On Jan. 20, 2017, on a patch of grass in the Washington, D.C., park where we placed a monument to George Washington, near a memorial to “the Great Emancipator,” almost exactly where Martin Luther King Jr. explained his dream to a hopeful country over 50 years ago, 318 million people stumbled across the bloated, rotting corpse of the American democracy.
Born on July 4, 1776, when 56 white men locked their slaves in the barns so they could co-sign the declaration that “all men are created equal,” America led an illustrious life, filled with hope and unfulfilled promise. Although she will be remembered as back-to-back champion of two World Wars and survivor of a bloody internal conflict that would have torn most countries apart, she was so much more.
She stood alone as an imperfect beacon of freedom and justice for the rest of the world, offering optimism, self-determination and opportunity for all those who entered her borders. America was always contradiction. She was a liar and a thief—a dream and an ideal.
In her infancy she had promised a measure of equality and liberation to everyone inside her ever-expanding embrace. She even wrote it down. Her entire existence was an ongoing struggle to measure up to that pledge. Her children demanded it.
As a child she became a star by boasting of this liberty, making herself into a superpower by capitalizing on the free labor from the “peculiar institution” that kidnapped 12.5 million Africans and smuggled them to the New World. But America knew better, so she tried to do better. She loosened the chains of bondage but heaved the burden of 100 more years of Jim Crow terrorism onto her dark-skinned citizens.
But she was getting better. She slowly expanded her family from land-owning white men to all white men, and then even allowed white women to participate in her democracy. She finally began to parse out bits of freedom to her nonwhite citizens—however sparingly. Imperfect as she was, she steadily moved forward—partly because her occupants demanded it.
There were always resisters to her commitment. From her birth, there were men who vowed to undercut America’s promise. They always pushed back and transformed themselves as often as she did. They wore white robes and pointy hats. They allied themselves as “White Citizens’ Councils.” They brought bats and batons onto a Selma, Ala., bridge. They catapulted firebombs at Freedom Riders. They sicced police dogs on them and pointed fire hoses. They killed a King on a Memphis, Tenn., balcony. They lynched teenagers with Skittles in their pockets. They pumped bullets into boys playing in parks.
Although she could never completely wash away the remnants of her shameful past, in 2008 she proudly heaved her chest and proclaimed her promise fulfilled when her constituents selected Barack Obama as their 44th president. He offered health care to her citizens. He pulled her from the precipice of financial ruin. We were beginning to see her light.
Then she started getting sick. The cancer seemed benign at first. It asked for birth certificates and threw around the word “socialism.” But it grew so fast that it began to obstruct everything America tried to do. It became obsessed with bathrooms and whom people chose to marry. Then it became aggressive. It dismantled her Voting Rights Act. It became an “alt-right” movement declaring its white supremacy while simultaneously rejecting the notion that black lives even mattered.
In the end, she was undone by a demon, turd-shaped jack-o’-lantern who used hate, xenophobia, white privilege and a single-digit IQ to bamboozle white America into turning back the hands of progress. He had no experience, intellect or plan, and his only mantra was the promise that he would actually move America backward. By conducting himself as a third-grade bully with a limited vocabulary and a Twitter account, he lulled America into a false sense of security, then took a Russian-made knife concealed in a small part of America’s Constitution, called the Electoral College, and stabbed her in the chest repeatedly until she succumbed.
Just like the Shakespearean Julius Caesar, as she fell to the ground, clutching her chest, America muttered her last words:
“Et tu, wypipo?”
The American democracy is survived by jubilant Caucasians clad in “Make America Great again” hats; nonplussed people of color with clenched, thick-skinned fists weathered from 500 years of fighting; and her tired, her poor, her huddled masses, still yearning to breathe free.
She will be missed.