Penn Ave | The Show Must Go On

Yesterday the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was killed. He had a wife and three children. He also had a strange, misleading legacy, proverbially (and perhaps profanely) known as the Banana Man for his involvement in an agricultural export project that created a fraction of the jobs intended and barely got off the ground. He was not a great president. He was unpopular publicly, depleted his opponents’ political power, dissolved Parliament, and did not hold legislative elections after his term ended. Business as usual for the troubled state.

Five years ago, I covered Moïse’s election in one of my first pieces of published writing. It’s not one I’m proud of – I consulted a single news article for the facts. And the opinion portion of the editorial amounted to: poverty bad, foreign aid good. As a very white guy from a very white state, my undergraduate fascination with the struggles of the only country in the world successfully built by former slaves was problematic at best. But the facts remain. Moïse came to power in spite of electioneering charges leveled against him by an opponent who’d weathered the same charges five years before. And so on. And so forth.

If I had unique insight into the cause or effects of Haitian strife, I wouldn’t have buried it in the third paragraph. I’m not a scholar or an historian or even particularly political these days. It’s not an easy time to be. And if the past five years have taught me anything, it’s that simply being white, or alive, or able to access the Internet does not require me to have an opinion on everything. The general consensus is that the cycle of corruption and scarcity in Haiti stems from uncurbed epidemics, unlucky geography, and decades spent in national debt to France, their former enslaver, for having the gall to declare independence. Is a deeper – or, god forbid, more divisive – explanation even needed?

The source of cycles aren’t so important once we’re in them. And the way out isn’t in the past or the future. It is in front of us, now. This is true, I imagine, for the people of Haiti, almost definitely for the people of America, and, I can say for certain, for me. This cycle of a tragedy sparking outrage, an echo chamber stoking the flames, and the exhaustion of oversaturated opinions dimming it to a simmer, until the next burst of oxygen ignites it again – it’s addicting. I’m addicted. _______ pursued a monopoly. The conviction of _______ was overturned. A train wrecked in _______. _______ got mercked for no reason. Without the proper nouns, the news each day is the same, and I’m done pretending anything to the contrary.

The murder of Jovenel Moïse is a tragedy for his family and a setback for a country with a history of nothing but. As much as the Prime Minister declares everything “under control” or our own President condemns the “heinous act” (and it is not and it is) the show will go on. Five years ago, cruelly, I called it the Haitian electoral farce. There’s little comic about it, although it’s no more tragic than anywhere else, and the real joke is on all of us. Only when we step back from the stage and see the proscenium can we all call curtains on the farce for real.