Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

Prof. Paul Pierson shared his thoughts on American polarization during his lecture, which was the first in the "Difficulty of Democracy" series. He ended his lecture with a rapped parody of 'Hamilton.'

February 11, 2018

Guest Speaker Puts Personal Spin on ‘Hamilton’ During Political Lecture

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“How does a drifter, a hater, an ignorant debater, a man with no knowledge who stiffs kids seeking college come to be a tribune for sixty million, the man of the hour, one lucky break for an awesome power, Party of Lincoln, what were you thinking?’”

Prof. Paul Pierson, political science, University of California at Berkeley, rapped a “Hamilton” parody in the first of the six lecture “Difficulty of Democracy” series on Friday.

When Prof. Richard Miller, philosophy, introduced Pierson he pointed out that the Berkeley professor studied processes of “growing inequality and polarization decades ago when Donald Trump’s coming would’ve struck people as a strange, bad joke.”

Pierson, who is the author of the 2016 book “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper,” mostly avoided a lecture on Trump-ism and focused instead on the polarization of America’s political parties.

“Polarization gives you this image of two parties pulling away from each other but what is going on in the United States is asymmetrical,” said Pierson. “It is much more a story of change on the Republican side than it is on the Democratic side.”

Republican polarization, according to Pierson, was derived over time from the party’s ideological basis, its geographic edge, the disproportionately conservative media and perhaps most decisive of all other effects — a distinctively anti-government rhetoric.

According to Pierson, while the Democratic Party needs “the government to function,” the Republicans consistently use “anti-government rhetoric” to undermine that effort.

“The Republican Party doesn’t need to be liked. It just needs you to hate the government,” Pierson said.

Pierson identified weaknesses of the Democratic party as well — like its lack of a cohesive narrative, its pluralistic media and its equally bankrolled system — but the Democrat’s deficiencies, as opposed to the Republican ones, work against polarization and extremism.

But despite his understanding of contemporary politics as the product of “deep seated, long term forces at work, he struggles to make sense of recent Trump era developments.

“It’s hard these days to make sense of the country that we live in… I find myself, like a lot of people, really scrambling to make sense of the last 18 months,” Pierson offered. “It’s been a whirlwind, a saga of incredible ambition for power and wealth, brutal partisan warfare, sex scandals, foreign entanglements.”

“I’m talking about the musical Hamilton of course,” Pierson said.