Sunday, November 29, 2015

The World Is Wide Enough: the message of "Hamilton" is more relevant than ever

The past few weeks, I have been living in the 18th-century with my non-stop listening to "Hamilton": a new musical by Lin Manuel-Miranda that retells the life of Alexander Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury) with a delightful assortment of rap, hip hop and jazz. Probably one of the most poignant lines comes from Aaron Burr, Hamilton's bitterest enemy due to decades of ranking jealousy, misunderstandings, and vehement political differences. Yet after shooting Hamilton in America's most notorious duel, he mournfully sings:

I was too young and blind to see
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.

The phrase "the world was wide enough" speaks to me on multiple levels. On the obvious note, it rings back to the show's juxtaposition of Hamilton as an impoverished immigrant from the Caribbean who "got a lot farther/By being a self-starter," with Burr's privileged American roots (his father was president of Princeton). When Hamilton and Lafayette proudly rap, "Immigrants! We get the job done," the play is a not-so-subtle reminder of America's indebtedness to foreigners like them. So, as our nation's leaders debate whether to accept Syrians and Muslims into our country, the play's tribute to an indigent, parentless refugee who founded our nation's economic systems is nothing short of powerful. America should be wide enough for the firmly established American Burrs and the Hamiltons desperately seeking a better life in this nation.

But as Aaron Burr laments his former feelings of acrimony towards Hamilton, this phrase also speaks of making room for people--not removing them. It calls us all to recognize that our world's beauty and complexity is rooted in differing--even opposing--opinions. And while we may no longer formally duel our opponents, I do worry that we are taking an increasingly Burr-like approach to ousting or shunning those with whom we disagree. Our love of man seems to be waxing cold.

My concern is largely rooted in the burgeoning student protest culture that focuses on dismissing those who may present challenges to their worldview of diversity. I certainly believe in inclusivity; I loathe racism and prejudice as anyone else. But something is wrong about a mildly-written email about Halloween costumes that warrants a student to scream and curse at their administrator. Something is awry with student activists (and a professor!) imtimidating a student journalist from entering a protest on public space.Whatever happened holding discussions with leaders? Writing op-eds? What lesson does it teach these students when they can simply oust others for having a differing perspective, rather than learning to calmly discuss and work with others toward a solution? While I hope that our nation becomes safer for traditionally marginalized groups, I simultaneously worry just how far my generation will go to maintain their views of "political correctness," which seems to justify sanctimonious bullying.

Indeed, recent student protests only seem to reinforce the Atlantic's landmark article, "The Coddling of the American Mind," arguing how teachers are reluctant to present the less popular point of view--for fear of causing offense. On a similar note, Arthur Brooks cogently argues that academia is increasingly biased against conservatives in his piece, "Academia's Rejection of Diversity," and calls for more ideological diversity. It is a painful irony that our educational system, rather than widening our world, may actually be narrowing it.  

We can all work to make our world a little wider. One can only hope that we don't end up like Burr and realize this lesson too late.


  1. One thing that I have been thinking a lot about when listening to musicals in addition to the student protest culture is what are our pamphlets? Hamilton et. al. wrote tons of pamphlets circulating them to change people's opinions. Our loss of the art of the written word has made it difficult for us to us all of our communication tools for our benefit.

  2. Hi Sara, I stumbled across your blog when researching the occultism of Emmanuel Swedenborg, whose ideas you seemed to celebrate in an earlier post. Here in your most recent post, you celebrate Burr's sentiment that "the world is wide enough for both Hamilton and me." I appreciate tolerance and get where you are coming from when you say that "our world's beauty and complexity is rooted in differing--even opposing--opinions." But if Muhammad says that Jesus was never crucified (Surah 4:157), if Joseph Smith says that God showed him that all the churches are an abomination, and if I say that Jesus Christ is my Savior (able of His own accord to deliver me unharmed into the very presence of the Father, by the sacrifice of Himself upon the tree), then do you find beauty in the tapestry of these three competing opinions? For my part, I find beauty in Truth, and I love the Truth more than words can express. If God makes beauty from ashes, then which of the three competing opinions needs to burn, that Truth can be seen without obstruction?