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What the culture clash between 'Hamilton' and Trump can teach us about America

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The nation's stark divisions were dramatically thrown into relief this past holiday weekend. As cities turned themselves into pyrotechnic battlefields, the film premiere of "Hamilton" on Disney+ faced off against President Trump's incendiary speech at Mt. Rushmore -- two visions of America as fatally opposed as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop-infused musical about the Founding Fathers delivers America's origin story with a diverse cast that makes good on those democratic ideals that from the inception left out whole swaths of the population. Trump's performance outdoors in South Dakota, an angrier version of his "American carnage" inaugural address, inflamed conflicts, stoked grievances and poured kerosene on the culture wars.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages out of control in the U.S., Trump held an event at which masks were conspicuously and defiantly absent. He had no interest in calming the frayed nerves of a nation where more than 130,000 people have died from the virus and millions more have been infected.

Instead, he wanted to talk about statues. "Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities." Unable to win reelection based on his handling of the pandemic or his stewardship of the cratering economy, he has decided that his surest path to victory is through a race war.

Which America do you want to live in, Miranda's modern inclusive nation or Trump's wrathful and nostalgic failed state?

Once the leader of the free world, the U.S. has become a pariah on the world stage. Europe has locked its doors to American visitors, unable to risk exposure to a nation that, despite the glories of its universities and the technical virtuosities of its industries, has renounced science for the sake of a demagogue's ego.

 

On Sunday, the tragic news came that Nick Cordero, a charismatic Broadway star who had been at New York's Cedars-Sinai hospital for months struggling with the coronavirus and its brutal aftermath, died. A handsome, strapping 41-year-old who reportedly had no known pre-existing conditions before falling ill, he was cut down in his prime by a virus that Trump insists is overblown, even as new U.S. infections are skyrocketing, intensive care units are filling up and our death toll is dwarfing that of every other affluent nation.

According to Trump, whose scientific credentials come by way of having an uncle who once taught at MIT, 99% of cases are "totally harmless." This fraudulent statistic, conveyed in a speech at the White House to commemorate Independence Day, wasn't supported by FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who nevertheless was reluctant to openly criticize his thin-skinned boss when parrying questions on the Sunday political talk shows.

Speaking medical truth to would-be dictatorial power is a recipe for being silenced. On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, host Margaret Brennan spelled the situation out for anyone wondering where's Dr. Fauci: "We think it's important for our viewers to hear from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control. But we have not been able to get our requests for Dr. Fauci approved by the Trump administration in the last three months, and the CDC not at all. We will continue our efforts."

Trump's self-serving diagnosis of what's ailing a suffering nation, however, has little to do with epidemiological data. Reelection is his only concern, as John Bolton makes clear in his book "The Room Where It Happened." (The allusion to the title of one of the most electrifying numbers in "Hamilton" is purely coincidental, or so claims the hawkishly conservative author, who would never want to appear on the other side of the partisan divide.)

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