I went out for lunch a couple of weeks ago. I usually have a list of errands to run, but on this day, I just needed a few things from one of the local produce market and headed back. It was a hot day, but not unbearable, and because I really didn’t want to go back, I took the long, slow way around.
There are numerous food carts around the hospital where I work, and one of them has been there for years, and the guy who owns it is friendly with many of the employees. As I passed him, he was obviously having a conversation with someone about the recent suggestion that the statue of Christopher Columbus be taken down from Columbus Circle near Central Park.
Now, I will be perfectly honest. As an Italian American, it stung a little. Just a little, and only for a moment. I quickly remembered that Christopher Columbus, like most explorers of his day, were not exactly respectful of the native peoples of the lands he visited. Well, let’s just lay the cards out on the table: the crews of the fabled Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria were a bunch of animals. They raped, robbed, and spread diseases to the Native Americans. It sucks to know that these are the people who “discovered” our country, doesn’t it?
Anyway, back at the food cart, the person the guy was having the conversation with said, “This used to be a great country. What happened?”
What happened, indeed. Well, the obvious answer is that Trump’s presidency is dividing the country. This can be established no matter what side you’re on—whether you’re anti- or pro-Trump. But I think something else is happening, too.
People are too fond of their freedom and rights, and they’re not going to give them up without a fight.
Imagine a child who grows up never having had ice cream. They won’t ever miss it because they don’t know what exactly it is that they’re missing. But once that kid has their first taste of ice cream, you can bet that they will want it again, and again, and again.
It’s only after you’ve had something that you feel the loss when it’s taken away. (Please ignore the obviousness of that statement.) Or, as Hailee Steinfeld sings, “I didn’t know I was starving till I tasted you.”
At the beginning of the year, many Americans were freaking out, and rightly so. We had just gotten blindsided with a president that is against everything this country theoretically stands for, and he is “ruling” under the guise of “making America great again.” But as his presidency proceeded into 2017, the support of his party, his hold on his constituents, and his credibility began to unravel. He had no idea what he was getting into, and I don’t think anyone in his camp foresaw the immense pushback they would get.
There are days when horrible things happen—like the Neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville—that leave me despondent and feeling hopeless. But then the other side rises up and fights back and it brings my hope up again.
As of this writing, the statue of Columbus remains standing near Central Park. I don’t know whether or not that will remain the case. But we have to remember that in order for the world to—I’m going to get all hippie here—come together in peace and harmony, things have to change.
The USA is no better or worse than many other Western, industrialized countries. There are good things and bad things about it. We have more than our fair share of overzealous right-wingers, but we also have a whole nation full of people who grew up being told that we have to stand up for what we believe in, to never back down in the face of adversity, and to “fight for truth, justice, and the American way.”
We may lose some battles, but I truly hope we win the war.
As for the island of Manhattan being sold by the local indigenous people to Dutch colonist Peter Minuit: If I were a descendant of those Native Americans, I’d say, “Thanks for nothing for the disease-infested blankets, asshole.”