I am heading out tomorrow for an overnight trip to Philadelphia with my family. Next to New York City, Philly is my favorite city on the east coast. I like to think of it as New York's drunken screwup younger brother, less successful but also fun to hang out with.
By all rights it should have been the nation's permanent capital. I often think of how much better off this nation would have been had the Federal District mandated by the Constitution had been placed outside Philadelphia instead of on the Potomac. Alas, political horse trading necessitated this, and in return for assuming the debts of the states as Hamilton preferred, the capital had to be located further south to placate the gang of Virginian slaveholders. So instead of having an organic capital city, America has an artificial simulacra of a capital, a place whose unrealness creeps me out every time I visit.
Philly, on the other hand, feels warm and all too human. The city having its status stolen from it seems to have resulted in a permanent state of anger and resentment. When Eagles fans boo Santa Claus that is the cry of a people who instead of living in the capital of the world's most powerful nation live in a grimy, declining city with far more people than economic opportunities.
You can still visit Independence Hall, of course. One great thing about Philly is how close all the relevant historical sites are to one another. I am not one to indulge in a Foundersgasm, but I will say I have always had a soft spot for Benjamin Franklin. How could I not? He was a traveller, thinker, writer, and lover of the grape. He left the straightjacket of his hometown to go make it on his own. Unlike the likes of Washington and Jefferson, he did not have wealth handed down to him, he had to make his own way in the world. Unlike Hamilton, he does not appear to have been turned into an asshole once he ascended the social ladder. (There, I said it.) Like Hamilton, he publicly turned against slavery.
One of my favorite Franklin anecdotes is that he was asked after the Constitutional Convention, which had been held under a cloak of secrecy, if America was to have a republic or a monarchy. Franklin replied "A republic, if you can keep it."
This speaks to the fragility of the new government formed in Philadelphia. Historically democracy is the exception, not the norm. In American history the form of democracy where every person gets more exceptional still, extending back to 1965 at the very earliest.
I firmly believe that our democracy is facing a unique crisis. Even before the current despot ascended to the White House voter suppression made a striking comeback, validated by the courts. Yesterday brought news of a phony state of emergency, called to circumvent Congress's Constitutional role as the holder of the purse strings. The lack of direct action by the people of this country in response has been disheartening. Too many are so complacent or comfortable, unaware that the republic must be actively kept, not merely passively counted on.