Mike Pence, Hamilton, and What We Should Value in a Democracy
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.
— Hamilton (@HamiltonMusical) November 19, 2016
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.