Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 10:54 am | Overcast 67º


Jamie Stiehm: Alexander Hamilton, Donald Trump Are More Alike Than You Know

A brash, reddish-haired New Yorker — or two— is taking Washington by storm.

Sing it, Alexander Hamilton, in the Broadway hit musical, Hamilton, that’s just landed at the Kennedy Center to cheer us up.

Shout it, President Donald Trump, from the tweet-tops. Nobody knows what to do with you.

Trump’s new war on immigrants violates human rights by separating families on the Texas border. So now America is one big mean reality show, and the world is watching.

Let’s start with stark contrasts. Hamilton wrote and framed the Constitution with Virginian James Madison. Trump has never read the document.

Hamilton was a young Revolutionary War officer, an aide to Gen. George Washington, who adored him as a son. Trump struggled to get his boots on in military school, a place that deformed his authoritarian character.

Young Alexander was clever, charming and dashing. So was his nemesis, Aaron Burr, the other New York bright light. Trump never pulled off any of these adjectives.

A Creole orphan immigrant who drew up rules for the world’s first democracy, Hamilton opened a central bank as the first treasury secretary. Commerce, trade and cities were his watchwords. Golf and watching cable? Far too dull for his quick mind.

Make no mistake about Washington’s darling. The urbane Hamilton was never a man of the people. Sorry, but he was kind of an elitist. He never ran for office. Trump, on the other hand, has mastered the art of populist rage.

A notable common trait: Hamilton and Trump were notorious for their extramarital bad behavior. Each got trapped in a sex scandal, one via a vulgar Access Hollywood tape and the other in the “Mrs. Reynolds” blackmail affair.

Poor long-suffering Betsy Hamilton. First lady Melania Trump’s runway pout suggests she’s serving in the Trump White House under protest.

I have to say, reader, that Hamilton had a talent for talking trash, cloaked in more secrecy than Trump’s. He was a bad enemy to have. His political intrigue knew no bounds. Thomas Jefferson understood this. They clashed constantly in President Washington’s Cabinet meetings.

But at a dinner party in New York, Hamilton went too far. He hinted that Burr, the vice president, committed incest with his brilliant daughter, Theodosia, named after her late mother. (There’s a tender song about her in the musical.) The Early Republic’s smartest girl.

Burr had enough. He would not let Hamilton’s latest insult pass. Orphaned young, the Princeton graduate was known as a sure shot as a young Revolutionary War officer. Yes, Burr and Hamilton led parallel lives up to a July morning in 1804.

Burr challenged Hamilton to the deadly duel across the Hudson River. Hamilton had to accept. He’d certainly never apologize — the same credo Trump lives by.

The rest is American history. The New Yorkers lost and the Virginians won. President Jefferson had a clear slate for his “Virginia dynasty” to follow: Madison, and then James Monroe. Slaveholders all, but they went by “planters.”

Like Trump, skilled at manipulation, Hamilton created his own popular legend. The noble bit about throwing away his shot at the duel does not stand up straight. Hamilton felt a fatal foreboding about the duel and put his story, his narrative, in place for posterity. If he lived, he wouldn’t have to tell it.

Hamilton felt history’s eyes on him. Burr defended his honor and “won.”

Now we come to the most tragic tie of all. Hamilton and Madison created the Constitution’s Electoral College. A crosswind in the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections, the Electoral College made Trump the winner, though he decisively lost the people’s vote to Hillary Clinton. She won their home state of New York.

In a Federalist paper, Hamilton argued that the Electoral College was a safeguard from “foreign powers,” which might seek to raise a creature of their own design to become president. If only he knew about the Russian inquiry.

How vexatious that Hamilton made Trump president. The best of New York gave us the worst of New York, because he didn’t trust the voice of the people.

A bitter end to end all.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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