Who tells the story? And why it matters

One of the benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic is that Disney made a live recording of the musical “Hamilton” available digitally on July 3. I highly recommend it.

Hamilton premiered off-Broadway in 2015 and has received a record number of awards. Lin-Manuel Miranda is an amazing storyteller. Through non-stop music (46 songs) he brilliantly tells the story of the founding father depicted on the $10 bill. He brings the history of America’s early decades to vibrant life. Not only will you learn much, you will be inspired to dig deeper and learn more.

Alexander Hamilton’s contributions to America are nothing short of amazing — both in their diversity and in their lasting impact. Among his many accomplishments, Hamilton was the principal author of the Federalist Papers. In a mere six months, he wrote 51 of the 85 profoundly reasoned essays detailing the genius of the U.S. Constitution and laying out the principles of American government.

The Federalist Papers were written after the Constitutional Convention of 1887. They explained the provisions of the newly drafted U.S. Constitution in an effort to persuade the people of New York to vote for its ratification.

So convincing are Hamilton’s arguments and so profound are his principles, that students of American government have been studying these papers for the last 233 years. They are the best interpretive guide to the U.S. Constitution that can be found.

If Miranda’s musical does nothing more than to revive an interest in the Federalist Papers and prompt our own politicians and pundits to read Hamilton’s words, our state and country will be the winners.

As it is, widespread ignorance of the principles defended by Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison prevents the American people from holding our elected officials to account for their unconstitutional actions that harm every American. American voters who elect officials who are ignorant of — or hostile to — the principles found in the Federalist Papers do so at their own peril and to the harm of their children and grandchildren.

As Wyoming approaches the August primaries, it would be great to hear questions about the Federalist Papers asked at candidate forums. Ask the candidates whether they have read them. Ask how recently they read them. Ask if they disagree with any of their principles, and if so, which ones. Get them on the record and hold them accountable once elected to office.

While you do this, you should also read them yourself. This will enable you to engage in even more detail and with a deeper understanding. The Federalist Papers, like the U.S. Constitution that they defend, are not on the fringes of American life, they are at its very core.

It is extremely saddening to me when I hear people who quote the U.S. Constitution labeled as “right-wingers.” It is sadder still, that those who know and quote the Federalist Papers are called “extreme right-wingers.” This should not be. The Constitution is as centrist as it gets.

In fact, in their day, the Federalist Papers shaded to the left of the Constitution. The party of Thomas Jefferson criticized Hamilton for wanting too large a government and too much federal power. Today, that position seems to be reversed. Those arguing for more centralized power and higher taxes are likely to see the Federalist Papers as far too conservative.

If you are a big-government liberal who agrees with the principles that Hamilton expressed in these papers, I would be pleased to hear it and retract the previous sentence. I do not intend to characterize anyone falsely. I am pleading here only that both the right and the left of the political spectrum frame their arguments around the Federalist Papers.

That would be a giant step forward from the petty bickering and identity politics that characterize most of today’s political discourse.

As a case in point, consider the press coverage of the recent Wyoming Republican Party convention. For the past three weeks, we have been treated to a steady stream of misrepresentations of the convention’s happenings. A few of the delegates who voted with the minority on key issues have received extremely disproportionate representation in the press.

Stories and opinion pieces, written by people whom I never saw at the convention, have flipped the narrative. Those who were actually there saw that almost every vote was decided by a 70- to 80-percent majority. Rep. Scott Clem, who chaired the convention, did an excellent job of managing the debate according to the rules on which everyone had agreed beforehand.

This does not at all line up with the narrative that the convention was hijacked by a small cadre from the “radical right.” Those who attribute the convention’s decisions to “far-right party leadership” are lying to you. The delegates and the delegates alone are responsible for the decisions of the convention.

They decided, first, to ratify the elections that had been conducted during the first online convention on May 9. Second, they adopted a platform that strives to embody the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers. Third, they decided that faithful stewardship of the money donated to support the platform of the GOP should go to candidates who actually vote for these federalist principles.

If any delegate could show that the GOP platform did not faithfully represent constitutional principles, the convention would have gladly adopted any improvements needed. That deep desire to uphold and support the Constitution and the principles of Hamilton, Madison and Jay characterized the entire convention.

Those who portray this desire as somehow “right-wing” should be ashamed of themselves, as should those who spread lies in the media and level personal attacks against party leadership. Open and honest debate on constitutional principles would elevate public discourse. Hiding policy disagreements by incessant personal attacks does not.

One major theme of “Hamilton” the musical centers on the question: Who tells your story? Much hinges on this question. The enemies of Hamilton sought to tell his story in order to destroy the man. Aaron Burr’s personal attack cost Hamilton his life. But Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth, told his true story.

It is amazing how a man so instrumental to the formation of the American republic came so close to being lost to history. Had it not been for Elizabeth’s dogged determination to gather the facts and tell her husband’s story, this amazing man and the principles that he stood for may never have been known to our generation.

The same goes for the principles and people of our day. It is not enough to know the truth and keep it to yourself. We are all responsible for telling the story. Just because one narrative is told with a megaphone does not make that story true. The powerful and dominating enemies of Hamilton could not ultimately defeat the story that his faithful wife told.

As a result of Elizabeth’s small but incessant voice, all Americans know the face of Hamilton and carry his picture in their wallet. More than that, they have access to his story and to his Federalist Papers still today.

We can honor her work by reading his papers. We can advance his cause by telling the true stories of those who labor to uphold Hamilton’s principles still today.


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