The Hamilton Hustle - Why Have Liberals Embraced America's Most Reactionary Founder?

Tyler Durden's picture

Excerpted from 'The Hamilton Hustle' via The Baffler, authored by Matt Stoller,

As Donald Trump settles into The White House, elites in the political class are beginning to recognize that democracy is not necessarily a permanent state of political organization. “Donald Trump’s candidacy is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid,” wrote Vox cofounder Ezra Klein just before the election. Andrew Sullivan argued in New York magazine that American democracy is susceptible, “in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.” Paul Krugman wrote an entire column on why republics end, citing Trump’s violations of political norms. But if you want to understand the politics of authoritarianism in America, the place to start is not with Trump, but with the cool-kid Founding Father of the Obama era, Alexander Hamilton.

I’m not just talking about the actual founder, though we’ll come back to him. I’m talking about the personage at the center of the Broadway musical, Hamilton.

I’m not going to dissect the show itself - the politics of it are what require reexamination in the wake of Trump. However, it should be granted one unqualified plaudit at the outset: Miranda’s play is one of the most brilliant propaganda pieces in theatrical history. And its construction and success tell us a lot about our current political moment. 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.


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.

To assert Hamilton disliked democracy is not controversial. The great historian Henry Adams described an evening at a New York dinner, when Hamilton replied to democratic sentiment by banging the table and saying, “Your people, sir—your people is a great beast!” Hamilton’s recommendation to the Constitutional Convention, for instance, was to have a president for life, and to explicitly make that president not subject to law.

Professional historians generally avoid emphasizing Hamilton’s disdain for the people, at least when they write for the broad public. Better to steer safely clear of the freight train of publicity and money behind the modern Hamilton myth. One exception is amateur historian William Hogeland, who noted in a recent Boston Review essay that Hamilton had strong authoritarian tendencies. Hamilton, he wrote, consistently emphasized “the essential relationship between the concentration of national wealth and the obstruction of democracy through military force.”

Indeed, most of Hamilton’s legacy is astonishingly counter-democratic. His central role in founding both the financial infrastructure of Wall Street and a nascent military establishment (which supplanted the colonial system of locally controlled democratic militias) was rooted in his self-appointed crusade to undermine the ability of ordinary Americans to govern themselves. We should be grateful not that Hamilton structured the essential institutions of America to fit his vision, but that he failed to do so. Had he succeeded, we would probably be living in a military dictatorship.


Viewers of the play Hamilton have a difficult time grasping this point. It just seems outlandish that an important American political official would argue that democracy was an actively bad system. Sure, America’s leadership caste has done plenty on its own to subvert the legal norms and folkways of self-rule, via voting restrictions, lobbying and corruption, and other appurtenances of access-driven self-dealing. But the idea of openly opposing the hallowed ideal of popular self-government is simply inconsistent with the past two hundred years of American political culture. And this is because, in the election of 1800, when Hamilton and his Federalist allies were finally crushed, America repudiated aristocracy and began the long journey toward establishing a democratic political culture and undoing some, though not all, of the damage wrought by Hamilton’s plutocratic-leaning Federalist Party.

Indeed, the shifting popular image of Hamilton is itself a gauge of the relative strength of democratic institutions at any given moment.

In the roaring 1920s, when Wall Street lorded it over all facets of our public life, treasury secretary Andrew Mellon put Hamilton’s face on the ten-dollar bill. Mellon was the third richest man in the country, famous for, among other things, having his brother and chairman of one of his coal mining subsidiaries extoll the virtues of using machine guns to enforce labor discipline. Mellon himself, who later presided over the Great Depression, was routinely lauded by big business interests as the “greatest secretary of the treasury since Alexander Hamilton.” Big business leaders in Pittsburgh, such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, worshipped Hamilton (as well as Napoleon).

During the next decade, as populists put constraints on big money, Hamilton fell into disrepute. In 1925, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then just a lawyer, recognized Hamilton as an authoritarian, saying that he had in his mind after reading a popular new book on Hamilton and Jefferson “a picture of escape after escape which this nation passed through in those first ten years; a picture of what might have been if the Republic had been finally organized as Alexander Hamilton sought.” By 1947, a post-war congressional report titled “Fascism in Action” listed Hamilton as one intellectual inspiration for the Nazi regime.

Hamilton’s name practically became an epithet among Democrats of the New Deal era, which makes it all the more surprising that he is the darling of the modern party.

Within this context, it’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.


We should be grateful for Hamilton’s failures. Had he succeeded, we would probably be living in a military dictatorship.


The Obama era looks like an echo of the Federalist power grabs of the 1780s and 1790s, both in its enrichment and glorification of financial elites and its open disdain for anything resembling true economic democracy. The Obama political elite, in other words, celebrates Hamilton not in spite of Hamilton’s anti-democratic tendencies, but because of them.

Set in contrast to the actual life and career of its subject, the play Hamilton is a feat of political alchemy - as is the stunningly successful marketing campaign surrounding it. But our generation’s version of Hamilton adulation isn’t all that different from the version that took hold in the 1920s: it’s designed to subvert democracy by helping the professional class to associate the rise of finance with the greatness of America, instead of seeing in that financial infrastructure the seeds of a dangerous authoritarian tradition.

Read more here...

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
ogretown's picture

The Rats are doing what the Rats do best - looking backward for direction.  In the meantime, Trump - morphing into a Zeus-like entity continues to make America great again while at the same time shooting e-lightening bolts at the ever-desperate Liberal Construct. 

Four chan's picture

"The Hamilton Hustle - Why Have Liberals Embraced America's Most Reactionary Founder?"


WTFRLY's picture

Because just like new Brooklyn and every other gentrified district, they are stupid and don't know history, just "brand names"

chubbar's picture

The only reason the libtards are embracing Hamilton is because the fucking whiney liberal actors stood up and lectured the vice president when he went to the show. Otherwise it wouldn't even be noteworthy. I doubt any of those asshats have any clue what Hamilton did or didn't stand for.

Blue Balls's picture

Hamilton was a Rothschild pretending to be like the white man.  Same crap different year.

The Alarmist's picture

Hamilton was actually a white male British subject, but because he was born in the West Indies, and is currently cast as a person of colour, the Libtards assume the original Hamilton was also a person of colour, therefore he is hip.

knukles's picture

Hamilton was pro big central bank
Need big central bank for unlimited fiat creation

Go Figure
Weren't we just talking about that?

NidStyles's picture

Propaganda doesn't need a reason, it just needs to frame the agenda in an appealing way. Quit looking into something that has no deep meaning as if it did.

True Blue's picture

The Greatest Hero nobody ever heard of was Aaron Burr who shot that POS dead.

Oldwood's picture

Hamilton hated democracy because it made power available to the ignorant masses, and today liberals are recoiling at the horrid results of their claimed love of democracy....TRUMP.

 They never really prized democracy as they have always perceived "we the people" as the ignorant masses, only they believed that ignorance created the opportunity for them to easily manipulate us. 

Progressives greatest weakness is their arrogance. They believe in the control they strive for and see themselves as smarter than everyone else. 

Giant Meteor's picture

If respect is to be paid to the opinion of the greatest and wisest men who have ever thought or wrote on the science of government, we shall be constrained to conclude, that a free republic cannot succeed over a country of such immense extent, containing such a number of inhabitants, and these encreasing in such rapid progression as that of the whole United States.

Among the many illustrious authorities which might be produced to this point, I shall content myself with quoting only two. The one is the baron de Montesquieu, spirit of laws, chap. xvi. vol. I [book VIII]. “It is natural to a republic to have only a small territory, otherwise it cannot long subsist."

In a large republic there are men of large fortunes, and consequently of less moderation; there are trusts too great to be placed in any single subject; he has interest of his own; he soon begins to think that he may be happy, great and glorious, by oppressing his fellow citizens; and that he may raise himself to grandeur on the ruins of his country. In a large republic, the public good is sacrificed to a thousand views; it is subordinate to exceptions, and depends on accidents. In a small one, the interest of the public is easier perceived, better understood, and more within the reach of every citizen; abuses are of less extent, and of course are less protected.” Of the same opinion is the marquis Beccarari.

History furnishes no example of a free republic, any thing like the extent of the United States. The Grecian republics were of small extent; so also was that of the Romans. Both of these, it is true, in process of time, extended their conquests over large territories of country; and the consequence was, that their governments were changed from that of free governments to those of the most tyrannical that ever existed in the world ..


October 18, 1787

bluez's picture

I have read few of the "great history books" about the fake "founding fathers", but have picked up, here and there, assorted crumbs of probable truth about the provenance of our "beloved constitution" (or constipation). These precious nuggets point to a scandal so low down rotten dirty that they make the USSR collapse look like peaches and cream in the park on a Sunday afternoon. The great majority of these rapacious "founding fathers" were so duplicitous they make Barack Obama look like an absolute piker -- strictly amateur hour. Just about the only well-known ones who really got out there, stuck their necks out, and did anything more than rape their slaves, were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. And Franklin probably despised the constipation.

The downright Satanism of Thomas Jefferson was way off the scale, just light-years beyond the low-rent hypocrisy of the bush league swine Obama. All those "great words", every last one of them, were in 180 degree contradiction to what he actually did from beginning to end. By the time the bill of rights was added, we had no "republic" nor "democracy" in any sense of those terms. The ONLY representatives that white property owners could vote for were the members of the house of representatives, in drastically Gerrymandered districts no less. But the un-elected senate could ratify treaties that potentially could override the constipation itself. The president was really appointed by a college of electors, and the senators were appointed by state governments. The supreme court judges were basically picked by the un-elected president.

Do you think your vote counts? Did you have a thing to say about who is vice president? You only get to vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledum, don't you? If you vote for some losing spoiler you just basically sacrifice your vote, correct? Only strategic hedge simple score voting can correct that, and this has been known forever.

Alexander Hamilton actually did have a major moral advantage over most of the other founding freaks: He believed that the well-to-do were wise and judicious and that the poor were ignorant and untrustworthy. And while he was wrong about these things he at least did have the great virtue of being honest in expressing  those beliefs.

Nick13_ro's picture

Hamilton was wrong ? Two words for you: Obama, Chavez.

bluez's picture

Where's the beef? Did I say the less-than-well-to-do were always wise? Where?

Nick13_ro's picture

Seriously ? Your entire tirade is an attack on elite rule and support for mobocracy. And even with that question you imply that whatever the faults of the people everybody must just live with the consequences of their diminion.

bluez's picture

Where is that terrible "mob" that brought about nuclear weapons and mutual assured destruction? Did you promote that?

The awful mess we are in today was created by the so-called "elites", and by no one else.

Do people here really want to be ruled by the ever-bloodthirsty "elites"?

landauer's picture

There is truth in that. But it cuts both ways. Republicans weren't too fond of democracy when it gave them Obama. But everyone is missing the simple point. Hamilton is a propaganda piece to harden liberals towards totalitarianism. The Pence event was probably the most obviously staged of the many staged events we've had over the past year. I confidently predict that Pence will invoke the spirit of Hamilton during his inauguration speech.

U4 eee aaa's picture

You must admit. The liberals are pretty stupid on this one. They always think in the context of if they take power themselves. They never think about what might happen if their enemies manage to take that power from them

What is the Islamic political power suddenly turns on them when they bring them all in over the open borders? Goodbye homosexuals and women's freedom! The only thing that is protecting them at this point is Judeo-Christian grace

Blue Balls's picture

Liberals want dumb people.  Turbins, veils, weird beards, thye could care less.  They want to sit back and print money.  That's about it.

SWRichmond's picture

Have you seen NBC advertising itself as "friends of the Constitution"?  Yes, it's really happening.  The left is attemping to foist their reinterpretations of history as honorable in the spirit of the Constitution.  The leftist media is coming to terms with the dirt people's rejection of MSM in favor of more conservative views.  This remaking of themselves and of historic figures are among the disinfo campaign.

It also reveals their admiration of authoritarianism, which the left has always swooned over.  And it tells Wall Street to keep the money coming, we are your friends.

sgt_doom's picture

I call FAKE NEWS!!! on this blog post. 

All the revisionistic bullcrap occurred AFTER Hamilton's death.  He was pro-meritocracy, anti-slavery, etc., etc.

Jefferson tended towards the opposite (although I did like Jefferson's village concept [limiting to population size of 300 for community sake]).

Recommended reading:

Alexander Hamilton, by Teri Kanefield

Alexander Hamilton: A Biography, by Forrest McDonald

Bendromeda Strain's picture

I call fake news on your post as well then. Adams (a Federalist himself) was a lifelong rival of Jefferson, but the one thing that they could agree upon was that Hamilton was not to be trusted, and his ideas were poisonous.

Hal n back's picture

it is amazingly sad, Rap music influeces people politically and socially.
When I saw Hamilton I was more amazed at the young femaile crowd reaction to everything.


Giant Meteor's picture

Smoke meets mirror ..

Film at eleven ...

P-51 Stiletto's picture

Chicks dig power (and money)... Most of them just won't admit it, 'cause feminism.

kochevnik's picture

Girls are drawn to thugs, despots, mobsters and criminals.  Nothing new.  Only their repulsion to body odor redeems most

IntTheLight's picture

Is it worth seeing? I personally am turned off by the idea that, in order to promote US history, the players must be represented by minorities and the music must be RAP.

To me it is the ghettoization of history.

Everyone I know loved the play, but I can't bring myself to see it.

Giant Meteor's picture

"To me it is the ghettoization of history.. .."

Perfect ..

Along with the great dumbing down of the citizenry //

Cloud9.5's picture

Aaron Burr did us a favor.  It set a precedent. Hamilton’s concentration of wealth in the hands of the north eastern bankers enhanced the concentration of political and economic power in the north east.  The positive result of this concentration of wealth and power was the rise of our industrial base.  With that rise came a demand for labor which gave rise to massive immigration from Eastern Europe.  These immigrants tipped the political balance in favor of the north east.  This new found power enabled industrialists to push tariffs that doubled the cost of living in the south and in the west.  By 1860, these numbers of immigrants coupled with voter fraud are able to elect a president without a single southern vote.  This gave rise to the nullification movements in the south and west. Ultimately the south found itself disenfranchised and moved for secession.  


Hamilton was a wannabe autocrat.  He was a federalist of the highest order.  He wanted to destroy individual liberty and state’s rights.  What we have now is his wet dream.

MickV's picture

All of the Founders "disliked Democracy", i.e the tyranny of the majority. They knew that most people are too dumb to vote, ergo there is no right to the "FRANCHISE" of voting in Federal Elections. That "FRANCHISE (LICENSE)" is given by the states. If there is no "right to vote" then the US is certainly not a "Democracy".


"A Republic, if you can keep it"-- Ben Franklin.

chumbawamba's picture

The Constitution is a compact between the men who signed it, limited in scope, jurisdiction and authority.  They had a mandate from those they represented in their respective states to revamp the Articles of Confederation, not form an entirely new government.  Therefore, the Constitution of 1787 was never authorized by the people, i.e. the inhabitants of the states.  The Constitution established a trust, of which the beneficiaries are those who chose to subject themselves to it.  It is not binding legally to anyone other than those whose name was put to it back in 1787.

Read Lysander Spooner, Constitution of No Authority.

I am Chumbawamba.

Winston Churchill's picture

Indeed, and by not allowing a popular vote, the oligarchs od their time could forsee its deliberate

weaknesses and how that would fully exploit them over time.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Not a popular stance around here.

Twee Surgeon's picture

Well I would say it's a pretty good start, this here Constitution. Now if we could just get those under Oath to uphold it, to do Just that, then we would be walking in tall Cotton. A few Hangings for Treason would be a  superb reaffirmation for my Brethren and I. If we started with a Lawyer, even better.

Cloud9.5's picture

The Constitution was a contract between the federalists and the anti-federalists.  When it was signed by the convention delegates, it was published in its entirety in the nation’s newspapers.  It was cussed and discussed from every pulpit, on every porch, and in every pub in the nation.   It was not an instant sell.  The antifederalists had serious reservations about the concentration of so much power in the hands of the federal government.

It became apparent in short order that if the thing was ever going to be ratified, concessions had to be made.  A verbal contract was made between the antifederalists and the federalists that required the inclusion of bright line limitations on federal authority.  Those limitations took the form of the Bill of Rights.  It was agreed that upon ratification, one of the first orders of business of the newly convened congress was to amend the Constitution to include a bill of rights.

The fact that the federalists have nullified the agreed upon bill of rights with national defense authorization act and the patriot act breaks the contract.



chumbawamba's picture

Hamilton was actually a mulatto (his mother was rumored to have been a Jamaican slave) and a Jew.  He was an agent of the European Jew banksters, working secretly on their behalf.  He was also the most vehement proponent of centralization and a federal government structure.  Guess why?

I am Chumbawamba.

samsara's picture

Yes, he was rothschilds inside man.

Great to see you posting

The Gun Is Good's picture

Asshole Hamilton had way too much influence on Washington, who was the first president to wipe his ass with the Constitution, with his handling of the Whiskey Rebellion. Hamilton pushed hard for the use of force. (Lotsa people here diss Lincoln, but own up: Fucking the Constitution goes all the way back to the Proud Virginian southerner....)

(Aaron Burr is my hero!)

Squid Viscous's picture

i thought his mother was the jew... or maybe half oreo jew like Lenny Kravtiz

Alexander Hamilton was born on the British island of Nevis, in the West Indies, on January 11, 1755. His mother was most likely Jewish, and his father, James Hamilton, was a non-Jewish Scotsman descended from the House of Hamilton in Ayrshire, Scotland. In the 1760s, Alexander attended a Jewish school in Nevis, which was housed in a synagogue in Charleston, the island's capital. The local Anglican school was not an option for Alexander, because he was a bastard in the eyes of the church. His mother, Rachel, had never divorced her first husband, who was also Jewish, and her union with James was therefore not technically marriage, making Alexander illegitimate.



The Alarmist's picture

People assume because he was born in the West Indies, he must have been a person of colour ... that's why he is so hip these days.

chumbawamba's picture

The story seems to be a bit fuzzy in the middle but all in all he was definitely a Jew:

The reason he and Aaron Burr went at it was because Burr knew his true heritage and would regularly heckle Hamilton as being a "mulatto".

You could say he was a Jewlatto.

I am Chumbawamba.

hellodystopia's picture

What presentism, distorted crap.


Giant Meteor's picture

Alexander Hamilton, Central Banker and Financial Crisis Manager

A good read for those so inclined ...

Of course the reading is in support of his actions, as central banker, and financial crisis manager ..

Squid Viscous's picture

he was a crypto jew who wanted to give the banks and fed gov more power,

what more do you need to know about his ever increasing "popularity" ?

Trucker Glock's picture

Aaron Burr - greatest VP ever?

e_goldstein's picture

If the nation was sane Burr's birthday would be celebrated as a national holiday.

sessinpo's picture

If the nation were sane. No politician would be celebrated. The government and the assholes in office would have very little power and any importance.