Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #13, again with “Alexander Hamilton: an American Musical”

The premise for this selection from about a decade of essays is here.

The previous selection dove, finally, into that fateful year of 2016, when I began to have to acknowledge the existence of the Hamilton musical. Today’s re-post comes from a moment later that same year, when I realized the whole gigantic nightmare might turn out for the best. For me, anyway.

Thanks to being quoted at length in Robert Sullvan’s Harper’s essay on the Hamilton show and cult, I ended up with Kim and Jen and some of that highly coveted New York Post “Page Six” coverage. (Note that the Post headline accurately gets many years of essays into four words.) Speaking of unpredictable. Who would have imagined that my years of criticizing the Hamilton cult in Bush-and-Obama policy circles would dovetail with the cultural explosion that is the Hamilton musical to give me and Bob Sullivan bold-faced-name tabloid exposure? Life is funny.

Next up: I try to argue with Martha Nussbaum about the history behind “Hamilton.”


Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #12, in which at last we get to “Alexander Hamilton: An American Musical”!

The premise for this selection from about a decade of essays is here.

OK, we’ve arrived at last: the first of two massive, unpredictable cultural and political events that seemed to rear up like Grendel, followed by what my eighth-grade students used to call “Grendel’s mom,” out of the mucky subconscious of these selected essays, which I began writing in ’08, events that have seemed to push my themes into explosion. Like, “See, I was right, but wait, no, I didn’t want to be this right, that’s huge, agggh!” Fade to black.

“Hamilton: an American Musical” transferred to Broadway in ’15, and for a while I was truly speechless. As you know if you’ve even glanced back at these essays, public misconstrual of Hamilton had been my obsessive theme since even before ’08. I’d construed public misconstrual of Hamilton as the secret illness at the heart of the body politic. Like Kevin McCarthy at the end of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I’d been trying heroically, futilely, to warn you off. The Hamilton cult led us astray. The financial crisis. The foreclosure crisis. Hank Paulson. Tim Geithner …

… and now … this? The most popular phenomenon since the invention of popular phenomena? People who’d never even heard of Hamilton now obsessed by him?

I had no words. I couldn’t even.

Nice people would come up to me and say, “Hey, how about that Hamilton musical, pretty wild, that’s kind of in your wheelhouse, right?” and I’d simply goggle at them, amazed. It wasn’t happening. For a long time, I think I actually believed I could just ignore the whole thing. Maybe it would go away.

Hence this, from ’16. My first, tentative effort to admit that the musical phenomenon exists — and to shift responsibility for the dire misconceptions it writes large, and their disastrous effects on American civics, away from its author and toward pop and scholarly history themselves. “Historian, Heal Thyself.” 

Next up, also from ’16, but very brief: another angle on the same topic.

Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #11

The premise for this selection from about a decade of essays is here.

Today I’m pushing this collection out of 2014 and into 2015, with two briefer pieces, thus putting off, as long as possible, arriving to that fateful year of ’16, when two things I was unknowingly poking at, in these essays on bad American history’s weird impact on American civics, exploded into life.

When I posted these two essays in ’15, still to come was the unimaginable ascendency of Donald Trump. And even as I posted them, “Hamilton: an American Musical” was transferring to Broadway, and to the universe. Those two events would make me feel like an inarticulate version of Cassandra and leave me nearly speechless (well, nearly nearly). That’s a Cassandra who, instead of saying, “I advise against taking this large wooden horse into our city” can only say “I don’t know, man, I just get a bad feeling there’s something kinda weird going on out there somewhere.”

Only a few more essays left in this collection. They will come from the years ’16-18, climactically strange ones for me, given my subject in these essays.

But back in those ignorant days of ’15, I posted one of my rare sideswipes at right-wing history idiocy (I usually reserve critical intelligence for what matters, the liberal consensus): “Ted Cruz and Patrick Henry.” (Remember Ted Cruz?) And I got into the goofball public debate about who should be on the currency with “Hamilton and the Tenner.” 

Next up is 2016, and a certain founding father is starring on the Great White Way.


Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #10

The premise for this collection of about a decade of essays is here.

Today’s re-post is another piece from Boston Review, published in 2014. As I said in yesterday’s post, we’re accelerating now toward those dual crises in American civics that my essays somehow contemplated yet totally failed to predict: the two hottest of all topics, “Hamilton: An American Musical” and the presidency of Donald Trump.

I think subterranean interconnections between those two explosive phenomena are to be found deep within the themes of this collection of essays.

(Or, as Hank Snow put it, when he was writing about acceleration: “Ninety miles an hour down a dead-end street.”)

In the present — 2019 — Justice Roberts is being cast as the centrist swing vote on the Supreme Court. So this 2014 piece explores how Roberts has redefined American democracy in favor of great wealth and power by analyzing American democracy structurally, not historically. Once again, bad history, bad civics. And in this case bad law. Here it is, then: “What Does the ‘McCutcheon’ Decision Say about Democracy?”

Next, two quicker swipes, one at right-wing fake history, the other at false comparisons between Hamilton and Jackson, here.

Bad History: Essays Toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #9

The premise for this collection of a decade of essays is here.

Today I realized that the collection is about to start hurtling toward the two phenomena that, while they were both totally unpredictable, at least by me, when I was writing these essays, seemed to explode straight out of the stuff I was wrestling with and pushed my whole thing into its freakout climax.

Those twinned, explosive phenomena are: 1) “Hamilton: An American Musical”; and 2) the presidency of Donald Trump.

We’re getting there.

But not quite yet. Today’s post, from the blissful ignorance of 2013, takes a break from beating up on the liberal consensus and beats up instead on Grover Norquist’s distorted view of George Washington. Here it is: Washington’s Birthday and Public Debt.”

Next up will be a post from ’14. As I said, we’re accelerating — toward the abyss.


Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #8

The premise for this collection of a decade of essays is here. Today’s re-post, from Boston Review, late 2012, is on liberalism’s misguided effort to adopt its own form of what’s long been known, in conservative circles, as originalism.

The immediate political context of the day involved passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Roberts court’s upholding its constitutionality, the Tea Party movement’s so-called “constitutional conservatism,” and left-liberal criticism of Obama, with direct reference to what were then new books: Drift, by Rachel Maddow; The Mendacity of Hope by Roger Hodge; Republic, Lost, by Lawrence Lessig; and Covenant of Liberty by Michael Patrick Leahy. The underlying history issue: modern, misleading projections on James Madison by smart thinkers across the political spectrum. (Only four years ago — wow. Again, seems like a long time.) Having spent so much time on Hamilton, this was my first foray into criticizing the anti-Hamilton forces, both liberal and conservative, who think there’s a founding-era antidote to Hamiltonianism in Madison-Jeffersonianism.

Here it is:  “Founding Fathers, Founding Villains.”

Next in the collection here.

Bad History: Essays toward the Crisis (2008-2018), #7

The premise for this collection of a decade of essays is here. Sheer historiographical nerdery this, #7, from 2012: how and why, after WWII, founding-history scholarship bailed on the political history of 18th-century class struggle and took up the intellectual history of 18th-century political ideas: “Douglass Adair and the Triumph of Founding Ideas over Founding Action” (wow, great title).

The next in the series is here.