Amid These Truths, Clarity and Complexity and Better Things to Do
More than 10,000 marchers gathered in Battery Park just days after Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, to protest policies they viewed as reprehensible. Nobody present was able to foresee that 400,000 Americans would be dead before Mr. Trump’s term drew to a close.
Your political education began the last time a leader of the land exited office one step ahead of a pair of handcuffs. Allowed to stay up late to observe an historic moment, you sat in front of the television set, surrounded by a scrum of extended, adult family, who were feeling both vindicated and lubricated. “I have never been a quitter,” you heard the leader of the free world say, to announce that he was quitting. “Good for that bastard,” an uncle cheered, raising a glass, which was answered by a chorus of ice cubes clinking in tumblers. Not long after, the quitter’s successor assured the Republic that, “our long national nightmare is over,” to announce that the guy who gave him the job would be getting away with all that he had done.
In the days that followed, having glimpsed the sympathies of your parents, you tried to echo their party line, bidding for approval. As was always the case whenever you veered dangerously close to certainty, the Old Man would caution you with the words, “not so fast…”
“Part of life’s complexity,” he began, deliberately segueing to a vocabulary that was familiar from your comic books and boy-adventure novels, “is that the good guys are never as good as you hope. And the bad guys almost never turn out to be as bad as you fear.”
“But part of life’s clarity,” he continued, “is that, in the end, the good guys—or all their faults—are still the good guys. And the bad guys—in spite of their momentary flashes of humanity—are still the bad guys.”
Then he abandoned the adolescent vernacular, knowing that you would understand none of what followed, but hoping that you might remember at least some of it, and recall these words after life provided some context.
“Anybody who lets themselves be distracted from these truths by lazy relativism, or confused by false equivalence,” he warned you, “is the best friend of the bad guys.”
“Unfortunately,” he added with a world-weary chuckle, “our side’s two favorite hobbies are lazy relativism and false equivalence.”
The rally, held on January 29, 2017, included City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s prediction, “this dude is going to get impeached.” Mr. Stringer did not think to include the word, “twice.”
Decades later, he would share this insight, likely derived from the years during which he reluctantly put on a uniform and fell in line for perhaps the clearest contest between good and evil that history has ever recorded: “Thank God there are more decent folks in the world than villains,” he said, “because evil people are a lot more evil than good people are good. The very worst bring a passionate devotion and fanatic, single-minded zeal to their agenda. They also have a clairvoyant ability to spot one another, and an itch to get organized.”
“Good people are nearly the opposite in almost every way,” he observed. “They mostly want to be left alone to live decent lives on a small scale, loving their families and friends, quietly serving their communities. Good people occasionally wake up and get busy, but only at the last possible moment, and for the shortest possible period of time.”
“That’s why life so often feels like an unfair fight,” he reflected. “Bad people don’t want to do much of anything other than destroy the world. They literally have nothing better to do. But good people have plenty of goals they’d prefer to be busy about, rather than saving the world. Because they genuinely have many other, better things to do.”
Maybe the tragic tumult of recent weeks was those last possible moments, or close to it. Perhaps today marks the beginning one of those shortest possible periods of time. But be encouraged: the work accomplished by decent (though not infallible) people in such moments can make all the difference; the benefit it brings can endure for generations. And even if the good guys turn out not to be as good as we wish, they are likely—at the very least—to be better than the bad guys.
James Buchanan: 1857
This photo, which shows the 15th U.S. president James Buchanan, is the first-known photo of an inauguration. In the image captured during his March 1857 inauguration, Buchanan is pictured at the east front of the U.S. Capitol. (Library of Congress/Reuters)
Downtown Hotelpocalypse Continues as Two Hostelries Go to Auction After Loan Default
A pair of Lower Manhattan hotels will be auctioned off to the highest bidder on Thursday, after the holding company that owns the properties was unable to keep current on $385 million in debt. To read more…
Newly Completed 750-Mile Bikeway Begins in Battery Park City
Lower Manhattan latest landmark—the southern terminus of the longest multi-use state trail anywhere in the United States, marked by a new kiosk along the bikeway that runs parallel to West Street, near Battery Place—was unveiled on New Year’s Eve.
This is the starting-point of the Empire State Trail, an initiative announced by the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2017, the final missing link for which—a 23-mile section between Brewster and Poughkeepsie, in the Hudson Valley—was opened to the public in December.
Community Gathers at the Museum of Jewish Heritage to Condemn Racism
On January 14, community members and elected officials joined with students, parents, and teachers from the Battery Park City School (PS/IS 276) in front of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust to forcefully condemn the Confederate flag that was found tied to the museum’s doors last week.
“When our neighbors experience an act of hate, we stand with our neighbors,” said PS/IS 276 teacher Mary Valentine.
State Extends, Expands Eviction and Foreclosure Bans Credited with Saving Thousands of Lives
The State legislature has enacted, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed, a measure designed to provide relief for rental tenants and homeowners experiencing financial hardship as a result of ongoing pandemic coronavirus.
At a special session on December 28, the State Senate’s Democratic majority opened a special session to ratify the the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act. The measure, which had been passed earlier by the State Assembly, was signed into law on the same day by Mr. Cuomo.
During Pandemic and Revenue Shortfall, City Hall Prioritizes Plans for New Ferry
Amid a massive budget crunch that may require laying off several thousand City employees and slashing services, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has nonetheless found room in municipal coffers to move ahead with plans for a new subsidized ferry that will connect Staten Island with Battery Park City, and Midtown.
Construction began in December at the Staten Island site of a new landing for the planned service, which was originally slated to begin running before the close of 2020, but has now been pushed back to the summer of this year, due to logistical complications caused by the ongoing pandemic.
Questions about What’s In Store for Local Retail Point to Glum Answer: Not Much
Small businesses aren’t the only ones hurting in Lower Manhattan. Large national retailers are also shuttering their local stores in record numbers, according to a new report from the Center for an Urban Future (CUF), a public policy think tank that uses data-driven research to bring attention to overlooked issues. The analysis documents that the number of chain stores in Lower Manhattan decreased dramatically during the past 12 months, with a total of 63 national retailers shutting their doors permanently.
Architects Propose to Reclaim Park Tribeca Lost Nearly a Century Ago
Community Board 1 (CB1) is supporting a plan to create a new park in Tribeca, within the Holland Tunnel Rotary, the six-acre asphalt gyre of exit ramps that connects traffic from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan’s street grid.
1265 – The first English parliament to include not only Lords but also representatives of the major towns holds its first meeting in the Palace of Westminster, now commonly known as the “Houses of Parliament”.
1356 – Edward Balliol surrenders his claim to the Scottish throne to Edward III in exchange for an English pension.
1783 – The Kingdom of Great Britain signed preliminary articles of peace with France, setting the stage to the official end of hostilities in the American Revolutionary War later that year.
1841 – Hong Kong Island is occupied by the British.
1887 – The United States Senate allows the Navy to lease Pearl Harbor as a naval base.
1921 – The British K-class submarine HMS K5 sinks in the English Channel; all 56 on board die.
1929 – The first full-length talking motion picture filmed outdoors, In Old Arizona, is released.
1936 – King George V of the United Kingdom dies. His eldest son succeeds to the throne, becoming Edward VIII. The title Prince of Wales is not used for another 22 years.
1937 – Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner are sworn in for their second terms as U.S. President and U.S. Vice President; it is the first time a Presidential Inauguration takes place on January 20 since the 20th Amendment changed the dates of presidential terms.
1942 – World War II: At the Wannsee Conference held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, senior Nazi German officials discuss the implementation of the “Final Solution to the Jewish question”.
1949 – Point Four Program a program for economic aid to poor countries announced by President Harry S. Truman in his inaugural address for a full term as President.
1961 – John F. Kennedy is inaugurated the 35th President, becoming the second youngest man to take the office, and the first Catholic.
1981 – Twenty minutes after Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States of America, Iran releases 52 American hostages.
2009 – Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America, becoming the first African-American President of the United States.
2017 – Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President; at the time he was the oldest person to assume the office.
2009: Barack Obama speaks during his inauguration ceremony in Washington, on Jan. 20, 2009. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” said Obama, who spoke before more than one million people crowded into Washington’s National Mall. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
1436 – Ashikaga Yoshimasa, Japanese shōgun (d. 1490)
1573 – Simon Marius, German astronomer and academic (d. 1624)
1775 – André-Marie Ampère, French physicist and mathematician (d. 1836)
1856 – Harriot Stanton Blatch, U.S. suffragist and organizer (d. 1940)
1888 – Lead Belly, American folk/blues musician and songwriter (d. 1949)
1896 – George Burns, American actor, comedian, and producer (d. 1996)
1906 – Aristotle Onassis, Greek shipping magnate (d. 1975)
1920 – Federico Fellini, Italian director and screenwriter (d. 1993)
1930 – Buzz Aldrin, American colonel, pilot, and astronaut
1946 – David Lynch, American director, producer, and screenwriter
1948 – Natan Sharansky, Ukrainian-Israeli physicist and politician, Deputy Prime Minister of Israel
1837 – John Soane, English architect, designed the Bank of England (b. 1753)
1841 – Minh Mạng, Vietnamese emperor (b. 1791)
1936 – George V of the United Kingdom (b. 1865)
1984 – Johnny Weissmuller, American swimmer and actor (b. 1904)
1993 – Audrey Hepburn, British actress and humanitarian activist (b. 1929)
2003 – Al Hirschfeld, American painter and illustrator (b. 1903)