4th of July: A tale of freedom
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"
These are the words at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. They were conceived by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s right. But, these rights can only be kept alive by active engagement in the democratic process.
“Hamilton: An American Musical,” a hip-hop musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda - and inspired by the life of Hamilton - illustrates this. The play was nominated for 16 Tony Awards, winning 11, along with a Grammy, and a Pulitzer, and turned Hamilton into a global superstar.
It also brought back the struggle of a nation built on democracy, and how that struggle still continues today. As Miranda wrote: “Stand with me in the land of the free,” as we celebrate another year of American liberties.
Fifty-six people signed the Declaration, including two of the Founding Fathers - Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. The others - James Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, and George Washington - were getting ready for battle.
Of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, eight were born outside of the United States. At least two immigrants fought in the revolution: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (known simply as Lafayette), and Alexander Hamilton.
What did these immigrants have in common with the U.S.-born revolutionaries? The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence has the answer:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
More than two centuries later, do these words still hold true, in the Make America Great Again of Donald Trump?
AL DÍA went to the streets of Philadelphia and asked what people thought about the values of this country and if the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is still valid.
So how do we protect the American Dream and the pursuit of happiness?
Voting is a key component of American democracy. Voting is the key, but today it is not as high on the citizen agenda. And that has to do with a lack of trust.
“Only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right,” reports The Pew Research Center.
The U.S Election Project reported that 100 million people eligible to vote in the 2016 election didn’t participate. Many chose to stand aside because they no longer believe or trust in the system.
Of those who didn’t vote, 15% believed their vote would not make a difference, according to a Pew Research Center. Twenty-five percent decided against voting because of their “dislike of the candidates or campaign issues.”
Does that mean, then, that the people are putting individuals they don't trust in the White House and the halls of Congress? Or that voting no longer reflects the voice of the people?
The election of Donald Trump came as a surprise, even to the candidate. It showcases the peculiarity of the Electoral College, in which a candidate loses the popular vote, but wins the presidency. The final say of the Electoral College was what propelled John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), and George W. Bush (2000) to the presidency.
But in 2016, the presidential election came down to people voting for who they disliked the least - much like Aaron Burr sang to Hamilton in the words of Miranda.
“They don't need to know me, they don't like you.”
Torrid affairs, talk of war and a barrage of tweets have affected the current president’s approval rate. Though much about politics has changed, and the founding fathers did not have access to Twitter, Hamilton, the musical, shows some of the same parallels with what goes on inside the White House today.
Hamilton cheated on his wife with Maria Reynolds and was subsequently extorted by her husband. His political rivals discovered the payments and accused him of improper speculation.
This led him to publish what would be known as “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” an absolution of the accusations, but an admission of his affair. While it freed him from official misconduct, it smeared his name, and the people did not want a politician who carried that stain.
Fast forward to 2016, Trump's Stormy Daniels affair hit national headlines - right before the elections.
The WallStreet Journal revealed the adult film actress had been paid by Trump ́s - then lawyer, Michael Cohen to stop her from discussing the affair.
Cohen denied the accusations and defended Trump. The President said he didn't know about any payments.
A month later, the lawyer admitted to paying Daniels out of pocket "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office." But denying that it was a violation of campaign finance law.
Hamilton and Trump were also called out for their inflammatory words. “As long as he can hold a pen, he's a threat,” sings Jefferson in the play about Hamilton. The same has been said of Trump tweets.
White House aide said to me that Trump's tweets are usually a nuisance but largely harmless to their work and seen internally as an uncontrollable sideshow. Today's tweet was not seen that way.
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) January 11, 2018
Another comparison can be found in King George’s song during the play. “I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!” says the King.
Cut to today. The Pentagon is sending more than 1,000 new troops to the Mexico-U.S border, as part of their immigration policy, in what Fox anchor Lou Dobbs called a way to “help our southern neighbors achieve domination over the drug cartels.”
But this is where the comparisons between Trump and “Hamilton, an American musical” ends. Alexander Hamilton believed in the dream of America. He believed in taking a stand for the nation, even if it meant endorsing a man whom he never agreed with - Thomas Jefferson.
“In a choice of Evils let them take the least – Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr," said Hamilton in a letter to Harrison Gray Otis, a Massachusetts Congressman.
Hamilton believed in standing up for what are now the values of America. Where ‘we the people’ can decide whether to vote or not, who to vote for, what to call on the government to do, and what to speak up for.
And he was right. The American Dream will remain alive if ‘we the people’ remain invested in this democracy.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama said it best while presenting Hamilton at the 70th annual Tony awards.
“America is what ‘We the people’ make of it, as long as we stay just like our country, young scrappy and hungry.”
These are words to live by and remember this 4th of July.