Last year I was visiting Chicago to attend an event. Afterward during the reception, I was talking to some friends about what else was going on that night. That’s when they dropped the news that they were in fact staying on the 86th floor of Trump Tower, thanks to a friend-of-a-friend hook-up sort of thing, just one floor beneath Trump himself, and would I like to come back and see the place?
I said, uh, yep!
We walked through downtown Chicago to the incredible tower, and on the elevator ride up my friend said, “You know, seeing this place, if there’s anyone who could build that wall, I think this guy might actually do it.” We exited the elevator and entered what was possibly the nicest living space I’ve ever seen. We were required to remove our shoes at the door. The marble floors were cool to my socked feet as I shuffled from room to room, admiring the high quality of the art and toilets equally.
Then I turned to the windows. From the 86th floor, from that great height looking over the streets and lights and all of the people down below, I realized for a moment how easy it is to get it into your head that you are above everyone, that you see everything so clearly from on high, that you could manage to make sense of this complex world from your simple perch of inherited wealth. It’s tempting to think you could solve some issues if only you had an army to heed your directives, to believe in your greatness, to conveniently omit your failures.
But as the evening was winding down and I needed to get back to the place I was staying, I left Trump Tower and called a cab. I ended up passenger side to a young man named Ahmed. After a brief introduction we fell silent long enough for me to notice the small Algerian flag hanging from the rearview mirror and the muted sound of the radio tuned to a country station playing Alabama’s “Song of the South.” I point to the flag and ask if he is from Algeria. Yes, he says. He won the lottery in his country. So many people want to leave they must hold a lottery for America. He won, so he came here on a student visa to study, and is driving cabs and taking classes in the hopes of one day opening his own bakery, because, he told me, his family has these amazing bread recipes, and you should just taste them, they are delicious, and anyway do you know anything about Algeria? About our culture? And what France has done to us? And our civil war and our poverty, and your country’s restrictions on refugees? And how our people rise in spite of our struggles? Do you know anything about the world and the suffering in it? You, from YOUR perch of inherited wealth? Will you elect a man who lives 87 floors removed from reality? A man who from his perch is ready to build a wall that only he could see over? And do you know what it is like to see the god-given potential of a child born into poverty and watch that child rise, and to see that child’s future as wide open, if only they could live in a place that truly loved freedom and liberty and wild dreaming as much as America says it does? Do you actually know what makes America great?