By Thomas Chatterton Williams
May 3, 2017
I woke up early yesterday morning and walked through the center of Florence, past the Piazza Del Duomo, across the Ponte Vecchio, and up the Costa San Giorgio to the Villa Bardini and its cascade of surrounding gardens, perched on the other side of the Arno and opening into astonishing panoramic views overlooking the Renaissance capital. The air—delightfully crisp before the afternoon sun—was fragrant with leather, coffee, and tobacco, and the throngs of American and Japanese tourists had not yet overrun the streets. I took a seat on a bench and marveled at the cityscape, which aside from the presence of a lone yellow crane, would have been fully recognizable to Michelangelo or Machiavelli.
I sat there and contemplated the achievement of Florence, one of the greatest monuments to human excellence, and somehow my mind wandered to the travesty of the present-day United States of America. I posted a photograph of the breathtaking view on Instagram with a pithy caption lamenting the decline of Western civilization indicated by the election of Donald Trump. My friend Josh cautioned, “I’m not sure that lionizing a family dynastic power that combined great wealth with singular political control is the exact right historical antecedent to yearn for.” The Medicis were certainly ruthless and corrupt in ways that make us shudder today. As a black man, I’m under no illusions concerning my luck in being born in late-20th-century New Jersey, flaws and all. But from my bench this morning, I couldn’t help but allow myself to entertain the sentiment that leadership by wizened elites might be in some ways preferable to the disaster of peak democracy we’re suffering through now.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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