Despite our best efforts to discourage them, Letters to the Editor continue to flow regularly into the Current Affairs postbox. We hereby present a representative selection of our reading public’s most vehemently-held opinions.
To the Editors:
Has Alex Nichols seen Hamilton? has Alex Nichols listened to the original cast recording? Obviously not. Maybe the article was written out of sour grapes at not being able to snag a ticket; but at any rate it’s pretty shoddy journalism to publish something about which the author is completely clueless. When the author does finally research their subject and listen or watch I think they will be very embarrassed.
Hamilton is not a documentary or some museum diorama of the time period. It is an unabashed, heart-on-its-sleeve musical based on a book about a specific person. The play is three hours long as it is. Something had to go. John Adams had to go, Ben Franklin had to go, they couldn’t do everything. Much like when they were writing the Declaration of Independence and they needed to excise the clause about slavery in order to not jeopardize independence.
Honestly, in this era of debauchery and butchery and death and torture and horror daily in the news the one shining light is Lin-Manuel Miranda who I believe is the reincarnation of Shakespeare among us. And your ‘author’ who has no idea what he is talking about has the nerve to slander everything they are trying to do.
Exploitation of the musical to promote a shallow take on society, what he is accusing Hamilton of being, is exactly what the author of this article has done. I’m so sick and tired of the cynicism and ironic take-down of everything that’s good in this world.
Can there not be one thing in this world safe from smug irony and snide cynicism? This show is a shining light in a world of horror and bad news. It is a love letter to musicals, to being young and feeling like you can do anything. It’s a love letter to New York and to joy and jubilation. What was the intention behind the show? Generosity. Giving the audience the best show they could possibly imagine. And someone has to go and shit all over it.
Good day, editors.
CA: Our sincerest regrets. If we had known before publication that Lin-Manuel Miranda was the living reincarnation of Shakespeare, you have our assurance that we never would have taken an enormous shit on him.
To the Editors:
I am writing because, not being familiar with “Current Affairs”, was not sure if your publication is a parody piece or an attempt at a meaningful and serious contribution to contemporary American culture. Maybe the article is a parody (or pure clickbait) but would appreciate some insight, as I am sensitive to falling into what one might call “troll traps.”
Also, does the Editorial Board choose the titles of its article? Or does the author? Did anyone think it was maybe a bit hyperbolic? I mean, I imagine a lot of great leaders liked the movie Dumb & Dumber and it didn’t in any way deal with our legacy of slavery, the ills of global capitalism, or identity in a multicultural society. Maybe I am naive and not sufficiently terrified. I did click on it though, so maybe mission accomplished(?).
Also, if the author did see it, was his expectation that a 3-hour musical written for a mass market was going to treat Hamilton like some multi-volume Howard Zinn book? I mean, it also contained no songs about the Native Americans, whether the Constitution entrenched existing economic structures/class, the relative merits of internal improvements (and whether best left to states or local governments), the defaults in the original Bill of Rights (e.g., states still had established churches), and whether communities whose structures and morals were largely religiously postmillennial (esp. in North) was a good thing, especially for women (among other subjects not found in the musical).
Also, if you haven’t seen it, Michelle Obama recently did “Carpool Karaoke” with James Corden. Michelle clearly is rocking out to a number of songs. I would also appreciate whether I should be terrified that the wife of the leader of the free world is singing along to a song that perpetuates the demand for blood diamonds.
I thought one of the merits of the musical was that its appeal fell somewhere on a shared plane of American understanding, that its takeaways were a reminder of our original aspirations (however missing from the start and incomplete today), and that, following liberals like Richard Rorty, elements of a shared positive cultural canon is important in sustaining a thinking polity and fostering unity in a multicultural society. I sure hope that article was a parody because if not, boy am I wrong!
To the Editors:
Alex Nichols’ recent review of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Broadway musical Hamilton was, in polite terms, garbage. Nichols debased Current Affairs with a review that was factually inaccurate, intellectually lacking, and devoid of both insight and dignity. Put in a different way: the review was corny. Rarely has a review so disgusted me.
Nichols’ problem is not that he failed to see Hamilton before offering his critique. While a serious critic would review a play only after having seen it, one can imagine reasons to review a play without seeing it. The critique might be more about society than the play itself. But Nichols wants to take down both Hamilton and critique America generally, and current trade practices of the Obama administration, specifically. He fails. Not only does he seem unaware of Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, he also seems clueless about the level of detail and historical accuracy in the play. No, let me correct that: Nichols writes as if Miranda’s narrative skills, compositional skills, and historical accuracy are not considerations but inconveniences that can be ignored as he creates a review of a fictitious shadow Hamilton that only he (Nichols) would recognize.
By reviews end, it’s not clear if Nichols’ problem with the show is that a Latino would dare to tell this particular American narrative and center people who look like himself as a reflection of America, that this story would be told in the language of hip-hop, or that Miranda chose to do something other than turn Hamilton into an expose about slavery and racism in America. Every story contains multitudes and at some level artists should be judged both by the narratives they tell and the narratives they leave out. Nichols can think of Hamilton in terms of the latter, it seems.
Racism is a peculiar thing. One might just write this review off as the modern tendency to raise snark to the level of wisdom, but this would be a mistake. Nichols failure is that of the typical racist; he lacks imagination. In his world, people of color lack agency. To show this, he cherry-picks quotes from cast members to show that they are obtuse. He writes that Miranda says the use of black actors is to allow “you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” For Nichols, this notion itself is illegitimate.
And to Nichols’ critique of the show’s cost. Miranda has made sure over 20,000 New York high school students saw the show for free. My tickets, they came in at the steep price of 137 dollars. This review is rubbish. The strawman Nichols makes of Hamilton falls far below the standard that Current Affairs has set. He wants to attack President Obama and “the political establishment.” Such is fine. But to do so in this unseemly way is a disservice to both readers of Current Affairs and to those who produce the magazine.
R. DWAYNE BETTS
New Haven, CT
To the Editors:
Just an FYI for the editing staff of Current Affairs, the public is waking up to the global geoengineering/solar radiation management issue (systematically and intentionally labeled “chemtrails” by the propaganda piece your magazine printed). How will the population feel about “Current Affairs” helping the government hide this most critical issue? Legal efforts are already underway in the US and Canada to expose the ongoing climate engineering operations, perhaps “Current Affairs” should reconsider the position they are taking of completely deceiving the population. Again, one can only imagine how furious the public will be toward all those that helped to hide the devastating and illegal climate engineering operations, once they are fully awakened.
CA: Thanks for the tip, Dale, but it’s hopeless. As you can see from our other correspondence, the public is already furious with us. Though they seem far more concerned that we disparaged the Alexander Hamilton musical than that we enabled a vast government coverup of chemical brainwashing programs. The public’s priorities, it seems, differ somewhat from your own.
To the editors:
It is a strange sort of “redbaiting” and “McCarthyism” that takes a conventional socialist principle as its starting point: solidarity with those resisting a fascist state. It is a bizarre sort of McCarthyism that takes place in socialist magazines, left-leaning journals, and relatively isolated spheres of social media.
The calls for escalated war in Syria have overwhelmingly come from the usual bi-partisan suspects. Donald Trump vows to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Syria. Hillary Clinton advocates a no-fly-zone in Syria that would, by her own admission, “kill a lot of Syrians.” Yet, Fredrik deBoer frets over the prospect “that arguments for intervention might come from the left,” and contends, “this is precisely the condition that presents itself today.”
With the exception of the usual liberal-interventionists, deBoer does a poor job of unmasking the McCarthyist “pro-war left.” He cites Stanley Heller in the Socialist Worker; he finds a “small army of angry tweeters;” he notes my own piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books. I do not wish to understate my own influence but I find the evidence of left-wing McCarthyism thin.
Heller criticizes journalists like Patrick Cockburn and Steven Kinzer in a sensational style. When it comes to prescriptions for action, Heller says the left should demand humanitarian aid and pressure the Iranians and Russians to withdraw. Heller did not once endorse further US military action, either against the Assad regime or Islamist rebel groups.
DeBoer says that left-wing pro-war McCarthyism is demonstrated by a “small army of angry tweeters” who attack journalists like Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek. Do Blumenthal and Khalek receive criticism for their anti-intervention stance? Yes. But much of the criticism comes from fellow anti-war leftists over legitimate disagreements over Blumenthal’s unfavorable analysis of the White Helmets and Khalek’s scheduled attendance at a conference sponsored by the British Syrian Society (founded by Assad’s father-in-law). While bullying behavior on any online platform should be condemned, people saying mean things about you on twitter is hardly the stuff of 1953 (deBoer himself might know something about this).
When it comes what I’ve written on the topic, deBoer simply accuses me of things I have not done. In my piece, I claimed that many on the left had “begun to parrot the same tendencies they disparage Western jingoists for.” I pointed to a number of individuals that have denied Assad’s crimes, derailed discussion of Assad’s crimes, tarnished Syrians as religious zealots, or embraced Russian imperialism. I criticized Tariq Ali because he denied Assad was responsible for the sarin attack in Ghouta and suggests a rebel “false flag” attack is responsible. I criticized Vijay Prashad because he disparages the rebels as “overrun by extremists” and “jihadis,” while not doing the same in other contexts (Palestine) where the chief resistance groups maintain an Islamist ideology. There was no call for a “purge,” no suggestion that these individuals should be “exercised,” and no insinuation that these individuals “work under the influence of a shadowy entity.” I simply think they are wrong.
DeBoer himself says that he doesn’t agree with everything my “targets” have said regarding the conflict in Syria but that “it’s incumbent on everyone to assess the relative power of their targets and their unlikely bedfellows, to remain cognizant of who has influence and who doesn’t.” Essentially, he thinks criticism of the left on this issue is pointless since they have no influence here and because such criticism will be used as firepower by establishment interventionists hell-bent on an increased US role.
I find this criticism unexpected, partly because of whom it comes from. DeBoer is notorious for his harsh criticism of what he sees as the damaging tendencies of the left. I would presume that deBoer doesn’t think Oberlin students preoccupied with the “injustice” of their dining options have any real political influence but that incidents like this hinder the ability of the left to “convince those who are not already convinced.”
I have the same feelings regarding the discussions on Syria. Many share the left-wing’s policy prescriptions for Syria: greater humanitarian aid, welcoming more refugees, and ending the ongoing US bombing campaign. It inhibits consensus building around these policies when a leading anti-war group and a large coalition of left-wing organizations do not take a stance against Assad’s crimes and all imperial intervention. How can people believe that the left opposes US intervention out of concern for the Syrian people when its members fail to condemn the regime that is killing them?
The left does not hold the reigns of power. But that does not mean a failure to take a principled stand in solidarity with Syrians doesn’t have consequences. I too believe that US military escalation is coming, made ever more likely by the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency. If the left stands to oppose it effectively it needs to take a position that is free of hypocrisy. That does not mean casting out dissenters. It does mean engaging in the kind of discussion that allows us to critically examine our own positions and ensure that we can cultivate greater support moving forward.
DeBoer replies: I find Mr. Sandlin’s response to my criticism quite typical: after being called out for his distortions, he then proffers a much weaker, more reasonable-sounding version of those distortions, in order to appear fairer. He wrote what he wrote; I wrote what I wrote; unlike him, I’m willing to stand by mine.
To the Editors:
Your publication persists in referring to the inhabitants of the United States of America as “Americans.” In view of the aggrandizing and appropriative nature of such a nominative, may it be your magazine’s editorial policy henceforth to refer to these people as “united statesians,” a calque of “estadounidenses”, as they are known by their American neighbors.
Winter Springs, FL
C.A.: When the antiappropriative crowd come up with a somewhat less cumbersome calque, Current Affairs will be the first to clamber aboard. Alas, United Statesians strikes us as being just about as sensible as referring to citizens of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar as Republic of the Unioners. Send us better words and you can be assured that we will deploy them.