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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Alam-Nist

A Look At The Political Messaging of Hamilton

The Political Atmosphere Around Release

2015, the year when Hamilton first emerged in theatres off-Broadway, would prove to be a turbulent point in American politics. Amid a spate of high-profile killings of African-Americans by the police, protests emerged across the US calling for an end to disproportionate police violence and brutality towards African-Americans. These protests were often met with vitriol and hostility by the right wing and emerged as a political flashpoint, laying some of the groundwork for the 2020 BLM movement and its counterreaction.

Simultaneously, venomous rhetoric towards immigrants, particularly those crossing the Mexican border, began to emerge as an ever more potent force within American politics. With the rise of Trump as a presidential candidate towards the end of the year, both of these issues were exacerbated. Hamilton: An American Musical traversed the American political landscape to face both of these political clash points head-on, jubilantly celebrating the diversity and tolerance which characterises the United States at its best.

The Messaging of Inclusion in Hamilton

In Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda, the musical’s writer, director, and composer, provides a tableau of the strengths of diversity. By replacing historically white figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with non-white (especially African-American) actors, Miranda commits a form of direct affirmative action. This serves two purposes. It firstly highlights the instrumental role which minorities played in building the US, and secondly calls us to action to promote a diverse and inclusive America, much like that on stage.

The play continues the theme of focusing upon the strengths of diversity by presenting a melange of chorographical, musical and thematic elements from different racial subcultures within the US. The way the musical blends rap, a traditionally black musical genre, with musical theatre, which has traditionally unfortunately been dominated by white actors and audiences, with such a high degree of success sends a strong message in favour of diversity. Hamilton provides a portrait of an idealised America, where racial barriers are dissolved, and different racial groups can co-exist and benefit from the strengths of each other to the fullest extent. This message contrasts the systematic and institutional oppression of African-Americans and minorities which has characterised America throughout its history and strives towards equality and diversity.

In addition to supporting diversity, Miranda sends a strongly pro-immigrant message in Hamilton. Within the play, viewers witness Hamilton immigrate to the US and live out a quintessential example of the American dream. He rises to the top of American society, aiding and giving back to the infant state of America along his way. In one of the most memorable lines of the play, Hamilton and Jean Marquis Lafayette, both immigrants contributing towards the American revolutionary effort, triumphantly proclaim ‘Immigrants, we get the job done!’. Throughout the musical, a favourable portrait of immigration is painted, highlighting how immigration is beneficial both for the immigrants and the country to which they immigrate. This engages with and opposes the hostile spirit toward immigrants present within politics at the time (and indeed now as well).

The Political Reception of Hamilton

We thus see two overarching political messages within Hamilton: one in favour of racial integration and diversity and the other in supporting immigration. Both of these messages are broadly left-wing and often are met with repudiation and scorn by the right wing of American politics. One would expect a similar disdain to be shown towards Hamilton. Surprisingly, however, with a few exceptions (most notably Donald Trump), the musical was met with near-universal praise.

The musical has been lauded by political figures ranging from the Cheneys to the Clintons. Republican Speaker of the Utah House Greg Hughes, in the intermission of Hamilton, is reported to have called Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis and said, “I’m watching this musical, and I am sobbing like a child in here,”, then suggesting, “this thing is the greatest presentation of our American history we’ve ever seen”. Nearly all major news publications, regardless of their place on the ideological spectrum, praised Hamilton as a masterwork.

Despite its deep-rooted political messaging, Hamilton thus seems to have an appeal that stands broadly irrespective of political bent. I propose two reasons for why this might be the case. Firstly, as has been agreed near-universally by the American press, Hamilton is an exceptional musical and the appreciation of its merit is not defined by one’s politics.

Additionally, Hamilton equally has several elements which itself make it far more palatable for the right wing of politics. The musical is firstly itself a jubilant celebration of American greatness. It supports the idea that the US is a land of opportunity and uniquely special, lending itself well to the patriotic bent of the American right wing. Furthermore, the storyline of Hamilton, in which Hamilton, through opportunism, hard work, and perseverance ‘lifts himself by his bootstraps’, supports an overarching right-wing economic and political narrative, making the musical’s left-wing messaging somewhat more palatable to the right.

The End

To many on the left, this dilution of left-wing values that I outlined above brought disappointment and perhaps even scorn. I would suggest, however, that Hamilton through its dual focus on Americanism and patriotism alongside integration and diversity brings something unique.

Hamilton is a celebration of diversity in a way that is not overly overbearing, thus giving it greater accessibility and reach. While I admit there is no way to quantitatively measure this idea, I would posit that the positive bent of Hamilton, as well as its widespread reach and reverberations across popular culture, would mean that it did shift the viewpoints of many Americans towards inclusion. This is itself very valuable. Hamilton blends politics with history, music and theatre in a way that makes it uniquely successful.


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