There in the Square
Jason Raish illustration
I was walking along Decatur Street recently when I came across a busy crowd in front of Jackson Square. Folks were trampling through the artist colony and ducking under the necks and heads of the sullen mules that line up there, rushing to the gate, but the gate was locked.
As it turns out, they weren’t rushing to get into the park. They were rushing to get near the man who was trying to get into the park.
That would be Louisiana’s esteemed ambassador of charity, unity, equality, goodwill and peace: David Duke.
The noted white supremacist, anti-Semite, tax-evader and cosmetically enhanced former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan was holding court. Something about the statue of Andrew Jackson inside the square. Word was out some folks were coming to tear it down. There were cops everywhere.
And so Duke was on his soapbox and the crowd pressed in. There was visible joy in his face at the size and energy of the crowd. What he didn’t seem to notice that it was almost entirely comprised of tourists rushing in, taking selfies and then rushing away, only to be replaced by a new set of gawkers rushing in. But obliviousness has always been one of his charms.
Nobody was really listening to him.
It could only have taken a political campaign as we witnessed this past year to embolden the creeps, cretins and crazies to crawl out from under their rocks and out of their caves to enter – or, as in Duke’s case, re-enter – the public square, literally, and the public debate, frighteningly.
By the time you read this, the election is either impending or over. And no matter the results, this was a campaign season that brought back to us in Louisiana a reminder of one of our most shameful periods, one of our most collectively regrettable phenomena: the Duke of Darkness.
Though I write this weeks before the election, my assumption (my hope, my prayer) is that Duke got crushed and will once again fade into obscurity, resentment and bitterness. And, please, retirement.
Because we’re a better people than this. Even if he gets (or got) 20 votes, that’s enough to tell me that there are 20 folks among us who have lost all perspective, lost their way and maybe even lost their hope in this great city, state and nation.
For 10 years we’ve done so much to rehabilitate our region’s reputation as a corrupt, backwater host to crooks, thieves, demagogues, political grifters and ministers of hate; purveyors of willful ignorance, succumbed to fear and holding dear to false gods; charismatic charlatans and those who sell a brand of victimhood that exists only in the minds of those who refuse to apply critical thinking to their daily lives.
So, who’s our president now? I am not a prognosticator. It wasn’t a year of top of the line choices. It was like being in the high school lunch cafeteria again and having a choice between the mystery meat or the mystery fish with tater tots.
Thank God for the tater tots.
Unfortunately, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, the culture wars will still rage. Gay rights. Black lives. Etc. At least nationally. Here, maybe we can calm down and get about being New Orleans again – a respite of hope, romance, tolerance, unity and the kindness of strangers.
Maybe even the Saints can pull off a winning season.
Because we need that now more than ever. We need to know that we can solve our issues in a fair, civil and righteous manner. Without demagogues taking over our public squares. Without the specter of division and violence hovering over every civic debate.
Without neighbors turning on neighbors.
Or am I as naive as I sound?
The record shows: I believe in this city. I am a true believer.
And I believe we will get through this.