The hip-hop musical Hamilton finally reached British shores in the West End this month. It tells the story of the rise and fall of US founding father, Alexander Hamilton. His fall is predicated by a scandal in which he has an extra-marital affair.
Hamilton brilliantly tells the story of Alexander Hamilton who, in the late 18th century, rises from being an orphan immigrant from the West Indies, to a soldier, helping George Washington win independence from the British before becoming the first treasury secretary. He helps set up a national bank and establishes many financial institutions that exist to this day. He constructs his own downfall as he reveals a ‘sordid affair’, which is followed by his wife, Eliza, leaving him and losing all hope of a political career, inspiring the lyrics, “never gonna’ be president now”.
Modern Day Political Scandals
Fast forward to modern day America or Britain and the level of scandal that a politician has to create in order to face dismissal has fallen to an all-time low.
Famously, Donald Trump, bragged on tape about his sexual harassment saying “when you’re famous you can do what you want...grab ‘em by the p****.” While in Alabama this month, Roy Moore, an accused child molester, still received 49% of the vote in a special election to Congress.
In Britain, allegations against numerous politicians have been made that forced former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to resign. Only yesterday the First Secretary of State, Damian Green, was sacked, after it was found he lied about having pornography on his parliamentary computer, and was also accused of inappropriate behaviour towards a female journalist.
Meanwhile the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is continually making embarrassing statements, the most recent of which led to an increase in prison sentence time for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Priti Patel was also sacked, seemingly reluctantly, after she was found to have conducted unscheduled and off-the-record discussions with Israeli politicians without notifying any other members of government.
How have the standards slipped so low? It appears to be a bar that has slipped only in the political realm; scandals around the TV and film industries, such as those of Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Aled Jones, have seen them all quickly removed from all scheduled TV appearances and shunned from public life.
Does the public’s already low opinion of politicians mean that they are able to escape the same level of expectation that is upheld in other walks of life?
Affairs, scandals and politics have gone hand-in-hand since Hamilton’s era and earlier, which may be a reason why the bar has fallen so low for fireable offenses. Perhaps it is a falling interest in politics in general which gives politicians more opportunity to stay in their jobs? More attention and spotlight is given to celebrities which we see on our screen regularly and have wider appeal. The same intensity of spotlight is not really given to politicians who suffer similar allegations as, simply put, allegations against a politician won’t sell as many newspapers as allegations against a TV star.
One thing is for sure, what forced Alexander Hamilton to abandon his political career may not have ended such a career in modern times. Scandal after scandal has lowered the bar for politicians, including the president of the United States. What this may mean for future generations of presidents and politicians, should the trajectory follow it’s current downward spiral, is an increasing immunity to scandals which could shake the political foundations this country is built on.