My walks through the streets of Center City Philadelphia each day have turned into a relentless reel of damaged and discarded souls, the life literally drained out of them. The homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted. Their suffering feels heightened, an assault on my soul. I blame this man. Worse, I sorrow for this country. For all of us, for the nightmarish turn the American dream has taken, though we should have seen it coming. Now, it feels like it has been inevitable for so long, like Obama was really just a hiccup of hope along a pre-determined trajectory of hate. – Me, August 16, 2017
I wrote the words above at the dawn of the Trump Era. I sat down to write today, and looked back at these words from three years ago, which now ring with an eerie sense of foretelling. I can’t even remember what the world looked like in August of 2017 (though clearly it was bad.) But I read those words now, and they feel a million times more true, more damning, than when I wrote them.
It is Election Day in Philadelphia, where I work, where I lived for fifteen years, where my heart is. It is June 2, 2020, and the city is on fire. The country is burning. So many lives have been lost since I last struggled to express myself here; it is beyond comprehension. The psychologist whose musings on Trump’s “malignant narcissism” I referenced in my last post, predicted that this President would cause millions of people to die. We are well on our way. Looking back, this all feels so inevitable. Are those of us who have been paying attention at all surprised that our country has imploded so violently? We are enraged, we are in despair, but we are certainly not surprised.
I will admit to a very-long standing sense of cynical outrage about our so-called democracy. It has never felt like a perfect union; it has felt like a stolen dream, built on the suffering and exploitation of the many, benefiting the few. And it has always, always felt fraudulent, with hate and racism baked in to its very foundation. I am certainly not alone in this view, and there is no sense of “I told you so” satisfaction in watching the events of the past week unfold. The simmering injustices of our centuries of history were destined to boil over, and perhaps, hopefully, today’s inferno will ultimately lead us to a better place. But today, it is almost impossible to see what that might look like, or how we could ever get there and remain intact as a country.
I am a child of white privilege. I grew up in upper middle class ease in the leafy comfort of Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs. I chafed against that privilege from an early age, and as soon as I was old enough, looked for a different path. A college internship on the West Side of Chicago. A gap year in New Orleans. Law school in North Philly. A career in public interest law. But for all of the ways in which I have interfaced with lives and challenges that look nothing like my own, these challenges will never be mine. I cannot claim to understand what it feels like to be black or brown in this landscape. But the rage and sadness I hold for enormous swaths of our country feels as real today as any emotion that has ever rocked me.
For the last few nights, I have heard what sounds like muffled fireworks in the distance. What I am actually hearing, I am quite sure, is the sound of the city I love, just a few miles away across the Delaware River, turning on itself. I hear those sounds, I see the images I allow myself to absorb (in small, controlled doses), and I feel a weight on my chest, like something is crushing me. Like I can’t breathe.
This is not a moment that will pass. Because it is not just a moment. It is everything, all of our history, everything we have inherited. We can no longer hide from who we are, what we have all allowed to happen.
Hope feels illusory right now. But I will continue to search for it. This morning, as I walked through my quiet New Jersey suburb, right next door to Camden, I saw remnants of last night’s peaceful protest outside the township municipal building. “THESE LIVES MATTER” surrounded by countless names etched in chalk; a humorous sign – “NOV. 3rd – FLUSH THE TURD!” – denouncing our Monster-in-Chief, touched my heart and did give me faint hope. I’ve watched our neighborhood change and diversify over the last ten years, and it warmed me to see that those around me are feeling the rage, too, and looking for a way to express it. Even those of us who are more insulated from the injustices that define the lives of so many still feel their impact, and are searching for the path to change. Hold on to that. There is hope in that. This fight belongs to all of us.