As Donald Trump settles into The White House, elites in the political class are beginning to recognize that democracy is not necessarily a permanent state of political organization. “Donald Trump’s candidacy is the first time American politics has left me truly afraid,” wrote Vox cofounder Ezra Klein just before the election. Andrew Sullivan argued in New York magazine that American democracy is susceptible, “in stressful times, to the appeal of a shameless demagogue.” Paul Krugman wrote an entire column on why republics end, citing Trump’s violations of political norms. But if you want to understand the politics of authoritarianism in America, the place to start is not with Trump, but with the cool-kid Founding Father of the Obama era, Alexander Hamilton.
I’m not just talking about the actual founder, though we’ll come back to him. I’m talking about the personage at the center of the Broadway musical, Hamilton.