Dear Congressional Republicans,
Welcome to Philadelphia. No, seriously. While it's true that your new President Trump lost here by 455,000 votes in November, we're still flattered that you chose us for your annual January retreat. Flattered...but a little confused. You see, we always thought the idea of a "retreat" was to really get away from it all -- maybe a piney ski slope somewhere in the Poconos, even if real snow is a little hard to find with these unnaturally warm Januaries (which might make you want to begin thinking about the science of climate change...but we're getting ahead of ourselves here). Instead, you'll be holed up inside a luxury hotel for three days, surrounded by hundreds of the best riot cops that Philadelphia's beleaguered taxpayers can buy. I believe that's called "bunkering down," not a "retreat," but whatever.
From what we've heard, the idea behind these annual GOP getaways is to flee from Washington, which means escaping your milquetoast Democratic foils and that annoying Beltway press corps. You know, the pesky oppositional things that have always made our messy democracy a democracy. Is that the point of this three-day fantasy exercise? If so, Republicans, you're blowing a remarkable opportunity. Why not put the down the canapes and the chardonnay for at least an hour or two to see -- whether you're willing to acknowledge it or not -- our local slice of the real America.
Think about it. During his campaign, President Trump said this: “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs.” So here's your chance to see if he was right. Walk away from the Loews to one of our stores, and buy... whatever it is that you Republicans buy. I can pretty much guarantee you won't get shot, although you might trip over a construction crane from all the new condos of folks clamoring to move back into Center City.
And we'd urge you to keep walking and check out our neighborhoods -- not just the craft-beer-infused trendiness of a Fishtown, but the rich, ragged diversity of a place like Baltimore Avenue. Use the unseasonable warmth as an excuse to challenge all the trite 20th Century cliches about the flesh-and-blood 21st Century American city.
And yes, we all heard the part of the president's speech where talked about "the crime and the gangs and the drugs" -- and it's true, there are far too many pockets of Philadelphia where those fires still burn. The reality is that violent crime is down but not down enough to anyone's liking, the opioid crisis is getting worse, and the city's rate of deep poverty is highest in the nation. Would it be too much too ask, visiting Republicans, to arrange a field trip to a place like Fairhill, to talk to the cop on the beat and the beleaguered mom trying to raise her family in such a place, the real "forgotten Americans" that President Trump claimed to be addressing on Friday. You might even learn a thing or two about gun safety that doesn't come from an NRA fundraising letter.
But maybe that is too much to ask. After all, the cocktail-comfortable confines of the Loews is your chance to hear the great Peyton Manning tell you how to throw touchdown passes in congressional cloak rooms of life, or some such thing. Who'd want to miss that for visiting a challenging place like the Family Practice & Counseling Network's clinic in East Falls, where patients are terrified for their actual life as you race to repeal Obamacare, or North Philadelphia's Ludlow Elementary School, where teachers struggle to teach without a school librarian or other resources that kids in suburban GOP-voting districts take for granted. Yes, the same schools that President Trump claimed on Friday are "flush with cash." You should see the reality!
Or you could stay indoors and party with a lame '90s cover band called White Ford Bronco while you come up with your schemes to crush the tiny remaining pockets of resistance to your corporatist takeover of America, which is what this week is really all about. A week in which you transport your bubble of lobbyist-funded caviar and 1 Percent groupthink some 150 miles north on an Acela train and humor us by calling it "a retreat."
But before you and your K Street buddies roll back south, we want to encourage you -- no, beg you, actually -- to do just one thing while you're in our City of Brotherly Love. Go out the front of the Loews and head east for about four or five short blocks. It will take you just five minutes to reach a place called the Graff House -- the place where Thomas Jefferson wrote the American Declaration of Independence.
Take just a minute or two to ponder what your forerunners achieved here in Philadelphia so long ago -- how they came here not once but twice to enshrine "certain unalienable rights," to a free press, to freedom of religion, to the right of assembly, and, most importantly of all, the right of all citizens to vote. Ask yourself whether your destiny is to really retreat -- from your higher responsibility to constitutional government while blinded by partisanship --or whether you will have the courage to stop the escalating madness that is already emerging at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When it counts, can you choose your country over your political party?
Because this is the moment. You can only hide in your luxury-suite bunker for so long. The people who love liberty and our fundamental rights -- not just here in Philadelphia, but around the nation -- have no intention of retreating these next four years.