In my opinion, the most revealing American political event in the last decade was the Democratic Party’s embrace of Hamilton, Not Just The Musical, and in the process doing a 180 away from Jeffersonian populism.
Hamilton: An American Musical ‘s identity as a liberal touchstone in these troubled times was affirmed when the audience boo’d Trumpveep Mike Pence when he attended the show, and he was addressed by the cast.
Ironically, the Clinton campaign actually recapitulated Hamilton’s political failures (he was never elected to a major office, made his mark as an appointee and factotum to George Washington and, indeed, was shunted into political irrelevance by Jefferson and Madison in the last years of his life) in not having an effective populist strategy.
So you could say Pence was at the scene of the crime, examining the remnants of the elite bubble that popped electorally on November 8–as well as indicating his willingness to serve as Veep of All Americans, a bit of olivebranching that did not make it into the coverage.
Somewhat awkwardly for NeverTrumpers who clothe their opposition in the uncompromising rhetoric of anti-fascism, once Pence was in their clutches the outraged Dems did not tear him limb from limb accompanied by infuriated exhortations from the stage.
In fact, if political correctness was strictly enforced, the cast speech would have been condemned for “normalizing” the Trump administration i.e. acknowledging its legitimacy and power to rule and beseeching its benevolence: Vice-president elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.
We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir.
But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.
We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.
And buy the cast album!
Nice support for my crack “Liberals don’t fight fascism; they appease it.”
But the true story of Hamilton, in my opinion, is that he established the federal government as a bulwark of elite privilege and a bastion of resistance against populist rule.
Not just because he was an elitist himself and saw the merits of running the country in the interests of and in cooperation with successful rich guys; but because he saw that the best protection against local secessionist sentiment that plagued early America was to give elites a big stake in the federal government and less incentive to collude in local mischief.
I actually went into this issue at enormous length in a previous post (reproduced below and itself excerpted from a “punishingly long” precursor post; you’re welcome!) and patient readers will, I think, find my evidence persuasive.
The Democratic Party is now infatuated with the idea of “woke” i.e. enlightened and politically progressive elite rule a la Hamilton, perhaps because it is in thrall to its billionaire supporters like George Soros, who has not only lots of money but an ideology and global organization committed to perpetuating elite rule by the careful and scientific promotion of liberal principles concerning markets, geopolitics, and immigration.
The most fascinating and fraught element of elite-friendly rule, in my opinion, is the use of defining and redefining what and who is “America”—what forms the moral core and defines the proper trajectory of the nation—to slice and dice the rabble into relatively impotent, rulable ethnic and/or religious and/or national blocs and claim the more dynamic, unified, and useful groups as elite adjuncts.
The ugly word for this is co-option. And for the first two hundred years of its history, the elite has done its best to be white-friendly.
This year, noting demographic change and the strong identity of African Americans with Barack Obama, the Democratic Party placed its bets on “the Obama coalition” i.e. the cast of Hamilton.
Hamilton The Musical is a conscious exercise in redefinition, using revisionist casting of people of color, LBGQT etc. to assert the relevance of Hamilton and his exclusively white male milieu to the modern age.
Hillary Clinton placed a losing bet on this coalition. The dispute raging on the Internet was whether this bet was too early or too one-sided.
I vote for “inept”.
If the Democrats get it together and find a candidate charismatic enough to appeal to enough of the white constituency while keeping the Obama coalition together, you know somebody like Barack Obama but isn’t termed-out, maybe they can nudge a candidate over the finish line next time.
The Trump election may have been the last or next-to-last hurrah for the white conservative male bloc, whose plurality and political clout is slowly being eroded by the burgeoning membership of the “rainbow coalition”.
Ironically, 2016 may have also been the last best chance for the African American bloc to assert its claim to a dominant political role in national political life.
African American demographics are also eroding and, with John Lewis’ campaign to mobilize African Americans on behalf of Hillary Clinton coming up short—not only electorally, but in terms of turnout of black males, a group that I think was quietly alienated by the more strident “black women are saving the world” rhetoric and what appears to be a sidelining of black males who, I suspect, the Clinton campaign decided would be regarded as too scary and militant—2016 might mark the highwater mark of African American influence.
Following the election catastrophe, African American ambitions of “leading the Obama coalition” and acting as gatekeeper/king or queenmaker have taken a sizable knock and is the topic of much furious invective on the Internet right now, with the fascinating subtext that Sandernista socialism-lite, even with its electoral appeal, is apparently less attractive to the DNC elite than a shaky identity politics coalition that is, nevertheless neoliberal/globalization/free market friendly and a welcoming destination for the Soros/Democratic Alliance billions that are needed to run an effective national campaign nowadays.
Maybe in a few years, Soros The American Musical will take Broadway and liberal America by storm. Who will play Soros: Hispanic? Black? Woman? LGBTQ? Muslim? White? will provide an interesting road map of which way the Democratic Party is headed.
Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Hispanic Hamilton…and Mob vs. Snob
To escape the soul-killing political minutiae inhabiting my Twitter timeline, I decided to trawl my own blog archive for diversion…and came across a piece I wrote in September 2013 on Alexander Hamilton!
Yes, Alexander Hamilton, current darling of the Washington set and central figure of an ethnically enhanced hip-hop musical that apparently provides the soundtrack and a sense of deeper meaning to liberal lives. Reading the Chernow biography and Hamilton’s own writings, it is hard not to have a deep admiration for Hamilton (Chernow, by the way, collects a nice royalty from the musical). Way back in 2013, I saw Hamilton as the sophisticated urban/internationalist counterpoint to the pastoral/racist/secessionist stylings of Thomas Jefferson.
Today, in 2016, however, Hamilton serves mainly as an avatar of elite rule opposed to Jeffersonian ideas of democracy, and that’s more meh to me.
My 2013 piece was entitled Mob vs. Snob and, since it was punishingly long, I’m going to tease out the good, currently relevant bits here for the amusement and reflection of the 2016 audience.
As readers might gather from the title of the piece, I see a lot of US history as squaring the circle between the economic and political aspirations of the ordinary citizen a.k.a. the Mob vs. the laser focus of the elites a.k.a. Snob on securing the protection of their property, privileges, and power.
I regard Hamilton as an important figure because he recognized that the key issue for the nascent federal system—and indeed most political systems we know today– was how to attract and retain the loyalty of elites to present a central government/elite united front against disloyalty, sedition, and secessionism. The US government protected the economic interests of elites and in return, elites protected the federal government against the threat of secession. Kinda. Glitched a bit during the Civil War, among other times.
Nowadays the federal government doesn’t worry overmuch about secession, but elites sure worry about the mob i.e. “runaway populism”. And when it comes to allaying elite anxieties, the federal government and political parties are here to help!
2016 is doing a great job of affirming this dynamic as the Washington establishment and the propertied classes close ranks against Lumpenfuhrer Donald Trump. So did Brexit, by the way, which provoked open and unironic discussions of why rule by an informed and engaged elite was infinitely preferable to turning over the direction of the nation to an ignorant and easily manipulated rabble.
The most interesting development of the US election, I think, is the formal abandonment of the white conservative voting bloc as the vital adjunct to elite rule. Demographic change has rendered the male white conservative bloc vulnerable, and the Democrats intentionally ran a racially inflected “intersectional” campaign that identified overcoming oppressive white racism as a key social and political issue confronting the nation.
The Republican elite apparently accepted the proposition that the white bloc was a burned out case, and tried to reframe the GOP as an attractive vehicle for the aspirations of upwardly mobile Hispanics. However, the Hispano-pander–keyed on profoundly unattractive and incapable campaigners Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Ted Cruz–foundered spectacularly.
White power, as I put it, was left lying in the streets…and Donald Trump picked it up.
I might as well note here, that I do not see Donald Trump as Hitler. White fascism is coming, in my opinion, but it will draw its dark energy from the defeat of Donald Trump, not his victory. Trump is a carny barker—the Wizard of Oz was a displaced carny barker, by the way—whose grift happens to run counter to current elite priorities. So he’s the target of the full measure of exaggerated spittle in defense of globalized economic and security policies that support the economic interests of the elite, and attacks exhibiting a thoroughgoing disdain for non-expert/non-elite rule. Remarkable to me, at least, because following the wisdom of elites has been a barely contained disaster for the last two decades…and apparently nobody wants to talk about that.
Meanwhile, “people of color” are replacing whites as the political parties’ and elites’ ostensible raison d’etre i.e. representing “the nation” whose elevated aspirations and virtuous interests they profess to embody and advance. And, more to the point, elites co-opt the leaders and secure the votes of the POC community, thereby weakening the “mob” and strengthening the “snob”.
Lumpen white impulses, not African-American grievance, is now characterized as the dangerous (i.e. disenfranchised and needy) force that needs to be kept under control, in other words. Quite the switcheroo. Actually, quite the achievement by President Obama, whose disciplined, cerebral demeanor and heroic efforts in keeping the wheels on the neoliberal sh*twagon did a lot to help claim the mantle of responsible and respectable minority for African Americans, while nudging freaked-out conservative whites out of the “value voter” political sweet spot and into the zone of “bigoted, gun-hugging bitters.”
And that is why, I think, you see a Hispanic Hamilton.
Because Hamilton was a snob and people of color are now regarded as a valuable snob accessory.
Below the fold, a taste of Mob vs. Snob!
During the “end of history” period, Alexander Hamilton was often invoked as the architect of the triumph of the Western system. I am something of a pro-Hamiltonian revisionist, since the original critique of Hamilton that prevailed until the end of the 20th century (elite-adoring crypto aristo) was initially put forth by a pair of Virginia slaveowners, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who adored democracy in the abstract but had definite difficulties practicing it in the concrete.
Hamilton advocated a strong national government and orchestrated its establishment in the United States through his energetic participation in the composition, promotion, and, as first Treasury Secretary and George Washington’s most trusted counselor, implementation of the central-government friendly US constitution . He frequently sparred with Jefferson and Madison, whose advocacy of (to editorialize here) la-di-da pastoralism on a foundation of slavery looks a lot like an effort to protect Virginian parochialism and particularism from the commercial and industrial transformation of the United States—a transformation that Hamilton, with his early and positive exposure to the British example, clearly saw coming, and which he enabled with a powerful central government with strong fiscal, legislative, and enforcement powers.
From the 21st century perspective the key element was Hamilton’s extremely successful attempt to create a robust alliance between the federal government and northern and northeastern business interests. Hamilton was desperately invested in a strong, extensive federal union because the greater the sway of the federal government, the more unique and attractive it looked as a bulwark of power, stability, and property rights, and the better it could secure the loyalty of the elite.
Elite loyalty was, to put it mildly, an issue. Not just because of pervasive Loyalist (to Britain) sentiment in the upper classes in the colonies that carried over into the early days of the Republic. Also because the United States was created on a foundation of elite disloyalty, amplified by seditious incitement of populist forces.
It should be remembered that the American revolution was driven to a significant extent by the alienation of US elites, especially in New England, from Great Britain, and the creation of a potent alliance of “mob” and “snob” fatal to British rule. The Sons of Liberty were despised as rabble by most of the founding fathers, but elite folk like John Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, et. al. made the historic decision to stand with them, or maybe just exploit them as anti-British shock troops and provocateurs, instead of denouncing them. The revolutionary elite retained its affection for independence and local impunity after the British were gone, and simply transferred it to the hapless and impotent post-1776 US confederation.
However, by the time the constitution was written US elites lost their love for the masses; Hamilton and his Federalists, in particular, lived in terror of the mob, thanks to the outbreak of Shays’s rebellion, the example of the French revolution and to the endless willingness of poor and disenfranchised folk, especially in the rural western reaches, to create a rumpus.
The normally phlegmatic George Washington was vocally dismayed by the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, and joined Hamilton in organizing an overwhelming federal force to march into the countryside and overawe the miscreants. A similar exercise in federal shock and awe occurred when Hamilton marched a federal force against another Pennsylvania upset, Fries’ Rebellion, in 1799.
In the midst of the “Quasi War” with France in the late 1790s, Hamilton had lobbied President John Adams frantically (and, for the sake of his relationship with Adams, fatally) for a federal army that Hamilton would lead under the aegis of the largely retired George Washington. This was held against Hamilton, both by Adams and Jefferson, as an open admission of Hamilton’s caesarism, since it was assumed that this army, while defending against the unlikely prospect of an invasion of the United States by Napoleon, could be used to cow the federal government or serve as the vehicle for some extra-curricular nationbuilding by Hamilton, such as the seizure and annexation of western lands—and maybe even South America–from their Spanish masters.
It seems more likely that Hamilton was carried away by the fear of a French-style rural jacquerie and Jacobin-style urban purge, perhaps sparked by some French military adventure and supported by a Jeffersonian fifth column, and wanted a federal army as a shield—and sword–against both. And, admittedly, he wouldn’t have minded leading the army through the Americas after putting paid to the French menace, thereby winning more glory for himself and more territorial swag for the USA.
But Hamilton’s efforts to create a strong federal edifice involved more than giving the central government independent military might to cow local “mobocracy” when the compromised state militias weren’t up to the task. Strengthening the bond between the federal government and US elites—and weaning them from political collusion with the ever-present and easily aggrieved “mob”—was a key feature of Hamilton’s policy.
He famously bound elites to the federal government by promising to fund all federal debts (currently trading at ten or fifteen cents to the dollar) at par, to assume all state debts dating back to the revolution, and coming up with a plausible way of paying them. He also rebuffed criticisms by Jefferson and Madison that this policy was a sell-out of the revolutionary war veterans who had been paid with these bonds but sold them at a deep discount to speculators, and an unfair windfall for Hamilton’s well-heeled and well-informed buddies.
There’s a little more to this than “the rich got richer and the poor got fucked” (though, of course, that’s exactly what happened).
Hamilton was intentionally giving the business elites some (inordinate) skin in the federal game, so that they would cleave to the federal government and not side with the mob—or their states–as they had in revolutionary times against Britain, or during any of the serial crises that would occur as the United States embarked on its bloody and highly successful campaign exploit the resources of the land, the labor and creativity of its people, the capital and energies of the elites, and the enormous potential of national and global markets.
Specifically, Hamilton devoted a great deal of intellect and energy to creating a bond between rich guy and the central government that would address the biggest threat to the federal system: secession.
You know, like the kind of secession the 13 colonies carried out only a decade before against the British government, and was threatened every time some cluster of US states weren’t getting their way. The kind of secession that actually happened in 1861.
In each instance of secession, local elites abandoned their allegiance to the center and sided with the locals instead.
Before the constitution was even ratified, secession was already an issue of concern.
The most famous of the Federalist papers, No. 10, written by Madison, dismissed the idea that democracy only works in small, homogeneous states and couldn’t work in an extensive empire that the United States was clearly going to become. Specifically, he argued that the republican form of government would interpose a civic-minded and unfactional elite between gormless voters and the operating levers of the government machinery.
Guess what. Madison was wrong.
Madison was also guilty of ironic foreshadowing, since he and Jefferson connived to create the first rebellious, elite-splitting faction in the US government, during the administration of John Adams.
The United States was bedeviled from its inception by the centripetal tendencies of its states and regions. Stability and a significant measure of unity was only achieved after eighty years of escalating confrontation, through the rather undemocratic means of a massive civil war and a ten year occupation of the south.
And guess what. You can blame Madison for that, too.
To me, the alpha and omega for Jefferson and Madison was southern privilege. They recognized early on that southern privilege was based on a rickety, limited foundation of slavery-based agriculture, which was increasingly at risk in a strong federal system as the nation grew and industrialized and decisively moved away from the southern model. If the constitution didn’t adequately support pretensions to southern political, economic, and social agency for the white crowd, it could go out the window.
Jefferson and Madison pioneered the state nullification doctrine in their Kentucky and Virginia resolutions and initiated seventy years of efforts to maintain southern autonomy which culminated in the Civil War. After Hamilton shattered his Federalist faction with some unwise political maneuvers, Jefferson and Madison ruled the federal roost and the contradictions between the slave-owning priorities of the south and the rest of the union were papered over. Pro-Jeffersonian history usually excuses Jefferson and Madison’s transgressions on the grounds that their nullification and state’s rights doctrines embodied in the Resolutions were a desperate and limited riposte to the flagrantly partisan and unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts.
Not so fast. Secession, which I define as elite disloyalty combined with populist politics, a.k.a. the “mob and snob” revolutionary alliance, is as American as apple pie and suited the tastes of Jefferson and Madison.
It wasn’t just the south that toyed with secessionist impulses. Northern secession was advocated by northern business classes frustrated by southern resistance to Federalist fiscal and economic policies and the fear that the “Virginia faction” had permanently captured the Federal government thanks to the inordinate weight of the south at the center thanks to the 3/5 rule (slaves counted at 3/5 for representation purposes) and the ceaseless, united obstructionism of southern delegations anxious to safeguard their dominance (and the future of the slave system) as the nation expanded.
One of the many reasons for Hamilton’s disdain for Aaron Burr that provoked the fatal duel was that Burr was looking to resurrect his political fortunes by conniving to bring his home state of New York into a nascent northern secessionist camp championed by elites in the New England states.
The Federalist party imploded thanks to Hamilton’s spectacular political misjudgment and early death, and Jefferson and his acolytes controlled the Federal government for decades. The Federalists devolved into a party of northeastern interests and followed the U.S.template for marginalized regional parties by invoking states’ rights to resist the federal government. During the War of 1812, Federalists organized the Hartford Convention to advance their pro-British/anti-embargo/pro-manufacturing interests and priorities against the policy of the central government. Their activities carried the faint but undeniable whiff of secession. The governor of Massachusetts even dispatched an emissary to discuss a separate peace with Great Britain. This treasonous exercise never caught on, as the war ended rather abruptly and favorably for the United States,and to the considerable discomfiture of the northerners.
After three decades of southern domination, federal power inexorably shifted to the north and west, and the US government, while sedulous in preserving the financial, legal, and coercive foundations of northern prosperity, proved itself fatally ambivalent about protecting a key southern elite interest and the foundation of the southern agricultural economy—slaves as property. When southern elites felt threatened by the prospect of loss of political primacy at the federal level and the threat of a growing abolitionist consensus in Congress, they were wedged off from the union (much as the business interests in the colonies were wedged off from Britain in the 1770s) and turned their efforts to creating a “mob and snob” integrated power base within their own states.
The result was decades of dismal extortion as the south used the threat of resistance/nullification/secession to extract assurances of continued passivity from the federal government on the slavery issue.
When the civil war came, many of the southern elite quickly abandoned their allegiance to the federal government and jointed the CSA.
I also might point out that the mayor of New York City, with its textile and export economy tied to southern cotton, actually proposed New York secession in 1861. The dreaded “mob and snob” alliance between some disgruntled New York plutocrats, Tammany politicians, Copperheads (anti-war Democrats willing to accept southern slavery) and the municipal lumpen re-emerged, culminating in the gruesome draft riots of 1863.
When the end came, it didn’t come thanks to the invincible ideas of democracy and free markets (with the obvious and execrable exception of slavery, southern economic and political practices did not differ significantly from those of the north); it came because the elites of the north united with the federal government to crush the south with their armies and industrial power.
With the civil war, the southern elites and their determinedly non-industrial, non-financial slave-shackled economy lost the argument to the determinedly industrial and financially sophisticated north. Conquest, the end of slavery, and the increasing industrialization of the United States made secession, southern or otherwise, an unfeasible option.
Despite the awkward fact of southern elite treason, the importance of elite support for the federal government was reaffirmed as, after a brief interlude of carpetbagging, blacks were disenfranchised, and southern elites were welcomed back into local and federal governments and the heart of the southern economy.
The end of Reconstruction marked the successful if less than total reaffirmation of elite solidarity with the federal government.
With the disappearance of the secessionist option, the impetus toward a “mob and snob” alliance diminished, and elites and the federal government eagerly joined hands to protect property, privilege, and the well-being of elites, by gun and bayonet if needed.
By Peter Lee
Source: China Matters