The Taj Mahal, Atlantic City
Huge, gaudy, ugly, impossible to ignore, bankrupt, empty, squatting on several blocks of Atlantic City's fabled Boardwalk: the Taj Mahal is the perfect memorial to the Trump regime.
If only he'd taken up residence there, instead of on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Trump financed construction of this enormous eyesore with junk bonds. A year after it opened, he put it through bankruptcy. It subsequently reopened, thrived for a time, then closed its doors last October, a month before the election that elevated Trump to the Presidency. I was in Atlantic City shortly before the election, attending a music educators conference. From my hotel room, I could see brightly lit casinos extending up the Boardwalk for miles. In their midst stood the dark hulk of the Taj Mahal's hotel tower, its huge TRUMP sign turned off. Strolling on the Boardwalk, I paused to photograph the shiny hulk, thinking it was a fitting metaphor for the Trump campaign.
Three days later, to my horror, I was proven utterly wrong: the Taj Mahal is a metaphor for America.
Trump built his entire campaign on defending the privilege of old white men, particularly rich old white men. Those few wealthy votes were, of course, far from enough to score him his technical victory in the electoral college: he noted substantial numbers of working class men and women, mostly white, rural, and spread across the mountain states, the Midwest, and the South. Consult a detailed electoral map, and you can see Trump losing most of the places where his name dominates the skyline. City people hate him. Coastal people can't stand him. Even many of the people who put him over the top are skeptical of him, but allowed themselves to be convinced he was a "lesser evil" than the brilliant technocrat vying to be the first female President.
His fans, though--his white, racist, misogynist, xenophobic fans--they can't get enough of him. They're fully on board with his vacuous promise to "make America great again."
As with all Trump's exaggerations, distortions, fabrications, and blatant lies, that campaign slogan does not mean what many of his followers think it means. In their minds, America was greatest when polite white men led industry and government; when justices, congressmen (as opposed to congresspersons), senators, and, of course, Presidents all looked like the people gathered around Trump in so many of the pictures taken since he moved into the oval office: white, white, white, and masculine to a man.
To Trump and his followers, this is an act of restoration, putting the country back in the hands of its rightful owners. That means reversing decades of progress on civil rights, purging the diversity that has exemplified both Democratic and Republican administrations going back to the 1970s, ejecting the great numbers of immigrants whose contributions keep our economy humming, making entry to this country so difficult that overnight the USA has become anathema not just to those seeking green cards but even to visitors and tourists. I wrote a few weeks ago about the difficulty a friend and mentor, Dr. Kofi Gbolonyo (a Ghanaian national, Canadian resident, and international presenter) experienced in San Francisco, en route to a workshop in Portland, as CBP agents grilled him for hours. His ordeal was far from unique: academics from around the world have found themselves interrogated over minutiae; and Muhammad Ali, Jr., son of an American treasure who was recruited by both the Reagan and Carter administrations to be a goodwill ambassador, was held for questioning simply because of his Muslim name.
I've written, and will write, thousands of words about why the Trump administration's slammed door policy is an affront to the identity of this nation. Right now, I'm going to focus on a single issue that I find most galling of all:
I don't belong here.
Maybe that's too specific. Let me broaden it:
We don't belong here.
And by we, I mean people who look like me, who come from the same gene pool as me. I'm of mixed European stock: French, German, Swedish, Scottish, perhaps a few traces of something else. My ancestors came to these shores starting in the 1600s, all of them seeking a better life. Some of the earliest were Acadians, French-speaking Canadians forced to leave their homes in the Maritimes by British squatters. Some traveled as far away as New Orleans; the Acadians in my background simply cross the St. Lawrence, and took refuge in New Hampshire. They actually make up the largest slice of my immigrant pie: at least 3/8 of me entered the United States as refugees.
Francophone, Anglophone, Teutonic, or Scandinavian, they all share one thing in common: for them to become Americans, people of color who were already here, had, in fact, been here for millennia before my ancestors arrived, had to either relocate or die. Simultaneously, millions more persons of color were imported as slaves, brought to build up the infrastructure of the new nation, to plant and harvest its crops, to live, have children, and die for centuries as the property of white squatters. Others were brought in as indentured workers to labor for a pittance, then be expelled. Still others established Spanish speaking mixed-race mestizo colonies in the Southwest, only to lose the right to govern themselves in wars and political deals. Again, white squatters moved in, took over, and subjugated anyone who didn't look like them.
We never belonged here, but that didn't stop us from claiming the right of conquest, dominating all we considered inferior based on the impurity of their skin color. Generations of white squatters have skimmed the work product of these people, often treating them as cattle, property, even vermin. The "greatness" of this country lies heavily on their backs. Without their efforts, there would have been no Southern agrarian wealth, no transcontinental railroad, no northern industrial revolution. The millions of them who live here now without documentation feed billions into the economy, paying taxes into a system from which they enjoy few benefits: no Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, or Medicare; and no security in the protective services of police, who are just as likely to deport them as address their safety concerns.
And now our President as the gall to tell them they are no longer welcome, to squander billions on a pointless symbolic wall, and to declare persons of color from across the planet personae non gratae, ignorant of the huge contribution they make to every segment of the economy, not to mention to the richness of a culture that is so much more beautiful than the gilded apartment where his wife and child live.
There's a word for a creature that moves into someone else's home and takes over, eventually either killing or expelling the original resident: parasite.
I get it, fellow white people. We don't want to think of ourselves that way. We're innovators, inventors, artists, evangelists, spreading the gospel of progress, of Western civilization, taming the savages of the wilderness, employing those tamed savages to help us build a shiny new nation.
That's a lie, though. There were already people here when we arrived. Rather than just move in beside them, we declared war on them, slaughtering them with our superior weapons and the diseases we carried with us across the ocean. Those who survived we expelled from their ancestral homes, forcing them into ever-smaller reservations. Finding ourselves now mysteriously short of labor, we raided other continents, and forced their residents to work for us. The nation finally constructed, we now found ourselves in the company of millions of people who bore little resemblance to ourselves, either physically or culturally. Rather than open our arms to them, thank them for their contributions, and welcome them into even partial membership in our culture, we established policies that excluded them from our privileges and rights.
Squatters. Invasive species. Virulent parasites. That's me, that's everyone who looks like me, and most of all, that's you, Mr. President.
The time is coming when there will be a great reckoning, when the people upon whom we built this nation set aside their differences with each other, unite, and claim the power that is so clearly their right. And they will be so much more powerful than Trump and all his minions, however rabid, can ever hope to be. His exclusionist, protectionist policies are going to bring the economy to its knees. The nationalists whose approval so matters to him will chant his praise. They will continue to vote for him and his weak-willed Capitol Hill allies, even as their policies favor the wealthy few. But the reckoning is coming: African-, Hispanic-, Asian-, Muslim-, Native-, transgender-, female-Americans--and the white men who agree with them--will be taking this country back from those who see greatness only in whiteness.
One might argue that we'll be the ones really making it great again, but that would be a lie. America's greatness did not go away, even with the ascent of the Trump regime. Our greatness lies in our diversity. The more we embrace each other, the greater we become.
Together, we will make America greater than it's ever been, a country born in the coming together of indigenous people, immigrants, slaves, and refugees, united to form the most diverse citizenry the world has ever known.
And yes, there's even room for squatters like me.