From the headlines, Lin-Manuel Miranda's decision to remove a reference to Donald Trump from In the Heights might seem strictly political.
"Lin-Manuel Miranda Scrubs Donald Trump Lyric from Film Version of In the Heights" wrote Remezcla, using a metaphor of sanitization. The National Review's Armond White took it a step further, describing Miranda's rewritten lyric as "cultural erasure and self-delusion."
Miranda, after all, once told Trump that he's "going straight to hell," and shortly after the 2016 election, Hamilton's cast famously called out then-Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, who was in the audience. But Miranda's tweaked lyric in the fantastic movie adaptation of In the Heights, out today, has far more to do with how the symbol of Trump has so drastically changed that the original intention of the line as a lighthearted, braggadocious fantasy is actually ruined by preserving the reference.
In the original 2008 Broadway version of In the Heights — written long before Trump ever publicly described Mexican immigrants as "rapists and murderers" or tried to trade "dirty and poor" Puerto Rico for Greenland — the taxi dispatcher Benny dreams about what he'd do if he won the lottery. "I'll be a businessman, richer than Nina's daddy/Donald Trump and I on the links, and he's my caddy," Benny raps. In the 2021 movie (and in several of the more recent performances of "96,000"), Benny name-checks Tiger Woods instead.
When Miranda wrote the lyric in the early 2000s, Trump was "just, like, a famous rich person," he recently told Variety. Look no further than rappers' ample references, at the time, to Donald Trump as an easy three-syllable stand-in for wealth and arrogance.
One aggressively anti-immigrant presidential term, hundreds of thousands of dead Americans, and a failed insurrection later, though, and Trump's name as a literary allusion no longer evokes business success. Hearing "Trump" instead distracts an audience; the name is so loaded with extraneous associations that some classic musicals have actually rewritten lyrics to avoid using "trump," the nonpartisan adjective.
As In the Heights' screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes told Entertainment Weekly, "When that lyric was written, it was in a teasing way." No longer. And as any good writer knows, when a line starts feeling forced, it's time to hit "delete."