Hamilton v Jefferson: The Debate Continues

While recently perusing the fake (and not so fake) news on Facebook, I came across a post from an old friend whom I count among my most politically astute acquaintances. The poster in question happens to be a Democrat who worked hard for Hillary Clinton in the past election. He has served quite a few Presidents and in many campaigns, starting with Robert Kennedy’s ill-fated 1968 effort. I have a lot of respect for my friend.

In his post, he was passing on a very interesting quote from Jeff Tamarkin, a writer and historian who focuses on music and popular culture. Tamarkin has made his bones by writing the liner notes for some of music’s greatest luminaries. But here, he ventured into politics. He talked about riding in taxis driven by Sikhs and Muslims and getting food at local ethnic restaurants and how he “would much rather know them than spend even a minute with Donald Trump”. It struck me that one can only have that particular perspective if one lives in a cosmopolitan city. It was a good indicator that the “city versus rural” divide which was central to the philosophical debates of Hamilton and Jefferson lives on and still reigns supreme.

Despite my status as a former Republican operative and candidate, I have to agree with every word of Tamarkin’s assessment… but it speaks to the exact cause of our current political climate more than the author would like, I fear. The reality is that someone who makes their living as a music and popular culture historian in Brooklyn has zero perspective on what the view looks like from Main Street, West Virginia; a place where Koreans, Cubans, Muslims, and Sikhs are as non-existent as high paying jobs. Local tastes don’t trend towards ethnic cuisine but, to borrow from “The Blues Brothers”, the local watering hole has both kinds of music: country… and western. Meryl Streep would tell you those folks deserve no opinion because their penchant for mixed martial arts and football on Sunday disqualifies them.

I hear all the time from conservative contacts that “the forgotten man” finally has a voice and the “flyover states” are being recognized. They wear the “deplorables” moniker like a badge of honor somewhat akin to hip hop culture commandeering the “N” word. Now… my Facebook posting friend and I know that’s not true. President Trump is just using those folks to galvanize his political power. I am convinced, however, that the way to bring sanity back into the debate is not to pontificate from an ivory tower of assumed superiority built upon esoteric knowledge of American musical history.

It also cannot come from a one man think tank built in Brooklyn with neo-enlightened multicultural feigned compassion. It used to be that the hard scrabbled streets of Brooklyn were a place where one rose from poverty with sheer will and determination, as well as a healthy dose of opportunity and the American dream. But now even Bedford-Stuyvesant has become a place of $3000 a month tiny rental apartments and even tinier $7 lattes sipped by hipsters who like to dress as if they are poor while they plan their next IPO. Meanwhile, back on Main Street in WV, the American Dream is dead because the mill has been shuttered for years.

We are embroiled in a brave new world. It’s not the publicized rift between blue states and red states, but between blue cities and the red rural areas. It is the same political battle waged between Jefferson’s agrarian vision of our nation and Hamilton’s commerce based industrial cities vision. It was all theoretical then… but now it has become all too real. Our only hope is to stop and listen, and to let the moderate majority rise up to take the reins and lead from the center. The gap of understanding between the political poles has become too wide.

Much has been made of the protests that have arisen since the 2016 election results were finalized. While those protests speak to the split between the Presidential popular vote and Hamilton’s brilliant creation; the Electoral College, the voracity speaks to something else. I’ve spent a long time in politics and I’ve seen a lot of protests. I’ve seen people crowd into Senate hearing rooms angry about Presidential Cabinet appointments on both sides. The difference this time is not heightened anger, but heightened fear and the intensity of that fear. While many who were against President Obama had fears; fear that they would lose their guns, fear that they would lose a right to Christian prayer, fear that our nation would become a Socialist collective, they were folks who enjoyed the protection of a current buzzword: privilege. They had not traditionally been victims. They were capable of fighting back and were certainly prepared so to do. They did not see themselves as victims… because they had never been victims.

The protesters in the Trump era are different. They are folks who have suffered and their fear is justified. They are racial minorities who have hung from trees in the south at the hands of lynch mobs. They are gay and lesbian folks who only recently got the right to wed the love of their lives. They are women who have been treated, in the past, as chattle; no different than a farm animal and the property of their husband. They are transgendered folks who still cannot use the bathroom that makes them comfortable in North Carolina. They have suffered and their fears are rooted not in a “victim mentality”… but in a history of actually being victims. Recently, with the gun issue, they have been kids — “Generation Z” citizens who have come of age during this unrest.

There is a way to rectify all of this. That moderate majority that I spoke of has to find its voice. The political Parties have to give us candidates that appeal to a broad range of citizens, not just the polar opposites that fuel campaign coffers and volunteer hours during political silly season. That just happened, to some degree in Pennsylvania’s 18th District with Conor Lamb’s unprecedented win for the Democrats. The process has to be less about money and favors and more about intelligence and leadership. While the debate may still be the one waged by Hamilton and Jefferson about the importance of cities versus rural areas, there is something missing. We need to have understanding. We need to care about the other guy. It seems that the way to “make America great again” is to simply empathize with our countrymen, regardless of politics. You can’t do that from an ivory tower in Brooklyn.

A two time nominee for US Congress in RI’s First District, Jonathan Scott has advised political leaders and CEOs on strategy and communications for over three decades. He has been published in the Providence Journal and Politics Magazine’s “Campaign Insider”, among other publications. He has lectured at colleges and universities throughout the United States on leadership and team building. His new venture, East Castle Group, supports philanthropy and corporate social responsibility efforts within venture capital firms and banks, as well as continues his crisis communications work. He can be reached at jonathan.scott@eastcastlegroup.com or found on Twitter @jonscott2008.

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