Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘American diversity’

The past couple of weeks have brought out illustrations of what is seriously going wrong with the values of our country.  Some call it polarization.  That is a true label, but I would go even further and say that polarization is based on the refusal to tolerate any diversity of thought.  Each side of the political spectrum is becoming hyper focused on getting its folks to think and believe the same, and not accept different ways of thinking or analyzing issues and events at the center of their attention.

Here is example number one. It has become clear that a significant group of people in the left wing are insisting that the only way to establish a health care system that best serves the American people is to create “Medicare for all” which must include the elimination of all private health insurance.  There is refusal to even consider how the private health insurance held by so many American workers through their employers is their preference.  Democratic candidates who even start to question the best solution or combination are being condemned as too conservative and not worthy of the nomination for president.  There are other issues starting to fall into the same mud hole – how to handle creating more education opportunities for those at the bottom of our economy and the best way to handle serious environmental/climate change issues are just two examples.  These are all serious issues that need diverse thought in order to find the best solutions.  The left, however, is becoming too obstinate placing the necessity to think alike in order to be accepted in place of diversity of thought.

This is an undermining of the best definition of “liberalism,” which is “open mindedness.”

The right’s obstinance was demonstrated by their embracing of Trump’s change to the celebration of American Independence Day – July 4th.  Yes, it is understandable that some folks would enjoy and appreciate honoring the American military, yet it is also very understandable why so many people would question the manner in which Trump decided to do this – at a large public expense with funds taken from original intended uses.  However the real exposure of the right wing’s true problem, which is dedication to a personal figure (Trump) as opposed to support of true American values is through postings and comments in social media.

Trump made ignorant historical comments that many news organizations reported and/or put in a satiric manner.  Yes, sometimes Trump makes a correct decision (correct left wingers?), but Trump supporters illustrated their own narrow mind set by either trying to explain his remarks as actually true, or by saying he was really referring to something else, or by simply stating their dedication to the president they admire, refusing to acknowledge the truth of the following:  his constant lying, his constant misstatement of historic facts, his constantly proven immorality, his stating of policy position through narcissistic praise of himself.  A large chunk of Trump supporters have become simple demagogic followers.  Being dedicated to Trump has become more important to them than standing for true American and moral values.

Why do I see this lesson coming from July 4th?   Not really because of the celebration in Washington, DC.  No, I have been researching the heroic life of my great uncle Richard.  Part of his heroism came in World War II while serving in the 48thEngineer Combat Battalion.  I found a book written about the history of this battalion during the war, and here is what I read in the prologue of the book on July 4th:  “An outfit isn’t a machine…It’s a group of 600 individual personalities who are thinking 600 different ways towards getting the job done.  It’s the 600 ways of thinking that makes an outfit good.”

Wow, imagine the worthiness of an army battalion being judged not by the single mindedness of its members, but of its diversity of thought!  This battalion was cited by President Roosevelt for the excellence of its performance during a very difficult and critical section of its campaign in Italy.  The book shows the diversity of the soldiers and their approaches to solving the issues confronting them.

Our country needs to reject mental obstinance and embrace the diversity of individuals and their thoughts, fulfilling the basic American value exemplified by an army battalion in World War II.  Then we are true Americans.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I recently saw the 2016 Tony winner for best musical, “Hamilton.” It might be the most brilliant musical play I have ever seen – and I have seen a lot of theater. I rank it with the top shows I have attended in the past 50 years, shows like Les Miserable, West Side Story, A Chorus Line – shows that brought something unique and different to the theater world. Each of these shows innovations influenced the world of musical theater. “Hamilton,” from my perspective, is in this category of an innovative show. So much for the review, if you can get a ticket, see it.

But “Hamilton” is much more than a great piece of entertainment. Its structure, from the way the story is told to the casting of the characters, to the mingling of various musical styles – creates great teaching moments on multiple levels. The story, if you are one of the few folks who have not at least read something about the show, is about the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers.

Hamilton was an orphan, an immigrant, and an abrasive, brilliant man. He served as General George Washington’s chief aide for much of the Revolutionary War. He was a key proponent of the new constitution, publishing most of the 85 articles of the Federalist Papers. He then served as the first secretary of the treasury under President Washington, creating a financial system that placed the newly formed United States on solid path. His death was tragic, as he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr over his political opposition to Burr.

In his unique telling of the narrative of Hamilton’s life, Lin Manuel Miranda treats the history of the founding of our country with great reverence and respect. Unlike most representations of this history, however, Miranda’s story telling method brings to light aspects of the history, and our current nation’s makeup that are often overlooked or buried. Too often our history is portrayed in a way that only recognizes a certain group of white, influential figures. “Hamilton” adds a deeper perspective to our history.

How? Well there are two obvious ways. First, his music is a conglomeration of musical styles: hip hop, rock, jazz and classical Broadway – which includes ballads and blues. He uses hip hop to highlight revolutionary activities – not just in the war but to emphasize how the republic was formed and operated. The flow of musical styles from number to number is sometimes stark yet seamless.   This style acts as a metaphor for the diversity that makes up our country, which can be eye opening yet essential to the way our country is structured and operates. One of the most classical Broadway style numbers is sung by King George, thus representing the “Old World” as opposed to America’s new ways of doing things. During some of his musical numbers Miranda tips his hat to prior musicals with lyrical connections to other musicals, such as “1776” and “Pirates of Penzance.” These references, just like the varying musical styles are (I believe) meant to show how our country is the sum total of such diverse sources, and that all of these sources are a necessary component of who we really are.

The second teaching tool is the casting. Three key characters in this story are slave owning Virginians, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison – 3 of our first 4 presidents. All of them are played by African Americans. Indeed, the casting of this show breaks all the remnants of the old school approach to only cast people of the ethnicity of the original historical figure. The casting mixture of different races and ethnicities hammers home the lesson that our country was founded for everyone, not just an elite group of wealthy white men.

Even more, the show makes sure we understand that it was more than the well known founding fathers who contributed to the strength of our country from its very beginning. For example, during a scene that depicts a cabinet debate over Hamilton’s proposed financial plan, Jefferson states (in a rap style) that Virginia is wealthy, successful and plants seeds, so why should Virginians take on the debt of other states like New York. Hamilton replies (also in rap style) that we know who was actually planting the seeds for Virginians (slaves) and that they were profitable because of slavery. The message is clear. Not only is slavery wrong (highlighted numerous times in the show), but black slaves were the unseen, unacknowledged resource that provided the platform for the Virginians’ (and other southern states) claimed success.

A history of our country that fails to acknowledge the presence and importance of ignored groups (e.g. black slaves, women, who although did not vote contributed to the well being of the new country, immigrants) perpetuates a narrative that allows for the dismissal of so much of the makeup of our country. The United States is NOT just a culture derived from Anglo and white Europeans. It is a conglomeration, from its very beginning, of those English/Europeans, Hispanic, Black, Sephardic Jews as well as probably the most dismissed group – native Americans.

Finally, in trying to describe the makeup of “Hamilton,” the mishmash of musical styles, the mixed ethnicity of the casting, the lack of spoken narrative – the impression is one of a completely disorganized show that cannot possibly make any sense. Yet, when you see the show, this polyglot of people and styles is the perfect metaphor for America at its finest. Somehow all of this comes together to form a work of beauty. That is our country – a polyglot of people cultures and styles that despite differences and disagreements, can be a place of amazing beauty. That is what we need to celebrate on July 4.

Read Full Post »