Tom Paine began writing The Crisis Papers here in Newark, New Jersey, where crisis might as well be our middle name, President Trump, so I do not beseech or implore you in this our moment of national peril. You can’t hear, any more than you could ever have heard, for you have lived in a manner wholly insulated, outside our common history and story and purpose, we who do not routinely tread in glass high-rises or on manicured golf courses, but on streets of pain.
Here we labor with zero sense of envy for what you revealed as the spiritual shambles of an appalling and decrepit aristocracy. We toil out of profound self-respect and love for those hard origins we carry. We hail from families who lost lives in the domestic conflicts of this country, or died from overwork and the hardships of not having healthcare or enough to eat or the protections of labor, or in the jungles of South East Asia, or its aftermath, stood on the bread or unemployment lines, who sometimes joined the army just to keep out of jail.
We do not occupy country clubs cut off from the world that would leave us shamefully dangling in this crisis with no sense of moral authority, but live and breathe freely out here in the collisions of America, which at her root demands we deeply respect our fellow citizens, sometimes especially those who do not share our point of view. Like Voltaire, we believe to our core in protecting to the death the right of free speech, the cornerstone of this nation, the hard edge of our thought and deed, and understand authority only within the context of a social compact – not to hate or dominate – but to fundamentally protect. “Please don’t be too nice,” you told police in 2017, “like when you guys are putting somebody in a car and you’re protecting their head; I said, ‘You can take the hand away,’ okay?” You speak that way as someone who never wrongly had his hands in cuffs. We have; just as we have been jumped by gangs and would sooner face a hundred more than once endure law enforcement meting punishment without due process.
We pay heed to the road of the weak and vulnerable in part because our people fled countries in fear and persecution to take up the tools of our trade here in beloved service of a land whose hospitality we could never fully repay. We Americans who are not black can identify, not out of some politically correct enforced and detestable group-think, but because we’re human beings, who ourselves escaped countries where they gassed us, shot us in stadiums and threw our bodies in the river. We know the African-American experience commands a central stage as our transformative story of suffering, because of the sacrifice our brothers and sisters had to shoulder, and still must, the awful price they paid – the clubs and dogs and lynchings and worse in the name of social order – and pay, to get the hardest wins; theirs the primordial shift at the core of our country that built those subsequent shots at other battles won.
From the labor movement and women’s suffrage to desegregation to the ongoing disparities of our economy, and of gaping inequalities in our prison and health and educational systems, shifts of power through the years of our America have shaped us to be proud, not prideful, people of action but never unwise. We, schooled by those scarred in the Holocaust, absorb this moment with a sense of lived refortification and innate and urgent direction. For it is not possible to expect American leadership from one who lacks even a rudimentary understanding of this country, or of its roots, and battered institutions, who was never pushed against a wall in a back alley with no recourse, who never found himself surrounded on the outskirts of town, whose pouts amount to a twittering impotent rage for pre-Civil War times, whose terminal tantrums would inhibit our most basic lessons to our children, and whose persistent whining and self-pity in a position of American power attempt to mar the dignity and toughness our parents and grandparents left us with after expending their lives in WWII, Korea and the Cold War, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and hard work’s poorly compensated and lifelong anonymity.
We watched our mothers labor at two or three jobs and never complain. We watched our grandfathers and great uncles come out of the rail and brickyards to defeat fascism, and return home to drive buses, work as short order cooks and mechanics and rub pennies together to send us to college. We welcomed back our brothers and sisters who fought in Desert Storm and the Second Gulf War, watched them rattled at the sound of a door slamming in a coffee shop, and mourned the police and firefighters who ran into the flames of the falling towers on 9/11, and won’t now ever either in this state forget the name of Paterson Police Officer Francesco Scorpo, father of two sons, inadequately protected, who died in the line of duty from COVID-19. And never will New Jersey stand down when one of our own, a brother out here, in some other state, in some other city, in a place called America, in this case one George Floyd, falls unjustly because of the abuse of authority.
You cannot hear, any more than you can decipher the words written in the sacred Bible you wave at the justice-seeking, peacefully demonstrating Americans you gassed and pumped with pepper spray projectiles like a horde. You’re not in a position to dominate anything or anyone, Mr. President, you who defile the police you face to misuse their precious authority, your woeful inexperience for years on display as you raged in disbelief on your chosen tool of trade, a pastel portrait of compressed villains on a Batman show for children, reimagined as reality TV, refashioned as the presidency while our great country slept, in ignorance of her noblest self, which our humblest single mothers wrought, visible now in the most harmful way, your mantle of immature authority the very epitome of what we escaped, left behind, struggled and fought through, or stared down out here, one tough generation after the next, on a crisis-torn street called America.
Max Pizarro is the editor of InsiderNJ. This column represents his own views, wich are not necessarily those held by anyone else at InsiderNJ.