On Friday night, I was among the millions who watched Hamilton streaming on Disney Plus. I was particularly tickled to see that it had been filmed in June 2016. That was the month my family saw the show on Broadway. By sheer luck, we got to see one of the last performances with the original cast. It was the most exhilarating and powerful theater experience of my life.
The TV version could never measure up, of course, but it brought back great memories of a fun show. As a history buff, I found myself rolling my eyes over some historical inaccuracies (particularly the presentations of Hamilton’s role in the Constitutional Convention and the portrayal of the 1800 presidential election). But it was a musical, not a documentary, and some literary license must be expected. From a literary perspective, those inaccuracies served the larger theme of hyping the title character’s importance.
While a few of the historical details were wrong, the show did a wonderful job capturing other themes that are often lost in more boring presentations of history. Too often, our nation’s founders are portrayed as stoic figures in powdered wigs.
Hamilton, the show, got closer to the truth by presenting the founders as a passionate collection of imperfect men dealing with the messy reality of the world around them. They were men driven by powerful emotions, engaged in ruthless politics and having heated arguments. The entire group was a combustible mix of idealism, ambition, dreams of glory, heroism, selflessness and selfishness.
As I watched the film on Friday night, I was particularly struck by a line sung by Eliza Schuyler (Hamilton’s wife). It captured a mood even though I’m sure that the real world Eliza never uttered these particular lines:
“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
It’s hard for 21st century Americans to appreciate how strange that sentiment may have seemed in context. Eliza met and married Hamilton in the midst of a war that was far bloodier than we learn from most history books. Immediately after their honeymoon, Alexander returned to war. And, as with all wars, they both periodically received tragic news of friends lost in battle.
Even after independence was won, difficult times continued, both for the Hamiltons and the nation. There were economic traumas, sporadic rebellions and tumultuous efforts to create a government. Hamilton personally had many ups and downs before being killed in a duel by the vice president of the United States, Aaron Burr.
Despite all that, the stage version of Eliza declared they were lucky to be alive because “history is happening.” They were part of it, they helped shape it.
Looking around America today, we must once again face the harsh reality of the world around us.
- Just about all of us in New York know someone whose life was taken by the coronavirus.
- Just about all of us throughout the nation know someone who has lost their job.
- None of us will ever forget the brutality that choked the life out of George Floyd.
That’s part of America’s messy story in 2020. Millions of dreams have been shattered by the pandemic, the economic crisis and racial inequalities. Far too many have lost hope and worry that our nation will never recover.
But that’s only part of the story. The rest is up to us. What do we do about it?
For me, the answer is found in the lyrics voiced by Phillipa Soo playing the role of Eliza Schuyler: “Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” I want her to sing it again and again.
History is happening in America right now and we’re all a part of it.
It’s true that the disruptions of the past six months have been depressing and frightening. But it’s also true that they have opened a rare window of opportunity to reshape America.
It’s true that the disruptions of the past six months have been depressing and frightening. But it’s also true that they have opened a rare window of opportunity to reshape America. We should respond with all the gusto of Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) singing: “I am not throwing away my shot.”
Let’s grasp the opportunity to stand up for our nation’s founding ideals — freedom, equality and self-governance. We need to challenge those who reject these ideals and build upon the work of those who came before us.
We are lucky to be alive right now because we have the chance to leave the world a better place for future generations. If we do, the inspirational story of America will continue to be a beacon of hope in a troubled world.
Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”