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American tragedy, Roman tragedy

October 7, 2018

Today I can’t stop thinking about two men in the news yesterday, both about my age, as white and privileged as myself. 

Yesterday I read that Brett Kavanaugh had been appointed to the highest position of my country’s justice system despite having demonstrated to an audience of millions his inappropriateness for this job.  

Like many of my fellow Americans I had been glued to the hearings, moved by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s account of her attempted rape by Brett Kavanaugh, and shocked by his creepy, immature and dishonest defense. It seemed implausible that a democratic government could ignore the many problems that such an appointment would bring: conflict of interest, political partisanship and implicit threats to his political opponents, clear evidence of the judge lying under oath and a well-documented history as a sexual predator. He is now a Supreme Court judge, with an absurd amount of power to abuse. 

Any faith I harbored in the idea of justice has been whittled away. 

Later, descending the staircase from San Pietro in Vincoli where I teach at Sapienza University, I encountered emergency vehicles where I normally risk my life crossing at the crosswalk on Via Cavour. The body of Giorgio De Francesco, 54, lay covered by a reflective mylar blanket like the ones marathon runners are given at the finish line. He had just been killed by a motor vehicle, a tour bus speeding down Via Cavour. It could have been one of my students, or a tourist, or me, or anyone. 

Living in Rome I have become as accustomed to this scene as I might be to gun violence were I still living in the States. In Rome we all witness motorists’ reckless disregard for human life constantly: excess velocity, running red lights, cell-phone use while driving, and all manners of parking to impair visibility.  Within the hour as I walked home I saw hundreds of examples of reckless driving, including vehicles speeding through the red light at Via della Greca, beneath the windows of the municipal police. Already this week two pedestrians had been killed and four seriously injured in what the newspapers inexplicably continue to call “accidents.”  Many Romans drive with criminal negligence but are rarely treated like criminals. 

What links these two seemingly unrelated tragedies other than their echoing in my mind as signs of the injustice of our times?

Two men in their mid-fifties, like myself. One who seemed to do everything possible to disqualify him for the position for which he was being interviewed, gets the job and goes on to prosper. Another, a civil servant in the Italian national government, has his life cut short while he is exercising his civic right to cross a street with his wife.

In both cases, the facts are evident. We know there is injustice and corruption in the Trump administration. We know that illegality and reckless driving reign in Rome. We can name the people responsible for fighting these afflictions. Our taxes pay their salaries. How can it be so hard to hold them accountable? 

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