Category Archive 'Inadvertent Irony'

16 Sep 2017

Inadvertent Irony

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14 Mar 2017

Establishmentarians Love “Hamilton” Because They Really Don’t Know Much About Hamilton

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Matt Stoller explores all the multiplicitous ironies of the chattering class’s embrace of the hip hop musical about the fellow John Adams described as “the bastard brat of a Scots peddler.”

Before it was even written, the play was nurtured at the highest levels of the political establishment. While working through its material, Miranda road-tested song lyrics at the White House with President Obama. When it was performed, Obama, naturally, loved it. Hamilton, he said, “reminds us of the vital, crazy, kinetic energy that’s at the heart of America.” Michelle Obama pronounced it the best art she had ever seen.

The first couple’s comments were just the leading edge of a cultural explosion of praise. Actress Kerry Washington called it “life changing.” Lena Dunham said, “If every kid in America could see Hamilton they would thirst for historical knowledge and then show up to vote.” Saturday Night Live featured a sketch wherein Lorne Michaels begged guest host Miranda for Hamilton tickets (“I can do a matinee!”). It’s perhaps harder to list celebrities who haven’t seen Hamilton than those who have. And in Washington, D.C., politicians who haven’t seen the show are considered uncool.

Admiration for the play crossed the political spectrum. Conservative pop-historian Niall Ferguson opened up a book talk, according to one witness on Twitter, “with a rap set to music inspired by Hamilton.” Former secretaries of the treasury praised it, from Tim Geithner to Jack Lew to Hank Paulson. So did Dick Cheney, prompting Obama to note that the wonder of the play was perhaps the only thing the two men agreed on. Trevor Noah asked if Bernie Sanders, who had just seen the play, ran for president just so he would be able to get tickets. Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and former White House chief of staff, raised eyebrows by jetting off to New York City to see a performance of Hamilton the night after Chicago teachers went on strike.

It’s not just that Hamilton is about a founding father, and thus inherently making statements about who we are as a culture. It’s become a status symbol within the Democratic establishment, offering them the chastened consolation that they might still claim solidarity with the nascent American democracy of the eighteenth century that’s stubbornly eluded them in the present-day political scene. Hillary Clinton quoted the play in her speech accepting the Democratic nomination, and told a young voter, “I’ve seen the show three times and I’ve cried every time—and danced hard in my seat.” The play has become a political football in the era of Trump. When Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, saw the show, one of the cast members read him a special note, written by Miranda and several cast members, asking Pence to protect all of America. Hamilton cast members helped lead the Women’s March in Chicago to protest Trump’s inauguration. Right-wing website Breitbart has a hostile mini-Hamilton beat, noting that the play’s producers specifically requested non-white actors to fill the cast.

And after Trump won, Hamilton became a refuge. Journalist Nancy Youssef tweeted she overheard someone at the Pentagon say, “I am reaffirming my belief in democracy by listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.”

What’s strange about all of this praise is how it presumes that Alexander Hamilton was a figure for whom social justice and democracy were key animating traits. Given how Democrats, in particular, embraced the show and Hamilton himself as a paragon of social justice, you would think that he had fought to enlarge the democratic rights of all Americans. But Alexander Hamilton simply didn’t believe in democracy, which he labeled an American “disease.” He fought—with military force—any model of organizing the American political economy that might promote egalitarian politics. He was an authoritarian, and proud of it. …

[I]t’s useful to recognize that Hamilton the play is not the real story of Alexander Hamilton; rather, as historian Nancy Isenberg has noted, it’s a revealing parable about the politics of the finance-friendly Obama era. The play is based on Ron Chernow’s eight-hundred-page 2004 biography of Hamilton. Chernow argues that “Hamilton was an abolitionist who opposed states’ rights, favored an activist central government, a very liberal interpretation of the Constitution and executive rather than legislative powers.” Hamilton, he notes, “sounds . . . like a modern Democrat.” The abolition arguments are laughably false; Hamilton married into a slaveholding family and traded slaves himself. But they are only part of a much broader obfuscation of Hamilton’s politics. …

Hamilton had tremendous courage, insight, and brilliance. He is an important Founder, and not just because he structured early American finance. His life sheds light on some deep-rooted anti-democratic forces that have always existed in America, and in particular, on Wall Street. Much of the far-reaching contemporary Hamilton PR offensive is connected to the Gilder Lehman Institute, which is financed by bankers who back the right-wing Club for Growth and American Enterprise Institute (and support Hamilton’s beloved gold standard). Robert Rubin in 2004 started the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, which laid out the framework for the Obama administration’s financial policies. Chernow has made millions on books fawning over J. P. Morgan, the Warburg financial family, and John D. Rockefeller. And thanks largely to the runaway success of Hamilton the musical, Chernow is now, bizarrely, regarded as a court historian of American democracy in the mold of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Read the whole thing.

06 Mar 2017

Envirnonmentalism versus Dakota Pipeline

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17 Feb 2017

Inadvertent Irony at Yale

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Leah Libresco Sergeant Y’11 contemplates Yale’s renaming of Calhoun College, and observes that, in a peculiar way, the Jacobins and their toadies are really honoring John C. Calhoun.

Late last week, Yale announced that it would remove the name of John C. Calhoun from one of its residential colleges—but clarified that the name would not be expunged wherever it was literally written in stone as part of the building’s architecture. While the college will officially bear the new name of Grace Hopper College, honoring a pioneering computer scientist and veteran, to chisel off Calhoun’s name would be to neglect the “obligation not to efface the history.” (It would be expensive, to boot.)

Other than the physical presence of the name, there’s little else to erase about Calhoun. The drawn-out fights (and serial committees) questioning the appropriateness of Calhoun’s name miss how little tradition exists to be expunged—in Calhoun’s namesake college, or in any of the other Yale colleges.

When I was an undergraduate, John C. Calhoun went largely unmentioned and unthought of in residential college life. If the college had instead been named (as a puckish friend suggested) for William Barron Calhoun (Yale class of 1814, a lawyer and politician from Massachusetts, ardent opponent of slavery), nothing about the day-to-day life of the college would have been different.

Yale’s residential colleges derive very little personality from their namesakes, or from anything else. Freshmen are assigned to them randomly, which prevents the colleges from developing reputations (as “the arty one” or “the sporty one”). And Yale’s goal in recent years has been to homogenize the residential colleges even further, pooling money that alumni had given to their own colleges and distributing it equally, so that no college may have more or do more than another. …

Why have a namesake at all, if the college is not to be colored by his or her character? In my own college, Jonathan Edwards, there was never a mention of the Puritan preacher’s theology—except that our intramural team was called the Spiders, a reference to his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. Jonathan Edwards’s theology exists for J.E. students only as a quaint, even comical, historical artifact. Why give a man the trappings of honor without ceding him any respect?

John C. Calhoun, in being removed, was awarded an odd sort of honor: His ideas were treated as relevant and dangerous. …

12 Jan 2016

Democrats’ Gun Control Fanaticism Sells More Guns

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BuyingaGun

At Ricochet, Son of Spengler notes that the more Obama and other democrats attack private ownership of firearms the more gun sales occur and stocks of firearm manufacturers shoot upward.

[This effect] is driven by a fundamental paradox of gun control: In their push to restrict access to firearms, the president and his allies are unintentionally highlighting the government’s failure to maintain public safety. …

Ironically, the more the White House insists we are unsafe, the more apparent it becomes that we are exposed. If our leaders are unable (or unwilling) to distinguish the obvious sources of recent gun violence — terrorism, mental illness, gang violence, inner-city lawlessness — then there is no way the government can effectively protect us from those threats. Indeed, the White House’s obsession with guns raises legitimate questions about governmental competence. A government distracted by red herrings will be incapable of fulfilling its mission to protect its citizenry from real threats.

So, as our government falls down on the job, the mature and rational course of action is to take responsibility for one’s own self-protection. In no small part, that means buying a gun and learning how to use it.


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