Lessons from Hamilton on This Election Day

Lessons from Hamilton on This Election Day

Theater can teach us a lot… about the past, others in the world, ourselves.  Since I was a tween, I immersed myself in reading plays and was always captivated by the layers of meaning in a scene that could be quite basic in appearance onstage. How could something so stripped down say so much, I wondered. As an adult, I’ve gone to some theater productions of works by some of my favorite contemporary playwrights and composers who have added that other enticing thread of music into their storytelling. I have gotten a chance to see many of my favorites but there are still plenty of plays and musicals I have not seen performed live and I hope to do so one day, whether it’s a touring company or in some stroke of good luck, on a Broadway stage. Perhaps that will happen someday.


So I have not had the good fortune of seeing Hamilton live. As you know, it’s only available in limited locations. I believe a Chicago production opened not too long ago to join its NYC originators. Not sure where else it may be playing but it certainly has yet to undergo any kind of national tour. I hope if one day it arrives near my town that I’ll get to see it. But I did recently watch a wonderful PBS special about the development of the production from its first spark to the rousing success and awards it has received, and subsequent expansion elsewhere.  If you have not seen Great Performances: Hamilton’s America and its honest, behind-the-scenes peek at all of the logistics, emotions and decision-making, as well as history behind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brainchild, you must look for it on your cable company’s on-demand or any of your streaming services. It’s phenomenal and enlightening. (I think I saw that it’s streaming on the PBS website until Nov. 18, so go on… start watching!)


More than anything, Hamilton’s America was inspiring. Of course,  I appreciated the treat of getting to see the onstage story laid out and performed, at least many of the core characters’ key scenes and songs driving the plot.  But as the actors learned more about the men and women behind the roles they played, stood inside their homes and surrounded themselves with their belongings to truly embody these characters, another revelation emerged. It is a universal truth that many of the actors conveyed and one that is very timely on this election day.


Today, Americans registered to vote make a decision, perhaps the most important decision they will make for many years to come because the ballot features two very different leading candidates as well as other lesser-known independent candidates offering voters another option. The one thread that continues to weave throughout the campaign is integrity — people’s perceptions of the candidates’ character. Are they good people? Have they lied? Do they show good judgment?  Have they done terrible things? Are their values in line with our own? Can we trust them? And as we assess all of this and try to come up with answers to these and other questions, we scrutinize. We scrutinize actions, words, other people’s interactions and words about them. What does it all mean?


But often we get stuck. We forget one very important fact: these are human beings before us with the same capability of making good moves and some not-so-good moves. And as voters, we can forget to look at the whole picture and get hung up on one thing — maybe a single action, or something we see as repeat behavior or a streak. It can be difficult to see anything else once our attention shifts our mind to focus on that single thing. Can a person who does something horrible after a resume of good things be seen as a sum of all of their parts or will any good be overshadowed by the darkness?


In Hamilton’s America, we hear talented actor Leslie Odom, Jr. acknowledge both in character during the show and in interviews as he reflects on the part, that he is playing a man (Aaron Burr) who had followed the same admirable path of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton yet all he would ever be remembered for is one thing: shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel. And as Miranda and the other actors as well as historians point out in this insightful documentary, great people can do horrendous things. If we stepped back from history and looked at all that George Washington did, said or was about — or all that Thomas Jefferson did, said or believed — we would probably not be revering any of them in the context of today’s political climate. But if we can examine their legacy in its entirety, we will discover that some really great men also did some horrible things. We must remind ourselves to view them as humans – as men who were not perfect, far from perfect – but who were capable and who also took some incredibly brave and momentous steps that we now in hindsight view as key milestones in our nation’s history. If we can let our expectations for our candidates be realistic enough to recognize these are not perfect people, no candidate ever is, and look at the overall good that they have done or can do, we can arrive at a decision and find greatness if and where it may exist.


Imperfect people can do great things.


What a powerful message Hamilton sends. Maybe for the idealists among us it shines a spotlight on something we may not want to admit: we are not electing flawless individuals to do this all-important job in leading our country. And we cannot expect that. Of anyone.  What we can do is look at the whole picture, see all of these people before us as we go to the voting polls today. Look at everything these people are, have done, have said and the impact of their work, their actions, and words. And we have that weighty decision of choosing who we feel can do the most good for the most people in what we perceive as the most presidential representative of our country.


Who do we want to represent America to the world?  They will not be perfect people. None of our Founding Fathers were and none of our leaders to follow can claim that either.  We are the sum of all of our actions and words. We need to accept that about our candidates and move forward.


Please make your voice heard today. Thanks for reading.  xo ~ Chris

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