The Presidential Campaign of 2016 & the Siege of Boston

“Look at what I see in front of me.”

It was the mid-eighties. After a stint on an Israeli kibbutz, followed by some quality time with my backpack around Amsterdam. I accepted a job back in the states with the Kentucky Repertory Theatre in a town called Horse Cave where I found myself deep in the American heartland.

I sat alone reading a script in a Glasgow, Kentucky Shoney’s decked out in full-on new wave Warmoesstraat regalia and a “Flock of Seagulls” haircut when a frail-looking little old lady, surrounded by several imposing grandsons, caught sight of me.

Her face twisted into a mask of revulsion and without shame looked into my eyes. I could burn my hands on the hate resonating from her entire being, and I began to wonder if I was about to be lynched.

Her voice was like dried bacon grease in the bottom of an old iron skillet. “Look at what I see in front of me.”

It didn’t escalate, but it was a clear reminder that here, in this place of white Evangelical Christianity, there was no welcome for “the other” of any sort.

In those days, I was still coming out, experimenting with my identity, and trying to learn who I was. The prevailing advice was to reach out to family members and others in my life, understand how hard it was for them to struggle with my sexual orientation, and not make them uncomfortable by being too “in their face” or flamboyant.

A good little deviant should be grateful for whatever crumbs of tolerance were tossed his way and not offend anyone by asking for more.

I soon learned that this didn’t work.

My stint in Kentucky happened to coincide with the worst period of the AIDS crisis when a moral majority Conservative Government considered people like me expendable, and the staff of a president, now considered a hero, openly laughed at the deaths of my brothers in press conferences.

This was another president who wanted to return to mythological good old days when undesirables were hidden from sight.

Trying to be “one of the good ones,” to keep my opinions to myself, to curtail my behavior in a way that did not threaten those who claimed that they were ‘trying hard to understand” gained me no tolerance or respect. Defiantly going the super-gay route in the face of bigots only exhausted me. I learned simply to live and to teach people how to treat me.

After that adventure, I moved to New England to live near the rest of my family and built a life in Boston. The following decades brought acceptance and advancements that I could never have imagined.

I married the man I love, surrounded by loving family and friends.

I throw block parties with my neighbors, attend city planning meetings, and find myself an accepted, respected member of society.

On Halloween 2016, for the first time opportunity allowed me, I voted early.

Holding a bag of Halloween candy, I walked to a grade school gym in the shadow of the Bunker Hill Monument and cast my vote for the candidate I truly believed would become the first woman president of the United States. I didn’t need to vote early, but after months of the most grueling, soul-crushing, and divisive campaigns in living history, I wanted it over. I felt like I had been living under siege.

The Bunker Hill Monument serves as a continual reminder of the history that surrounds us here. Everywhere we look we are reminded of what took place and how it relates to our lives.

The Siege of Boston began in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Lexington and Concord when colonial militiamen blocked off the thin strips of land that connected the Boston and Charlestown peninsulas or “necks” to the mainland to prevent the British army from conducting further attacks on the surrounding countryside.

General Thomas Gage negotiated a deal to allow civilians to either leave or enter Boston.

Within eight weeks, approximately ten thousand inhabitants fled Boston, while thousands of Loyalists from throughout Massachusetts, clinging to entry passes from the Provincial Congress, poured into the city. Families fought and were separated. Some would never see their homes again.

Both sets of new refugees, loyalists, and revolutionaries alike, found themselves new enemies as they passed each other on the narrow necks in and out of the city.

It must have been tense and, at best, awkward.

Despite the British victory at The Battle Bunker Hill in June of 1775, the exchange ended in a stalemate. The siege dragged on for eleven months resulting in the evacuation of Boston on 17 March 1776.

To stare out across the vast Atlantic, longing for the relief of supplies sailing in from France or Nova Scotia may serve as a metaphor for staring into the sea of propaganda, half-truths, and invective known as 21st-century media, searching for helpful discussion of actual issues and impartial facts.

It is impossible to imagine the uncertainty, frustration, anger, anxiety, and exhaustion of that winter under siege, but these are terms that may well be applied to the election of 2016.

The people who chose to defend this hill with their lives were not professional soldiers.

What motivated these average citizens to stand against the might of the British Empire was the violation of what enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed—that government is a social contract between the government and the consent of the governed.

As we crawl out from the rubble of this election, we citizens must review the state of this contract.

Taxation in exchange for representation is one of the core tenants of that contract, yet we have elected a president who has bragged that he was “too smart” to adhere to his part of that contract.

According to The Nation, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the June 2013 Shelby Versus Holder Decision, The Leadership Council for Civil Rights surveyed 351 of the 800 counties covered by Section 5 of the act, and discovered that there were 868 fewer places to cast a ballot in 2016.

Draconian identification requirements in communities likely to vote Democratic, in the interest of “protecting against voter fraud,” leave many lifelong taxpaying voters suddenly blocked from casting a ballot.

According to The New York Times reporting on a 2006 study, African Americans are ten times more likely than whites to go to prison for drug offenses. In some states, such a conviction can result in a lifelong ban on voting.

Much like George III, who was king during the siege, our president-elect sits on a rococo golden throne in a towering palace, sporting a bizarre wig, and will benefit from taxes paid by an under-represented population.

England’s 18th-century nobility viewed its colonies as an exploitable resource. Working conditions, exhausted resources, and the interests of colonial populations were never permitted to stand in the way of unlimited profit.

The unrelenting war on labor unions waged by Ronald Reagan, Scott Walker, and Rick Snyder continues that imperial tradition.

Opposition to The Clean Water Rule, raising the Federal minimum wage and cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration protect the interests of shareholders of large corporations at the cost of the well-being of the American worker and the planet.

The recent acquittal of Ammon Bundy and six other anti-government militants happened on the same day that unarmed activists, protesting the North Dakota pipeline, were arrested, pepper-sprayed, and shot at by police in riot gear. Once again, the will of the people is thwarted by a profit-only based aristocracy.

The Declaration of Independence accuses King George of “forbidding his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained and when so suspended he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

From October 1 to October 16, 2013, the United States government was shut down by the Republican-lead House of Representatives. Encouraged by conservative senators like Ted Cruz and conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, their goal was delaying or defunding Planned Parenthood and The Affordable Care Act.

Since the death of Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016, the U.S. Senate has not only refused to hold hearings on the sitting President’s judicial nominee but during the campaign, also vowed to block any appointments if Secretary Clinton had won the election.

Eighteenth-century monarchs routinely silenced rivals or critics with imprisonment or worse. It remains unclear whether our new President will fulfill his promise to bring Mrs. Clinton to trial, but his many petty and punitive lawsuits would indicate his litigious spots are unlikely to change once he takes office.

During the last eight years, the party now lead by Donald Trump has refused to govern, blocked the ability of tax-paying American citizens to vote, and compromised the health and well-being of citizens in the interests of an oligarchy. The party of Donald Trump has repeatedly violated the contract with the American Citizen.

Yet we have done the unthinkable. We have elected the least qualified candidate ever to occupy the Oval office.

A man who has never devoted a moment of his life to public service, who threatened to jail his political opponent and abandon our NATO allies.
A man who claims climate change is a hoax and demands a religious litmus test for immigrants.
A man has not paid Federal taxes in twenty years and brags about sexually assaulting women.

We also have rewarded this party, which has so blatantly broken faith with the American citizen, with an uncontested hold of all three branches of our government.

Justices appointed in the next four years will shape the direction of this country and the fate of the planet for the rest of my life.

Unlike the Battle of Bunker Hill, we are not left with a stalemate. This was a rout, an unadulterated right-wing coup, and we are left wondering how this could have happened.

What motivated us to relinquish our future to those who have so utterly betrayed our trust?

The Colonials at Bunker Hill did not know how the battle would end. The Articles of Confederation were in the future, the constitution a decade away. But they knew they were fighting against their immediate sense of enemy: a remote royal tyranny.

Today, the sense of danger is just as amorphous but remains strangely similar: today it comes in the form of the neo-fascist movement known as Trumpism.

We’ve flirted with fascism many times before.

It’s a “type” we can’t resist being drawn to, like that hot, dangerous looking guy you meet in a bar who you know is a bad idea. There have been times, like the McCarthy era, we’ve even shared a cab with it, but now we seem to have given it a key to our apartment, its own drawer, and a sleepover toothbrush.

During uncertain times like these, it’s easy to succumb to the charms of the outlaw, tough-talking bad boys who operate outside the system. Bad boys who break the rules of polite society say the naughty things we all think secretly and get things done, in spite of all those cautious “book-learned” types who worry about boring things like facts, and civility.

We’re not the only ones.

We watch other countries hook up with the likes of Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, and Kim Jong-Un, and like a nervous young prisoner we have given up our rights to a “daddy” in exchange for perceived protection from other hardened criminals.

He says that only he knows how to protect us.
He will build a wall.
He will bring us fascism, nicely wrapped in an American flag and holding a cross.

America has voluntarily become his prison bitch.

A world of brutally unstable dictatorships has looked, for a century, to the U.S. as the one sane power, and now we give them just another convict.

I am aware that this is a divisive statement in a time when we must unify and heal.

We are told now that it is time to come together as one and support the president we have elected.
We are told this by those who have spent the last eight years doing the exact opposite.

Our new president has spent the last eight years screaming a lie that his successor’s right to the office is illegitimate because he was not born in the United States.

Republican congressmen have endangered American citizens and military by undermining a sitting president’s negotiations to prevent a hostile foreign power from developing nuclear weapons, by reaching out behind his back, directly to that nation’s leader, as well as our allies. They have blocked, even hearings, for his judicial appointments, and sworn to make him a one turn President by complete obstruction of every attempt at progress.

Now that they have power, they tell us we must come together as one.

We’ve torn each other apart along the lines of race, nationality, religion, class, and sexuality, and it is unlikely that a presidential election will bring instant healing along with it.

But we must heal.

While the rest of the planet nervously waits for us to lick the wounds of our domestic dispute, our oceans are dying. Russia, the Islamic State, and North Korea threaten war. Terrorism, global unrest, climate change, and desperate refugees do not allow us time to convalesce.

I’m often told that I am just as intransigent as those on the opposite end of the political spectrum, that to come together we must listen, with respect, to opposing views.

It’s attractive on some level to adopt this simplistic view—a nation split into two opposite but equally divided sides with an equal number of radical extremists, like two sides of one body, that can somehow be brought to a sensible compromise.But cancer has invaded one side of that body. A disease of extremist propaganda and hate has devoured one side and threatens to consume the other.

A large part of this nation suffers from a devastating loss of manufacturing jobs, and the shrinking of the middle class, while, according to an Oxfam report, the richest one percent have seen their share of global wealth rise by fifty percent. They see disappearing a way of life we, as Americans brought up in the late twentieth century, have come to expect. They see people of color, women, LGBT individuals, non-Christians, and immigrants competing for the same jobs and demanding equal rights, equal pay, and advancement in the workplace.

The most efficient way to seize power is to dismiss and dehumanize the “enemy” with catchy phrases like “welfare queens,” “illegals,” “socialists,” “feminists,” or “liberal media.”

For decades now the likes of Dan Quayle, Michele Bachman, Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, and Sarah Palin have preached that the godless urban regions of the coasts are somehow not a part of “Real America.” They tell us that intellectuals, scientists, and the “liberal media,” in places like Hollywood, Cambridge, and Manhattan, are mocking and lying to the innocent, hardworking men and women of the heartland.

Relentless propaganda machines like Fox News have been telling us that the woes of the shrinking middle class are caused by Socialist elites, giving our jobs to “illegals.”

They insist on lower taxes during decades of war, and that regulation on workplace safety and environmental protections will stifle job creation. They say marriage equality is eroding our way of life. If an African-American becomes president, there is no way he can really be an American citizen—or a Christian.

Quentin Crisp once said, “There is no greater crime than to be a woman.”

It must be true. When a woman reaches for the highest office in the land, she must be crooked. We must lock her up or execute her, or she’ll storm in and take our guns. “Political Correctness” is painted as a greater threat to our civilization than AIDS or the Zika virus.

Unlike the other Republican candidates who came before him, Donald Trump had nothing to offer this country. He had no plan, no stated legacy, or cogent argument of any sort.

From a Christian conservative perspective, he is the exact opposite of Christ, an anti-Christ, if you will. He brags about assaulting women. He turns away the homeless and the immigrant. He has cheated on all his wives. He spends millions on grand images of himself. He never pays in full for any work done and spends no time or money helping any charity.

As a financial conservative who believes we need a good businessperson in the Oval Office, we need only point to Trump’s disastrous enterprises—his university, steaks, airlines, vodka, mortgages, and the many unpaid contractors he’s stiffed over the years to tell us he is a poor businessman.

As president, his epically bad ideas will have an impact on an enormous swath of humanity.

He wants to build a wall across Mexico.
He seeks to institute unconstitutional religious litmus tests for entering this country.
He wants to deny climate change because it doesn’t work for him to believe in it.

Donald Trump rode into this office with an almost supernatural power on nothing but a wave of ignorance, hatred, misogyny, and homophobia.

To quote Michael Lerner in The New York Times, who admonishes us to Stop Shaming the Trump Voter,

“The right has been very successful at persuading working people that they are vulnerable not because they have failed, but because of the selfishness of some other villain (African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives; the list keeps growing). Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, the genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed. The rage many white working-class people feel in response is rooted in the sense that once again, as has happened to them throughout their lives, they are being misunderstood.”

During my time at Horse Cave, I asked a local why he hated Yankees so much. After all, the war had ended well over a century ago. He told me that it wasn’t the war. It was because they came down here on vacation and “looked down on us and treated us like we’re stupid.”

The Evangelical white middle class in this country feels looked down upon, not respected or heard, and I understand that more than most.

To all of you Kim Davises and Duck Dynasties who feel like second class citizens, who believe the government is run by those who look down on you, who are forced to compromise your principles, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the club.

As a gay man born during a time when you could be arrested simply for having a drink in a gay bar, and still in a time when someone like me can legally be denied employment or housing, I know the sting of disfranchisement.

My government laughed at us and did nothing as my brothers died by the thousands of AIDS in the eighties. I know what it is to feel threatened, powerless, and angry.

Those of us here in the large cities of the coasts, who believe that in wealthy societies healthcare should be a right, that unions and solid public education were the foundation of our prosperous middle class in the twentieth century, and that common sense gun control is essential to our collective safety and not an infringement of your rights, are not your enemy.

You do not need to arm yourselves against us.

We want the entire nation to succeed based on a living wage, good public education, safe workplaces and clean water.

No matter what you have heard on FOX news, no Democratic leader, not Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton have ever once promised to, or tried to take away your guns or to outlaw your religion.

In his tenure in office, President Obama has never curtailed any of your personal freedoms.

Our president-elect, on the other hand, has vowed to appoint conservative justices who will overturn marriage equality and Roe v Wade, curtailing the freedoms of millions of Americans. His Vice President is a strong believer in sexual conversion therapy.

Don’t know what that is? Look it up. Let me just say it’s a barbaric practice right out of a 1950s science fiction movie.

The alt right’s victim mentality handicaps all of us in the face of the enormous and unprecedented challenges of the 21st century. Creating a nation where whites, non-whites, Christians, Muslims, atheists, immigrants, and LGBTQ citizens share an equal place at the table takes nothing away from you.

Denying a level field of opportunity to any citizen based on any of these things tears us apart and harms us all.

A friend said to me this morning “Voting for Trump doesn’t make you a bad person.”

I’m sorry, but it does. History will judge us for this as harshly as we judge those who voted Hitler into the Chancellorship in 1932. If you voted for Trump, you are a bully and a fool. You did not do your homework on the candidates before election day. And you do not deserve respect.

The most dangerous lie of all is that our representative democracy does not work, that all politicians, regardless of party, are corrupt and only a businessman outside that system can be trusted with the reins of government.

It’s easier to shrug shoulders and say they’re all crooked, rather than do the work, take responsibility, and research who and what you’re voting for.

We have stopped believing in the government for the people that we began to build on this hill two hundred and forty years ago, and we have stopped paying attention.

I walked away from the polling place hopeful.

If the Red Sox and the Cubs can break their respective curses and win championships, maybe the United States, unlike the rest of the world, can retain enough of its sanity and sense of humor to laugh off the threat of Cheeto-hued fascism.

The blue sky contrasted deeply with rich reds and gold of the leaves. Looking at a scene like that, it’s hard to imagine unrest anywhere.

I stepped back out into the thick of full swing recess. In this once, almost exclusively Irish neighborhood, children of every hue tore through the few precious moments of outside freedom, while a weary-looking but cheerful hijab-clad teacher tried, with moderate success, to coax them into their jackets. It’s not August anymore.

None seemed concerned that this is hallowed ground. The blood of nearly four hundred men, mostly British Regulars, was spilled where these American children played, as the regulars fought their way up to take a hill now dressed for the annual Bunker Hill Halloween parade.

I took the same route up Breeds Hill, toward home, and found myself dazzled by the brilliant colors of autumn in Boston as I looked out over the city. Once the tourists have gone, this national park belongs to the neighborhood. Touch football players, dog walkers, and necking couples claim unchallenged ownership of this hill.

On this spot, at great cost, something new was born, that changed the world forever. Something that we have cherished, nurtured, fought over, and taken for granted for two hundred and forty years.

The issue of that brutal battle has survived many tests.

Surrounded by this peaceful scene, I needed desperately to believe that we would survive this one. Alas, not this time.

Fear and hate have betrayed the courageous sacrifice that took place on this hill.

My only hope now is that in four years, the tattered system will hold and the planet will give us time to adjust. I hope that once again we will foment a peaceful revolution and reclaim this hill.

Photo Credit: Michael Vadon Flickr via Compfight cc








Timothy Hennigan

Tim Hennigan is a restless soul, and avid traveler living with husband and two cats, in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

3 thoughts on “The Presidential Campaign of 2016 & the Siege of Boston

  1. Mary Rowen Reply

    Amazing post, Timothy. You raise so many excellent points. My brother is probably your neighbor in Charlestown, and I live down the road in Arlington, so I hear what you’re saying loud and clear.

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