in understanding that the world was witnessing two revolutions simultaneously. One was the political transformation; the other was the economic rise of modern capitalism, with its globalizing networks of production, trade and finance. I believe we, too, are witnessing these same revolutions.
So, what’s the answer? Well, like the story of Hamilton that will be dictated by history — how people will view the election of 2016 — who knows? One thing I think we can all agree on, it’s a pivotal moment in our history no matter the outcome. Me, I’ll be happy when the election is over and hope some of the rhetoric will die down.
And, Jake Gyllenhaal — well, he was one row and a few seats over from where I was seated in the Broadway Theater! And while gawking is not in my nature, it was fun to see him, a world class actor just as enthralled as all the other theater-goers where we celebrated the past and left feeling great hope for the future.
Laurel A. Lynch, executive director of HOPE Family Services, can be reached at email@example.com