01 May 2017

A More Perfect Union: A Reflection on President Trump's 100th Day Rally

I grew up in Harrisburg. All my formative years were spent among its people, its places, its fancies and its flaws. In Harrisburg I found my passion for making a positive difference, in my neighborhood, in the city, in the state … in the world. Through the rising and failings of Harrisburg I learned the enduring power of hope and belief that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds there was no mountain too high to overcome … that at the perilous ridge of every valley was the glimpse of a promised land that we would never stop fighting for. And every plan, every initiative, every whispered promise of change, seemed heavy laden with the enduring belief that “Someday, we can fix this. Somehow, we will fix this. Together … we will.”

Yet on my recent visit to Harrisburg, which marked the 100th Day of President Trump’s term of office, I was stricken by the words of a taxi driver who carried me away from those familiar streets: “That city’s given up on itself. It’s only a matter of time.”

I wonder what the founders of the framework of our nation would say to this. Theirs, after all, was the promise of “a more perfect union” through the establishment of the Constitution and the perambulatory promise of the Declaration of self-evident truths of equality, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and life itself. There is such a bond in these words, such a promise of a united future, that formed the very cornerstone of our Union, the very framework of these United States. The labors toward these promises ripple through history as constant reminders that we the people work best when we strive together toward the goals of our mutual democratic progress. That forward progression is the progeny of a cohesive, collective push … by, for, and of the people.

We, the people, have always pushed for this pledge of self-evident truth: that all men are created equal. And we have always believed that the bedrock for the fulfillment of this promise must be the commitment to strive, ever, forward towards it, to struggle toward and debate for and eventually convene within its truth. Democracy, after all, is not a matter of perpetual agreement, but rather an uphill battle of ideas until we come, finally, to rest in a place of peace and mutual concession toward the betterment of our nation.

And I wonder how much the April 29th Rally in Harrisburg bore the likeness of this struggle.
Passing outside the Farm Show Complex—a place whose sights and sounds and scents I can still recall at a moment’s notice—in the dwindling light of Saturday the 29th of April, the 100th Day of the new White House, I was stricken by the peculiar scenes that seemed to capture so perfectly the tone of the day. To one side, a group of protestors bathed in the mingled light of dusk and streetlights: they carried signs that pleaded for peace, for progress, for change. They smiled and waved as cars rolled by, whether the cars honked in approval or rolled by in silent indifference. They held on to each other as tightly as they held on to their gently rippling flags and colorful displays. To the other side, in the dimmed glow of closed storefronts and the shadows of trees and alleys alike, stood the opposition. They, too, carried flags, but the only illuminated parts were those that made clear the message of supremacy. They did not smile, and they did not wave, but stood like stalwart guardians, eyes poised out of contact’s reach. Between the two groups, State Police stood sentry on horseback, the horses’ twitching tails seeming to sway in the melody of tension. I cannot fully put to words the palpable tension and the perpetual sense that at any moment bedlam might spontaneously erupt.

I rode in the car with my father, and we listened with shared unease to the speech being given within the halls of the Farm Show Complex. President Donald Trump was speaking about immigration, his ominously named VOICE (“Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement”) Office, the need for “The Wall” and cameras, and the failures of the media, the Democratic Party, sanctuary cities, and so forth. He read, once again, the poem “The Snake,” albeit misattributing it to singer Al Wilson, and likened it to American immigration and the border. He drew the speech to a close with a promise that American children would finally learn to love their country and “take pride in our great American flag,” and that countries around the world “will finally treat America and our citizens with the respect that our country and our citizens deserve.”

I would love to say the end of President Trump’s speech inspired hope. Sadly, it is hard to overlook the overwhelming tone of hopelessness that was shared. Though the weekend has ended, and the President’s familiar departure song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” long since echoed into silence, I find myself pondering the President’s words and cannot shake the sense that something about it is wrong.

I would suggest to you that what was wrong was the fear. The dread and disdain of the Other—the immigrant, the refugee, the political party, the “swamp” of Washington, the free press, the opposing viewpoint—seems a strange way of celebrating. The promise, and at times almost threat, of “law and order” weigh heavy against the softer promise of an eventual return to “greatness” for our nation. And I can’t help but juxtapose these things with the images outside: on one side people calling out for love, on the other people brooding in antiquated hate, and between them a silent squadron ready to take them all down should one so much as step out of line.

Where is the hope, where is progress, where is the future, in the shadow of such dread?

My ultimate desire, having borne witness to the rally and pondered the words and images in my head and in my heart, is that we might all remember that democracy is compromise, and conflict. It is dispute, and dissent, and always discourse. It is divided in ideas yet united in the solidarity of ideology: the shared ideology that we cannot rise by trodding our brothers and sisters underfoot, lest we rise to find we stand on nothing at all. We rise, as we fall … together. We are one … or we are nothing.

I am a person of faith, and in times of trouble I pray. I know that not all agree with me, and not all turn to the same place as I do. But whether we pray or simply hope and believe, whether we reach out beyond to the Something and Someone greater, or reach within to cling to the burning ember within our own hearts, I believe we all yearn for the same things. That we will be saved from ourselves. That we will rise above, and beyond, our own seemingly unshakable impulse of self-destruction. That love will conquer fear. That we will become more united, not more divided. That, together, we will conquer the battlegrounds of struggle and strife to walk, someday, upon the promised land of unity, of life, and liberty, and the prosperous joy of freedom.

We cannot achieve these things through cynicism. We cannot achieve these things through polarization. We cannot achieve these things through finger pointing and fear mongering and bitter divisiveness that keeps us forever revolving in circles around and adjacent but never in unison with each other. This is the sad march of fear. And we must always remember that the threat of fear keeps the dream of prosperity and progress ever distant, traded instead for the visage of a nightmare … and we do not chase our nightmares. We shrink from them, hide from them, pull away until we wake to find the world familiar and just as it always was. And this is not progress; this is stagnation. This is a death march toward a failed future.

We can only achieve these things as one. United as our states. Drawn together toward this common goal, the dream that propels us ever forward to that great tomorrow and what lies beyond it, ever on the horizon, just beyond our reach … the dream that never dies.

My hope is that we turn the words of that taxi driver on themselves. Let us never give up hope. Let us never give up on ourselves. Let us never give up on the dream that together we will.

Because it’s only a matter of time.


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  1. The eloquence with which you express the hope-laden burden of your heart impresses and draws. I share your burden in prayer.


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