What is happening in New York right now reminded me of a trip I made to the city days after Donald Trump was elected President. There was opposition to Trump in those early days; does that opposition still exist? I suspect it does. I love New York and it is top of my list of places I would like to live… one day.
On the evening of 14th. November 2016 I decided to take a stroll down 5th Avenue to see what, if anything, might be happening around Trump Tower. Earlier in the day I had travelled uptown from Queens with my Auntie Sachee and surfaced out of Grand Central Terminus to streets that were much quieter than usual. The reason was not obvious at first but it did not take long to notice the greater-than-usual police presence and the quiet, dignified and peaceful procession of people walking down 5th Avenue – no cars in sight. I immediately felt elated and relieved: so many Americans stunned into silence and disbelief at the actions of their President, and presumably quietly angry about it. I was a foreigner so it wasn’t really my place to comment, although I suspected that the actions of this President would be likely to adversely affect my country too – in ways that were insidious, frightening and long term. The lights were going out, to paraphrase E.M.Forster in his 1951 collection of essays, Two Cheers For Democracy. Trump had been President for only a few days.
On that November evening I took some photographs of people and news teams gathering around Trump Tower; an announcement or appearance of some kind was expected. And of course some of the people who were demonstrating earlier in the day were still hanging around. Whilst snapping away I couldn’t help but notice a New York cop who I took quite a shine to. My wife had passed away about eighteen months earlier and I was certainly missing her company. I still do now. But seeing this woman reminded me that I needed to be in the present – and thinking about the future. We only chatted for about ten minutes and I did not want to distract her from her duties; I couldn’t ask her what she thought about Trump, although I so much wanted to. That would have been inappropriate and as a professional in uniform she would have have had to say something like I couldn’t possibly comment. I wanted to know more about her and have thought about her from time to time ever since that moment.
I wonder what she is doing now. I’d like to think she is still a cop and earning a reasonable living and helping to keep New Yorkers safe in these difficult times. My late wife’s family are in Queens and Scarsdale and I hope they are all safe. I can’t help but feel that Trump is not helping matters, especially as he is openly partisan at a time when a country is under threat and needs to pull together, setting aside differences and enmities. He talks a lot about ‘fake news’ which is a real thing and has been a real thing for a very long time. He is quite right when he says that we must all be wary. The only trouble is, he is creating much of the fake news himself, and that cannot be right for the person who is the most influential in America and possibly the world. We need to adopt a rigorous and almost scientific approach to our language and dialogue, distinguishing between what is fact or highly likely and what is improbable or wrong. Fake news, false information and misleading claims are extremely unhelpful and, at times like this, potentially deadly.
Trump seems more concerned about the economy than the death rate and the spread of the virus. The economy is important of course, including to the health and well being of citizens, but is it really more important than risking the lives of so many Americans? Many years ago I used to work for the London Borough of Southwark in a building on Walworth Road that was once The Walworth Clinic. Above the door was, etched in stone, a statement modified from the Latin Salus populi suprema est lex – The Health of the People Is The Highest Law. That was in 1937. I couldn’t agree more.