The Streets of Heaven Are Too Crowded with Angels Tonight

Where hope, anger and heartbreak meet in 2020.

I’m rewatching The West Wing. Tonight a line spoke to me, brought tears to my eyes. It felt particularly poignant today, has felt poignant for the last 9 months. The line wasn’t about pandemics, racism, police brutality or federal executions, but damn if it doesn’t seem appropriate.

The streets are Heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

The West Wing, season four, episode two “20 Hours in America”

Last weekend, the racists came to town. The Proud Boys came to Washington, full of piss and vinegar, ready to show their support for the current Commander in Chief. Well, they certainly showed… something. It was a weekend filled with violence, vandalism, and deafening silence from the man they were showing off for. And, of course, nary a mask in sight.

Between Friday and Saturday nights, four people were stabbed and sent to the hospital with severe wounds, including two police officers, and several others went to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries. They beat people walking down the street that they thought “looked like” antifa, and surrounded cars of suspected liberals (in Washington, they’re not exactly hard to find). They also took the time to rip down the Black Lives Matter banners from at least two historic African-American churches in the city and burn them in the street while screaming “F— Black Lives Matter!”. On Sunday, one man drove around the less visitor-heavy parts of the city with a huge, homemade Trump trailer telling DC residents to have a very Merry Trump Christmas.

When I started this article, it was suggested that it might behoove me to seem slightly less angry, or least give my writing a hopeful tone, and maybe not mention the president. A quote from President John F. Kennedy was sent to me,

“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”

I’ve thought long and hard about that. Here’s what I have to say.

We have to confront the chasms dividing the country because nothing is clear anymore. These divisions cannot be distilled into convenient tropes; Republican versus Democrat, conservative versus liberal, black versus white, or even rich versus poor. It’s so much deeper than that. This is about collective good, confronting painful truths about our country’s extremely flawed past, about truth versus lies. This is about change. Change is inevitable, even when it’s difficult.

We cannot talk about the current state of our country without mentioning Trump. I could refer to him as the president (I have several other names that I’d prefer to use, but will refrain), but we can’t write about what’s happening in the U.S. without referencing the man responsible. Luckily for me, I’ve never been particularly concerned about speaking truth to power when it’s warranted.

I’ve discovered that I can feel hopeful, angry, and heartbroken in equal measure. I am exhausted in my outrage. But I will continue making good trouble, even when, especially when, it’s hard, impolite, and impolitic.

I am hopeful because the majority of Americans did not vote for Trump in the most recent election nor in the previous one. It gives me some hope to see our courts dismiss the Trump campaign’s many lawsuits as frivolous and without any legal merit. I am hopeful because I have seen a rise in the number of outspoken anti-racist white Americans. And, I am hopeful because President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris understand the gravity of the current situation, the challenges ahead, and are approaching them responsibly.

Anger is the dominant emotion for many Americans right now, and we owe that to the president. Nine months into a pandemic, and four years of a president who was never interested in leading the country, we are still grappling with stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, rising death totals and unemployment numbers. White supremacists have more confidence than ever. They don’t even bother to wear hoods anymore because they know that president won’t call them thugs and send in the National Guard. If anything, his unhinged tweets only fuel the fire.

I will never stop raging about racism or about the failure of leadership we have seen during the last nine months. I refuse to be complicit by my silence. Racists deserve no quarter here and their words should be shouted down. We cannot overstate the harm done to our country because our elected representatives chose to do nothing when faced with hundreds of thousands of American deaths, millions unemployed, and an out of control economic downturn. They have long since abdicated the mantle of leadership. They have left us starving, without work, without help, and many without hope.

I feel those things and I still weep for the dead. As the number of American deaths from COVID-19 begins to exceed 300,000, the news reports about yet another Black man shot by police under questionable circumstances, and know that our federal government has executed nine people so far this year (another seven are scheduled before Inauguration Day), our current leadership turns a blind eye. They choose legally questionable lawsuits, rage tweet rigged election lies, and stand silent while the country burns around us. The president, and those who enable him, are attempting a coup d’état. American citizens are dying and they’re trying to overthrow the election.

When does the collective wail of the majority get to drown out the rantings of the minority? When do our healthcare workers get uninterrupted, unbiased time on every network, in every news outlet to tell their stories, to tell the unvarnished truth? How will we ever make amends to the families of the dead, to the millions unemployed, to the small businesses that have closed, to the school children, because of the country’s leaders’ utter failure to lead?

When history looks back on this time in our country, it will be unequivocally known as one of the darkest periods of the 21st century, and Trump will be seen as one of the, if not the, worst president in the history of the United States.

Americans deserve better than this. Equality for all, doing things for the common good, doesn’t mean that one group will get less while another gets more. When we do more for all people, we all benefit.

As we look to the future, let us remember those who have served our nation nobly, and make ignominious those who have forced the country to serve them.