Sometime back in the late 90s I realized I had privilege and did not have privilege.
In 1688, nearly one years before the founding fathers codified slavery in the United States Constitution, four men, in the then colony of Pennsylvania, formally protested slavery.
Paris exists as a city of wild contradictions.
Versailles, the Louvre, Chanel, Monet, Manet, Haute Couture arises from the same sidewalks upon which thriving piles of dog dung live.
Some of them reside in Paris’ 1st Arrondissement, home to the Louvre, the Ritz and Place de la Concorde. Money and dog poo together.
The trash and now constant stream of pedestrians ogling their phones like bar denizens at 2 am and dog dung can frustrate.
But then Paris does what only Paris can do: Reward your side-stepping-dog-dung efforts with a magnificent – and often humble – gesture. The way the sun casts a shadow across an old boulangerie, a jaw-dropping sculpture tucked into a tiny park not found on any map, a woman dancing to a flamenco guitarist in Montmartre.
The profane and the sublime together, two sides of the same thing.
An exquisite leg of duck roasted just so can only be exquisite because it’s not dog dung or trash or iPhone oglers.
Conversely trash and dog piles can only be nasty and stinking and fear-inducing because they aren’t exquisite nor refined nor symbols of wealth.
One must have the other.
I was reminded on my last trip to Paris how good and evil live within one another; and how we’ve all co-created Donald Trump. This sounds like heresy, I know.
We’ve made a blood-sport out of proving how vastly inhuman Trump is, at least as compared to us.
But we’ve all lied, blustered, bullied, engaged in degrading/unthinking/stupid behaviors against classes of people different from us, denied personal responsibility and culpability. All of it. We’ve all done all of it at some point in our lives.
These actions writ large and into the Presidency of the United States do terrify me. Yet making Trump somehow different from me, like making the dog dung into some existential travesty, solves nothing and serves no one.
A country that enshrined slavery and the disenfranchisement of women in its founding document will occasionally throw out a Trump.
It’s good to be reminded of who we are and where we came from.
If we believe we are Versailles or Manet or that exquisite leg of roasted duck, it’s good to remember we need some dung in our lives to prop us up and make us shine a little brighter.