Both millennial men, born in the U.S.A. to parents born who had been born outside, but emigrated inside, these fifty United States. Both identifying as minorities. Both intensely political, thinking about identity politics and politics more generally. Both carrying grudges, both wanting to make statements. One on the cover of this week’s Rolling Stone, the other appearing on some newsier covers. But one carries a pen and a piano and a stage sword. The other carried an AR-15. One reacted to diversity by choreographing hours of dancing; the other stopped the dancing cold.
On one level, it’s ridiculous to compare Omar Mateen, the reprehensible reprobate who killed 49 people in a gay club in Orlando, and wounded as many more, to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the revolutionary rapper-composer of “Hamilton”. Just because Mateen happened to perform his atrocities on the same day, June 12, that the American theater world bestowed 11 Tony Awards onto “Hamilton” and coronated Miranda as the new king of Broadway, doesn’t mean the two men should be compared. Can you really compare anyone to a murderous psychopath? Can you really compare anyone to a MacArthur-winning genius? No, right?
But they should be compared. Because we can’t say this enough times: Mateen had options. And I’m going to expand this circle of comparison, because one year ago this Friday, Dylaan Roof, the butcher of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, also had options. Maybe Miranda wasn’t going to form a hip-hop trio with them, as Miranda did in college with pals. Maybe that wouldn’t have quite suited Mateen or Roof. But this I know: Mateen and Roof wanted the world to pay attention to them. So did Miranda.
Yes, it’s hard to put Miranda-level dedication into your statements. So you pick up a weapon, you take that nice deadly shortcut to infamy, and you make your little statement about your persecuted group being better than another persecuted group. Let’s be clear: that was never your best option. One of your other options was love. Yes, love is often harder than picking up a gun and killing your fellow humans in a sanctuary for a marginalized group. But look around, look around, at how much Miranda has done right now. Look at how love eventually matters more than hate.
I’m well aware that we’re living in the Barack Obama era which is also a time of revived political correctness; I have pointed to some of its excesses. But come on. We, the reasonable people of America, cannot let this utter perfidy go uncondemned. We must speak and say loudly NO, we can do better. And we must suggest ways to do better.
Omar Mateen attacked all of us, killed every kind of American. What a day was June 12. Every one of America’s marginalized groups, save perhaps Asians, had sudden reason to revisit hope, fear, cataclysm, renewal. The gay community experienced its worst attack since the Nazis. Feminists, finally feeling traction over the (college) rape issue as a once-anonymous rapist finally, truly became part of the national coversation, got knocked out of the conversation. Muslims were thrown under the bus by a major-party candidate who threatens to bar them from immigrating. Native Americans were insulted by every news source calling the event the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”; that’s actually Wounded Knee. Even the disabled had an existential moment when Peter Dinklage/Tyrion on Game of Thrones said, ruefully and self-referentially, that he was “the most famous dwarf in the world.” (Don’t we need a second?) And also that day, a proud Latino (named after a poem about the Vietnam War) more or less took over Broadway (and much of Hollywood, if you look at his Wikipedia page), as three of his actors became three of the four black people who set a representational record by winning this year’s four Tonys for performances in a musical.
What does “Hamilton” have to do with Omar Mateen and Dylaan Roof? Adam Gopnik wrote:
“Hamilton” is the Obama-era musical. At the simplest presentational level, it shows previously marginalized people taking on the responsibility and burden of American history. Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton and the rest of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) are all played by black, Latino, or Asian-American performers using an African-American musical idiom—and within seconds this seems neither jarring nor even particularly daring: it just makes sense. Who else and in what other range? “Hamilton” is about the mutability of identity in American history. The players change, the story stays the same. It is President Obama’s point about America’s open-ended and universally available narrative brought to life on stage.
In Obama’s America, some see this “narrative” as a more inclusive, generous nation that continues to expand Washington and Jefferson’s franchise to more and more people. But others see a zero-sum game, a limited pie, where one group’s advantage is another group’s disadvantage. In California we think of it as “Prop 8” Syndrome – blacks flooded the polls in 2008 to vote for Barack Obama, and apparently doomed the same-sex marriage act. One of President Obama’s most important yet underrated accomplishments – thanks for nudging him into it, Vice President Biden – was to mend fences, in 2012, with the black and gay communities, to put them on the same pie-sharing path. If blacks and gays can share the same “it shouldn’t matter who you are” rhetoric, then so can women, Asians, Latinos, the differently abled, Indian-Americans, Native Americans, Muslim-Americans…right? The way forward is together, isn’t it? The players change, the story stays the same?
The horrible events in Orlando opened a predictable rupture in American life, and many well-known people are reacting with tired, well-worn ideologies and familiar turf-protection. And that’s fine. But I’m going to quote “Hamilton”: history has its eyes on you.
Most of America lies on a spectrum, you see, from hate to love, from Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof to Lin-Manuel Miranda, from a promotion of death and/or divisiveness to a promotion of empathy and inclusiveness. It shouldn’t be enough, this week, to simply reject Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof for the same old, same old reasons. One must also note the love of Lin-Manuel Miranda and try to emulate it.
After all, on Sunday night, Lin-Manuel Miranda was feeling my feeling, and when he accepted the Tony for Best Score he busted out a fresh new rhyme (he does this everywhere!) that included “love is love is love is love” as urgent and mournful as it could be.
Asked about it later, he said, “we live in this world where beautiful and horrible things exist at the same time, and sometimes on the same day, so you can’t let that go by; you can’t let that moment go by, particularly when theater is the cornerstone of, you know … theater doesn’t exist without the LGBTQ community.”
Sure, Miranda may have stumbled a bit on the way there (I don’t see any same-sex couples in “Hamilton”), but he’s trying to be an ally to previously marginalized groups, and to everyone else. This week, we must all go there, up to and including embracing the working-class whites who are voting for Donald Trump as their solution to a shrinking pie, up to even the one-percent we sometimes decry in the abstract. Nobody on Broadway has more money than white male Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Lin-Manuel Miranda made a point of loving him on Sunday. The spectrum goes from Mateen and Roof to Miranda. Find yourself on it.
Mateen and Roof will forever be known for one simple, stupid act of hate. But when we say Miranda’s “Hamilton” is about love, we don’t mean it’s as easy as holding hands and singing “kumbaya.” “Hamilton” was so difficult that Miranda shocked the theater world by not moving it to Broadway proper in time for last year’s Tonys, ensuring himself and his cast 18 months in 18th-century finery. It wasn’t ready, Miranda said. “Hamilton” is not only about love; it’s about sacrifice and conflict and bitterness and ambition and, sometimes, hate. The lead character gets killed! So it’s not unicorns and rainbows. It’s a hard won road. And we must walk it together. Starting yesterday.
As an example of how hard the road may sometimes be, in the wake of events like Orlando, listen to this, from Tony winners Miranda and Renee Elias Goldsberry:
“There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable…
Forgiveness, can you imagine?
If you see them in the street, walking by your side, talking by your side, have pity
They are going through the unimaginable.”