By Brandon Nobles/Brandon is a grad of the University of Washington with a degree in English and Humanities. He is a current online teacher and is also an active member of the 7th District and Stevens County Democratic parties
One of the most common heard maxims in Stevens County political culture is the phrase “what the founding fathers would have wanted.” This phrase is usually tied to a system of conservative principles where one dedicates their loyalty to the concept of God, Republic and Country, and the founding fathers serve as an American pantheon of demi-gods entitled to influence the present as much as they did the past. Yet, this narrative gets shaky once the history and facts behind these men are presented in raw form, and this rawness is on display with the current Broadway musical Hamilton. The musical is presently controversial due to the current VP-Elect Mike Pence—while attending—receiving a personal message from the cast regarding their anxiety from some of the statements made by the incoming administration, and a call for him to take heed of the American values enumerated by the performance. Pence claimed to have not been offended by the statements, but Trump has gone to Twitter repeatedly denouncing the cast’s message and demanding an official apology.
The musical Hamilton was written by Broadway actor Lin Manuel Miranda and is based on Alexander Hamilton, the founding father displayed on the ten dollar bill. The musical portrays the life of Hamilton from his days as an orphaned illegitimate child working for a merchant in the Caribbean (as the play claims he was “a bastard, son of a whore and a Scotsman”), his place in the trenches of the Revolutionary War, his fraternity with George Washington (his “right hand man”), his animosities with Madison, Jefferson and finally the envious Aaron Burr, who Hamilton pushes to the brink which ultimately led to Hamilton’s demise on the dueling ground from Burr’s fatal shot. The musical not only strips away the rose-colored lens this country has adopted concerning these men by putting on display their penchant for dueling, drinking, trashing of one another, backroom dealing (the song, “The Room Where it Happens” brilliantly depicts this) and outright womanizing (as Burr claims in one scene regarding Hamilton, “Martha Washington named her feral tomcat after him!”), but it also speaks directly to the divided America we find ourselves in today.
The three main agents of the musical—Jefferson, Burr, and Hamilton—represent three different ideologies that resonate with the way politics are presently done. Hamilton represents the powerful corporate money interests of the north, a strong federal government, a willingness to periodically step aside the will congress for the presumed good of the people, and looks at the common man with a hint of elitism. By contrast, Jefferson believes power should be held by the states, the federal government should be limited in its authority, and speaks for the common man. Burr conversely believes one must be cautious, with his musical mottoes in the play, “Talk Less, smile more, don’t let them know what you are against or what you’re for” and “Wait for it.” In this state of caution, Burr seek out opportunism, one’s own self in terms of power, and using charm, political side-dealing, and ultimately any means necessary to gain that power.
While there are plenty of Burrs in various governing bodies throughout the nation, the Hamiltonian/Jefferson dilemma can be seen almost as an ideological diorama of the state of Washington. The Hamiltonian western part of the state upholds the values of strong legislative government, growth of corporate business, mass lawmaking, and is populated with a highly educated, technocratic demographic that can be seen as elitist. Jeffersonian Eastern Washington has an economic dependence on agriculture and extraction industries, continues to demand for more local control and power to the people, and has a population of people who view themselves as common everyday folk trying to pursue the dream without the restraints of big government. But an issue arises here and shows what happens when there is no bipartisan Hamilton/Jefferson balance to a political system. The western part of the state in its Hamiltonian purity has pushed micromanagement of various sectors of public life, has an inflated bureaucracy that continues to become more expensive by the year, and arguably has lost touch with the needs of the everyday people of Eastern Washington. The eastside in its reliance of Jeffersonian limited government and anti-tax rhetoric has in fact created a government so small and underfunded that many locales cannot deal with the most basic of societal problems such as crime, drug addiction, infrastructure repair, and so forth. The refusal to acknowledge that a balance and change for both sides is desperately needed is doing a great disservice to our state as a whole on so many levels.
With the advent of a four-year Trump presidency, we Washingtonians must hold our politicians accountable to ensure they are not only in it for the good of the people, but they accept that compromise, just like Hamilton many times did with Jefferson, is as American as apple pie. We must look at them under a political jeweler’s eye, and see what kind of politician they truly are. This goes for our congressmen and women, our state legislators, our city council men and women, our county commissioners, literally every level up the grand hierarchy of our political system. Are they self-serving, ineffective, modern Burrs, out for themselves, only to be in the “Room Where It Happens” for their own vanity and lining of their own pockets? Or do they legitimately care what happens to this country and its people? Whatever the brand or mix, we must all realize this polarized and apparently corrupted system has been around since the beginning, and the only way to restore any sense of civility and effectiveness in the way we do politics is to recognize that both Hamilton and Jefferson have a place at the table, and to rid ourselves of odious Burrs who drag us behind. With all their flaws and rivalries, this is truly what the founding fathers would have wanted.