In what is sure to be one of the most predictable and least encouraging stories about the state of politics in America today, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by the audience while attending a performance of “Hamilton” on Friday. As if this wasn’t enough, several cast members delivered a patronizing monologue about how they represent a diverse America that is afraid of Pence and his running mate.
The whole incident is sophomoric enough to be mistaken for a shaming campaign by college kids. You know, except for the fact that the target was the next vice president of the United States.
But leave aside irony that cast members of an ostensibly civically minded musical disrespected one of the most important figures in American civics. Leave aside also the fact that the battle between president-elect Trump and his erstwhile opponent Hillary Clinton looks like a repeat of the battle Miranda records between Hamilton and Aaron Burr. That is, on one side, you had an abrasive truth-teller who “smells like new money [and] dresses like fake royalty,” and “would rather be divisive than indecisive” (Trump and Hamilton). On the other, you had a conviction-deprived social climber whose duplicitous approach to politics could be summed up as “talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for” (Burr and Clinton).
Please ignore all that. The incident deserves to be mocked for a much more important reason:
No modern politician’s views more perfectly resemble those of the historical Alexander Hamilton than those of Donald J. Trump.
Even Miranda’s dramatized version of Hamilton fails to disguise this fact completely. I defy anyone to listen to, say, Miranda’s “Cabinet Battle #2,” and not hear echoes of Trump’s break with democracy promotion-enamored neoconservatives in Hamilton’s scornful dressing down of Jefferson over his support for the French Revolution:
You must be out of your goddamn mind if you think
The President is gonna bring the nation to the brink
Of meddling in the middle of a military mess,
A game of chess[…]
If we try to fight in every revolution in the world, we never stop,
Where do we draw the line?
One suspects Hamilton would not have been in favor of the Iraq war, based on this.
Moreover, even Miranda himself couldn’t fail to note the similarity between the Reynolds Pamphlet and the “Access Hollywood” tape during his appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” when he rapped “Well, he [Trump] never gonn’ be president now,” an echo of Reynolds Pamphlet-inspired lyrics from the musical.
But, unfortunately, the moments where Miranda’s unmatched lyrical pyrotechnics actually portray the real Hamilton’s beliefs are in the minority. More famous (and liberal) lines from the musical, in particular “immigrants, we get the job done!” would’ve been totally alien to the historical Hamilton.
Why? Well, let’s start by talking about how the musical portrays Hamilton as a bitter opponent of President John Adams. While this is partially true (and useful for dramatic purposes), it also allows Miranda to elide the fact that Hamilton supported one of the most hawkish immigration bills in the history of the United States. I’m referring to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which Adams signed into law.
Far from “immigrants, we get the job done,” the Alien Act makes Donald Trump’s endorsement of “extreme vetting” look like the La Raza platform. They granted the president sweeping new powers to deport immigrants (note: legal immigrants), and banned those immigrants from voting until they’d spent 14 years in the country.
The Sedition Act, meanwhile, went well beyond Trump’s ill-defined call to “open up the libel laws,” or his moments of verbal retaliation against unfriendly lawmakers. It shut off freedom of the press virtually altogether, and even led to the jailing of 20 congressmen.
Again, all of this was generally supported by Hamilton, in response to a perceived foreign threat of seditious behavior from France. In other words, on immigration and the scope of free speech, Hamilton was Trump to the power of 10. While it’s impossible to know what a modern Hamilton would do, on this evidence, it seems likely that he would not only have supported Trump’s ideas, but privately pushed for Trump to make them even more severe.
Then there was trade. Julia Hahn at Breitbart has already laid out the exhaustive similarities between Hamilton’s economies-of-scale focused protectionism, and Trump’s own skepticism of the benefits of unfettered free trade:
Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s first Secretary of Treasury, laid out a proposal that followed the “English mercantilist model closely” by calling for high tariffs to protect nascent American industry, supporting agriculture to encourage more exports, promoting “Buy American” policies and allocating federal funds for transit systems to facilitate commerce such as roads, bridges, and harbors.
In other words, Hamilton would’ve been nodding right along to Trump’s speech to the Detroit Economic Club where he threatened tariffs on car companies moving overseas.
But surely, the traumatized “Hamilton” fans are screeching, Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t have liked Trump simply because Trump is a strongman! A tyrant! Anti-American! Oh, woe is them. From Federalist 70, written by Hamilton himself:
Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy. Every man the least conversant in Roman story, knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome.
Yes, that’s right. Hamilton literally endorsed the original people to whom the phrase “dictator” was applied as proper and necessary statesmen. Not only that, but one of Hamilton’s biggest disagreements with his bete noire Jefferson was on whether democracy was desirable at all. Hamilton was deeply skeptical of the idea, which is partially what led him to conceive of the very thing that gave Donald Trump the presidency: the Electoral College itself.
So if Hamilton were told by his hysterical liberal fans that the United States might have just elected a dictator thanks to his own system, it’s easy to imagine him sighing with relief and saying, “Well, it took long enough!”
In short, the very qualities which the “Hamilton” cast “fears” in Trump—an aversion to dissent, a skepticism of cosmopolitan immigration and trade policy, an authoritarian mindset, and his assumption of power thanks to an anti-democratic system—are qualities that defined the man their musical celebrates.
Of these beliefs, Trump is most likely to embrace an unreconstructed version of Hamilton’s views in the realm of trade. I personally don’t believe or wish that Trump would enact another Alien Act, or another Sedition Act, and I would be horrified if he turned out to be a dictator. But if he did, there is still a Founding Father who I can imagine looking down from heaven and smiling that Trump didn’t throw away his shot.
What’s his name, man?
Correction: An earlier version of this article overstated Hamilton’s role in the drafting of the Alien and Sedition Acts. There is some dispute as to Hamilton’s role in the drafting and in his level of political support for the Acts (particularly with respect to sedition) but his general views on immigration are demonstrably in line with the argument of this article.