Part I: Late August 2020
“After a summer of tension, unrest, and protests over police brutality against African Americans in the U.S., some 50,000 demonstrators gathered in Washington to demand racial justice. Formally called the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” — a reference to George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in May after a policeman knelt on his neck for several minutes— speakers urged attendees to vote for change.” (BBC News)
We, mostly young people, were leaving the protest — a combusting amalgam of slogans, dances, cries, demands, moral truths, and transcontinental voices — and then the second explosion happened.
Before the crowd, before the lawn, before the House on the Capitol, were a rainbow of sparks littering the night, throwing a counterpunch at its competition in the sonic atmosphere. All flashing in the air — juxtaposed to the crowd mourning those who can’t breathe. What we saw that day we already knew. It was just condensed to a horizon our vision could contain.
Trump’s America is a fantasy for its supporters and a horrific reality for its victims. But it’s an old fantasy only trying to reinforce an old harm to the livelihoods of millions of Americans — just with a new vehicle.
While thousands are dead from COVID-19 (over 200,000 at the time of this writing, more than 560,000 as we go to press); while we mourn those lost to police brutality, those who died on military bases, some celebrate. Because to celebrate a fantasy has always been easier than to remedy a reality. Fewer immigrants. White power, white excellence. American excellence despite statistics showing otherwise, and oppression. Nationalism. Racism, sexism, homophobia either gone all together or accepted or encouraged. Invalidating, muting “complaints” from minorities, marginalized people.
These “ideals” have been the common thread of a large segment of the American population. Candidates in the past have tried to sew this thread into their platforms for years. But Donald Trump made fantasy a platform. He knew he could win with just the string. He ran this country like a fantasy football team. With no losers. Nobody who got captured. Nobody who challenged the leader. Only those loyal to the coach.
A fantasy doesn’t require much effort. It’s just dreaming. And planning. And Celebrating. And more dreaming. The consequences don’t matter. And when the consequences don’t matter, neither do the facts.
Why legislate when you can rally? Why create policy when you can create fear? Why bother doing the work to improve lives when the same song has been the tune that keeps bringing people back — no matter what else is playing in the background?
But it’s just that, a song, a fantasy, a dream. It’s air. It’s the air that populates oppression, policy, and vitriolic rhetoric. Its effects are very real. But it’s as thin as the air into which the embers dissipate.
At the end of the 2019 horror film IT Chapter 2, the way to disarm the monster was to remind it what it is. A clown.
We must legitimize the pain this administration has caused and its destruction of institutions that have led us steps closer to fascism and a dictatorship. We must not legitimize the clown’s tale. He’s not a genius. He didn’t tap into anything. It’s been tapped.
It’s been around forever and is old as the day is long. He saw xenophobia, misogyny, those getting left behind by industrialization (an actually rational fear), and the (racist) fear among whites of losing the majority and a dream where all this is accepted, and the chorus keeps getting reprised; he gave it all real estate with his name on it.
It ain’t more than that.
Fantasies get fans. Fan fiction doesn’t belong in canon and definitely not in the nonfiction section.
So let them have a group OnlyFans (an app in the U.S.), and let us rebuild an actual democracy.
Part II: Early Spring 2021
Since this was first written, the aforementioned fan fiction described reached a new height — when adherents took it into their own hands to make it the reality of their government and nation. Those who believed in the QAnon conspiracy, stolen elections, and a country being taken away from them by immigrants, communists, and the deep state, stormed and invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, for the first time since 1812. The Confederate flag waved inside those halls or the first time. Faces of rage chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” for his plans to certify Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. It was only few hundred feet from where I stood months ago — and only a few dozen from where Pence and his family were hiding. People Trump would call hours later “special” and those whom he “loved.” In many respects we were only feet away from a coup.
And yet the fans were removed from their fantasy on hallowed ground. The electoral votes were counted, and our tried, flawed, but constant democracy was somehow sustained.
As it stands now in April of 2021, the U.S. has lost over 560,000 people to COVID-19, and Joe Biden is president. With this change comes a shift in public decency, intelligence, and order from our nation’s highest office. But the cries for structural changes in policing, health care, immigration, and income inequality remain. And the cries for the fantasy, the “alternative story” remain, and are equally dangerous even with the National Guard probably still deployed in some magnitude by the Capitol. Increased armed security isn’t as meaningful without increased security from misinformation, which still runs rampant across forums, networks, and dinner tables across the 50 states. But I can only hope that all these threats, and how they have manifested from fears to real life, can create more meaningful alliances, too.
As I look back at that time in summer 2020 and remember the explosions of calls for justice, sudden disproportionate police presence, and fireworks for Trump 2020, I see parallels (of significantly more danger) of the sudden explosions and authority presence that residents of Palestine face. As in the U.S., there are two realities. The reality of Israel presented as this tolerant, free, democratic land. And the reality of the Palestinian civilians of the Occupied Palestinian Territory who can’t travel freely without being detained at a checkpoint. I think of those who have almost become so desensitized to the sound and sight of incoming rockets from the Israeli military that they are just like fireworks to them, too.
And I think of the assortment of people at the rally in Washington, DC. That cross-section of America’s face. I thought about how many people there might have been Jewish. I thought about how many might have been Muslim and how many may have been Palestinian — yet there together, among a sea of other races and nationalities fighting for justice, for equity, for equal treatment under the police, the law. These are the ideas that would create peace in Israel/Palestine and among the global populations. Yet, I thought about how few times in my life, if any, through the many sights of coalitions protesting and advocating in school campuses in the street, in state and federal buildings, I’ve seen those two groups march parallel to each other for Palestinian liberation or against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
I always have hope when I hear about the work of the Palestine-Israel Journal. When I see pictures of Israelis and Palestinians sitting together in a room — just the sight of those groups working together around a table is somehow so foreign to our domestic politics and relations, especially among the youth, who generally are more progressive in New York City and the U.S.
I refuse to believe this is a divide too large to bridge. As long as those core issues brought us together in that sea, that collage of those who resist oppression, I believe it can exist when that sea parts — when the focus is just on that strip of land in the Middle East barely larger than the DC metro area itself. Sometimes I feel my generation is too caught up in a perfect entry, as opposed to expanding the table. First, we must make peace with each other and our imperfections before there can ever be peace on a
global scale. Peace leads to collective resistance, which leads to peace. While movements are generally started by the young to convince older generations, my wish is for my cohort to look to people such as the ones who run this publication and the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, J Street, If Not Now, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Inter Jewish Muslim Alliance for the promise and goal of these coalitions.
My grandfather Hillel gave me a small piece of concrete from the Berlin Wall and told me, “Many believed this would never come down, either.” I hope enough of my generation will not be too prideful to see our true pride: We have the numbers, voice, and skills to shatter the wall of political and moral division between Palestine and Israel — the one that will actualize peace and independence. But we don’t have all the knowledge. We need to believe we don’t know everything that built it, and that we can learn from those who have studied it long before we were here. If we don’t open ourselves to knowledge and new facts from all parties who want to tear it down, all that will be left is the alternative ones, the alternative facts — that will forever keep its foundation intact.