Mike Pence, Hamilton, and What We Should Value in a Democracy

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My Twitter and Facebook feeds are lit up with praise for Brandon Dixon and the cast of Hamilton for boldly standing up to the Vice President-Elect after the performance that he attended. This after Mr. Pence arrived to the performance to boos and jeers from those in the audience.


All of this amounts to perfectly acceptable forms of first amendment expressions of political beliefs.

But when we think about what democracy is, how it works, and what values and behaviors we should encourage in order for democracy to flourish, we just might be praising the wrong people here.

It certainly is no display of political bravery to stick it to Mike Pence in a Manhattan Theater surrounded by a cast and audience who, for the most part, shares your political leanings.

But what about Mr. Pence? He took time to go enjoy and learn from a great work of art. He willingly put himself in a situation where he knew many in the cast and audience disagreed with him. He walked in to a crowd of boos and made the decision to stay nonetheless. And with dignity and class, he stopped, stayed, and listened while he received admonition from the cast, to the cheers of all those around him.

Surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us and receiving praise by that crowd for sticking up our middle finger at those we disagree with is all well and good, but it is neither a display of courage nor a productive form of democracy.

On the other hand, placing ourselves into a crowd of those who disagree with us, listening, and taking the lickings that inevitably result with poise and class, is something we could all do more often.

The virtue of democracy is that, when practiced, it moderates our passions. We learn to take our self-interests, ideologies, and desires and allow them the uncomfortable confrontation with our neighbor’s self-interests, ideologies, and desires. It is precisely in this confrontation that democracy has its most humanizing effect: we learn from one another and ultimately seek compromise and shared values.

If we are really concerned with the effects of a Trump/Pence administration, we’d do well to welcome them into circles of those who disagree with them more often. And we’d do well to do the same ourselves.

  1. Doc says:

    Very much agree with much of your commentary, Kevin. And civility is indeed an important component of a healthy democratic culture, but we seem to agree that ours is not currently a healthy Republic nor is civility always a virtue when speaking truth to power. So a quick counterpoint:

    1) This was a civil discourse offered by these actors, shushing boos to instead deliver a plea for listening that was assertive but not aggressive;

    2) The role reversal of protestors within a sea of Trump/Pense supporters has already been sufficiently documented to demonstrate that such commitments to civility are not widely shared;

    3) A commitment to Freedom of Speech is most important when such speech is unpleasant, contrary to sentiment, and directed to the powerful from the powerless. That is a far more important commitment necessary to democracy than civility IMHO.

    Appropriateness to forum is too often a bludgeon. This was an opportunity in a SAFE environment to voice their views and engage in discourse, a clear exercise of Free Speech in speaking truth to power. I’d also point out theirs was far more civil than much coming from the supporters of Trump/Pense.

    Thank you for your thoughts and your engagement is always very much appreciated.

  2. Dana Tucker says:

    Wow. I actually feel kind of sorry for you that you cannot see the world through any other eyes but those of straight, white male privilege. Pence has voted time and time again to repress the LGBT community, women, and minorities. The cast was only making sure that he heard their voices, and they were not just speaking for themselves. And they did it eloquently and with respect and dignity. I find it troubling that you consider minority groups’ desires to have full civil rights and be placed on a level playing field with white males as “self interest.” I also think it’s funny that you think Pence would actually listen to those he’s so long tried to dehumanize if he weren’t put on the spot like he was in this case. He is no brave hero of democracy. He is a racist, homophobic, misogynist that we have to suffer for the next four years. This is democracy….but some of us have to yell and scream to get our voices heard. And I’m sure these voices will still be ignored.

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