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Why are Democrats and Republicans stanning Hamilton amid impeachment?

 Hamilton
“Hamilton” debuted in 2015 and received widespread acclaim.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

In the middle of a trial to impeach the president of the United States, there’s another man outside of Donald Trump who remains a central figure. No, it’s not Adam B. Schiff or Alan Dershowitz. It’s someone who died 215 years ago — Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton, the man and the musical, continues to be a running theme for both political parties throughout the trial.

Former national security advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming memoir, “The Room Where It Happened,” is titled, perhaps unwittingly, after a “Hamilton” song. A source close to Bolton said the two are unrelated.

A prominent member of the resistance, a national collective of anti-Trumpers, tweeted a picture of a cake featuring Bolton’s book title in an effort to entice Senate Republicans to allow witnesses at the trial. The collective has also been using the lyric “History has its eyes on you” at rallies and on Twitter to criticize the GOP.

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President Trump seemed to have gotten in on the action, perhaps, tweeting that Democrats “will never be satisfied” as he criticized their never-ending opposition. A White House spokesman did not respond to an inquiry on whether it was intentional.

Experts said that Hamilton has resonated with fans on both sides of the aisle.

House prosecutor Rep. Hakeem Jeffries during the trial jokingly chastised his colleagues for relying heavily on the Founding Fathers.

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“Now, by my count as of this afternoon, the framers of the Constitution and the founders of our great republic have been quoted directly or mentioned by name 123 times,” said the Democrat from New York. “Alexander Hamilton, 48 times. James Madison, 35 times. George Washington, 24 times. John Adams, eight times. Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin pulling up in the rear, four times.”

“Hamilton,” the musical, makes the founding father an appealing figure to liberals and conservatives because, through it, both sides see their America, said Elizabeth Titrington Craft, a professor at the University of Utah.

“There are things you can embrace and ignore in the musical,” Craft said in an interview. “That’s why it functions so well for politicians across the aisle.”

Craft said the bootstraps narrative is appealing to Republicans, while Democrats embrace the multicultural and multiracial cast.

While the musical highlights the ethical battle over slavery, it ignores the role of luck and privilege in moving up in society, Donatella Galella, a professor at UC Riverside, said in an interview.

And while the musical is hailed as progressive, some academics have also criticized it for omitting racial minorities, and for how Hamilton seized some of his fortune.

The House of Representatives intends to vote to impeach President Trump for abusing his office and obstructing Congress, a condemnation that only two other U.S. presidents have faced in the nation’s 243-year history. Despite the historic nature of the vote on charging the president with committing high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump’s fate has been sealed for days, if not weeks in the Democratic-controlled House.

Hamilton was born into a debt-ridden family, but was able to marry into wealth that came largely from slave labor, Galella said. This omission makes the messaging palatable to some conservatives who embrace the notion everyone is on an equal playing field, Galella said.

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It was not unusual for House managers and White House lawyers to invoke Hamilton’s words in their arguments, said David Cruz, a USC law professor. Hamilton wrote the bulk of the Federalist Papers, which the Supreme Court still relies on as “important evidence of the proper interpretation of the Constitution,” Cruz said.

Hamilton has always been a prominent founding father. But it was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical that put him in the pantheon of “great” founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, said Sam Erman, a USC law professor.

“If your goal is to communicate with the broader public, there’s reasons to speak to ideas that are circulating widely,” Erman said. “A Jefferson quote might be good. But Hamilton quotes will connect to songs and resonate with listeners.”

Bolton’s book title also inspired a woman who thought it would be a good idea to send Senate Republicans “something that everyone likes” to encourage them to vote for witnesses. Carina Kolodny said she and her bipartisan group of friends wrestled with what would be most effective. They agreed to send a cake decorated with Bolton’s book title.

“They really are in the room where it happened,” she said in an interview.

After resistance leader Scott Dworkin shared a now-viral image of the cake, Javier Muñoz, who played the lead role in the Broadway musical after Miranda left, replied on Twitter: “Soooo ... this is happening .... tomorrow .... and if you don’t know now you know ....”

His response triggered an onslaught of Hamilton stans to encourage them to design more cakes with Hamilton puns.

“And we were like, your wish is our command,” Kolodny said. They designed one more cake with the lyric “History has its eyes on you.”

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Kolodny and the 30 people who accompanied her to the Capitol were mostly unsuccessful in delivering the 53 cakes to the 53 senators. Most of the cakes were donated to homeless shelters.

The failure “was disappointing, but our goal was to spark conversation and give people something fun in a dark and difficult time,” she said.

In December, when Miranda was asked by a freelance journalist how he felt when his show was invoked by a witness in a House impeachment hearing, he said, “It’s mind-boggling to me,” and that he “never anticipated how it would catch on with people in power, and how often I hear politicians and people who work in D.C. quoting the show.”

Miranda, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed. But when asked to weigh in on this story, the spokesman sent the following statement that he attributed to Miranda:

“is the quote:
‘Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory.
You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.’”


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