Wednesday, November 9: the day Donald Trump claimed the presidency of the United States, pulling what could be considered the biggest upset since Harry Truman’s victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948. A day that will certainly go down in history as our nation heaved a sigh—whether out of relief, defeat or exhaustion, I’m still unsure. November 9 marked a day I had been anticipating since the beginning of the year, though it wasn’t because it signified the end of the media circus show I prefer to call the 2016 Presidential Election.
Let’s flash back several months—before the Republican and Democratic candidates had been selected. Bernie Sanders still had a large following (and even had some convinced he would take the Democratic nomination), and the name Gary Johnson had yet to surface in political conversation. It was a typical Sunday morning in April when Faith Wicklund, business manager at Miller Auditorium, approached me after our church service.
I had consulted her on a few occasions when I wanted to review a performance at Miller for the Reflection, and she had always been able to provide me with tickets, but never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted the conversation that was about to unfold.
“How would you and your sister like to go see Hamilton in Chicago?”
Her question took my by surprise. Did she really mean Hamilton? The show that has been all over the media–winning 11 Tonys, a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize? The show that was sold out for months on end? That Hamilton?
Needless to say, she extended an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Faith informed me that we would be seeing a matinee on a Wednesday afternoon in November, with a group of people from Miller Auditorium and other local theaters. She couldn’t remember the exact date off the top of her head. A few weeks passed before I learned that Wednesday would be the ninth, and a few more after that before I realized that my sister and I would be going to see Hamilton the day following the 2016 election.
It wasn’t until the names of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates were announced that I realized the ramifications of attending that particular show in that particular city on that particular day.
Months shrunk to weeks until it was November 8, and we were left to wait, ever so impatiently. Tomorrow we would be witnesses to the aftermath of an election that would certainly make history. My sister raised her concerns about the possibility of riots following a Trump victory. I told her there was a possibility of riots regardless of who would be elected.
Wednesday morning arrived, and the world learned the name of our President Elect: Donald Trump. Bleary eyed after a fitful night of anticipation, I pushed myself out of bed. It only took a few minutes of scrolling through Twitter and Facebook to decide I would be taking a break from social media until the post-election panic had settled down.
It was still early when my sister and I piled into Faith’s car with her daughter and two other Miller employees. Any discussion about the election was drowned out by the Hamilton soundtrack blaring through the speakers, as it seemed we were all trying our best to maintain a sense of normalcy.
I caught a glimpse of the Chicago skyline through the windshield, the buildings a blurred gray against a hazy horizon. The city looked subdued from a distance, and the muted atmosphere persisted as we traded the wheels of Faith’s mini van for our own two feet and began the trek to the theater.
As I passed people on the sidewalk, I caught snippets of conversation. The passionate political rhetoric to which I had become so familiar over the past months was replaced with a sense of reserved frustration or silent victory.
There was no rioting in the streets. No rotten fruit obscured the glass exterior of the Trump Tower, and I couldn’t decide whether the world had yet to understand the gravity of the situation or if they simply refused to recognize it. Everyone seemed afraid to shout too loudly or move too quickly lest they down the rickety bridge that spanned over the chasm of hate and division that only seemed to grow deeper with time.
In fact, the only tangible glimpse into the dissatisfaction of the people was evident in a few small signs taped on the bridge in front of Trump’s tower and the man who handed out pamphlets with an image of Trump’s face against a fiery swastika.
Even the crowds gathered at the doors of the PrivateBank theater lacked the enthusiasm I expected. Of course I couldn’t blame them, all things considered. Though I was beyond excited to see Hamilton, I too struggled to express my jubilance.
We made our way to our seats on the balcony. I snapped a few photos of the stage with my phone and flipped through the playbill. I marveled at how quickly the despair that hung heavy in the air outside faded in the rich yellow glow of the theater.
In here it was easier to forget.
The house lights faded to black, yet no matter how many times I tried to lose myself in the centuries old story of the young immigrant and financial genius, Alexander Hamilton, I found myself pulled back to the world of the present.
Each line brimmed with relevance—from warnings against disunity and petty quarrels to commencements of freedom, equality and love.
“One Last Time”—which focused on the events surrounding George Washington’s decision to leave office—affirmed these points. In the song, Washington explained that by leaving America in a position of uncertainty he also left the people to learn how to move forward. I hoped that in our current state of instability that we too would find the source of strength we needed to make progress.[pullquote]”Let’s fully commit to our story today, with all the energy passion and skill we were born with and have worked so hard to hone. Let’s give each other and our audience this gift—of beauty and strength, that cross every division.” – A note left for the Chicago cast on Wednesday, November 9.[/pullquote]
“Immigrants, we get the job done,” a line recited by Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette in the song, “Yorktown,” merited a long and loud cheer from the audience—our own gesture of encouragement to counteract the fear that seemed ever present that day.
“The Election of 1800” served as a perfect representation of modern day politics. Aaron Burr’s ambiguity, Jefferson’s perceived extremism, and the “key endorsement” of Alexander Hamilton proved all too familiar to the occurrences of the past year.
The final act drew to a conclusion. The crowd erupted into applause and the standing ovation was almost instantaneous as Miguel Cervantes—who portrayed Alexander Hamilton in the performance—took the stage with the rest of the cast. I noticed the tears glistening in his eyes, his mouth drawn in a weary smile as he extended a hand to the house. I returned it with a grin of my own. There is hope. I told myself. We will persevere. We will cross this divide and we will persevere.
However, the doubt I felt this morning again crept in as we stepped out of PrivateBank theater and onto the sidewalks of Chicago. The eerie silence of the city we strolled through this morning had disappeared.
We narrowly escaped a protest against Donald Trump on our way out of downtown. With the windows of Faith’s mini van rolled down, I could hear the shouts of angry activists, and the blades of police helicopters sliced through the air high above the skyscrapers. I watched as the march moved forward, effectively blocking all other traffic on Michigan Avenue and sent up a silent prayer for both their safety and ours.
The events I observed on Wednesday offered insight into the stark reality of the state of our nation. We are a people split into factions. The prejudice present in America over two hundred years ago still rears its ugly head today. I understand now more than ever that the only way to penetrate this wall of animosity is together.