In 1969 I sat beside my mother on a rickety bus, traveling through the streets of Manilla, on a “tour” of the things that President and Mrs. Marcos wanted us to see. I was sixteen. My father was, I assume, in meetings with Ferdinand Marcos, so this was what they had planned for us – a guided tour, complete with a man speaking through a small microphone, sort of like the boat rides at Disneyland.

President Nixon had asked my father, then Governor of California, to attend the opening of a cultural center in Manilla, another proud accomplishment of the Marcos regime. It was my first trip outside of America.

The interesting thing about guided tours is, it’s generally impossible to hide what you don’t want people to see. So, on a long stretch of road, we were asked to look out the windows to the left where a seemingly endless cemetery was lined with white crosses, all the same size. “This was a special project of Imelda Marcos,” the man with the microphone said. “The crosses are all white marble. These are the graves of brave Philippine soldiers.” At that point, I looked out the other side of the bus. On a muddy river bank, families were huddled under propped up pieces of sheet metal. Women were washing clothes in the water where children splashed each other. A few men were cooking over small flames they’d built with sticks. This encampment – obviously home to these people – was as long as the stretch of cemetery on the opposite side. I can’t be sure, but I think the tour guide saw me looking because he quickly said, “This is going to be Mrs. Marcos’ next project, to clean up this area.”

We returned to Malacañang Palace, where we had been given luxurious suites, where silent men brought bottled water to our rooms and soldiers with machine guns patrolled outside. We had been told that, at meals, we shouldn’t eat all of the first dish brought to us, because there would be about four other courses. I thought about the men cooking over small flames. What were they eating? I thought about the women trudging through mud with jugs of river water, and I wondered how the Marcos family could live so shamelessly in luxury while so many of their citizens had nothing.

That evening, an elaborate dinner was held. As I picked at the food in front of me, I noticed shiny gold flecks in the adults’ wine glasses. Flecks of real gold, someone told me when I asked. I thought about the children splashing in muddy water. Rain was moving in that night. The realization that these people who were in power in the Philippines didn’t care sat in me like a cold stone. It was one thing to read about such stories in history books, quite another to see it.

When we returned to America, I felt a surge of gratitude go through me. I was certain that I lived in a country where such sweeping neglect, such disregard for human life at the highest levels of government, would never happen. Whether or not people agreed with the president, we didn’t have a tyrant or a despot who would trample his own citizens. I’ve looked for that feeling inside myself lately, and I’m having trouble finding it.

Donald Trump’s flippant response that he can relate to the 800,000 people going without pay, and that they will make adjustments is his version of ‘let them eat cake.’ His threat to keep the shutdown going for months or even years makes glaringly obvious the fact that he doesn’t care about the human suffering his actions are causing.

We do have an emergency in this country, except it’s not at the Southern border. It’s in the White House. We have a president who will let people starve, lose their homes, go without medication or vital healthcare, all because he wants a wall with his name on it in a place where it will do no good. It’s ego versus empathy, and it’s pretty clear where he falls.

That’s the emergency that is weakening our country, that is making us frighteningly vulnerable, that is chipping away at our core.

Sadly, there is no wall to protect us from that.



  1. Kenneth Downing says:

    His entire presidency could be summed-up as The Revenge of The Uber-Rich. HIs disregard for anyone but rich white men is appalling. I just can’t understand how any middle-class (or lesser) can be bamboozled by his pretending to be just a regular guy. Baffling.

  2. Michael Roden says:

    I am a furloughed federal employee. I paid bills yesterday and had to dip into savings. Thankfully, I have savings to dip into. Others do not. If this continues, my savings will be wiped out. This is insanity. Thank you for speaking out.

    • Deborah Caplan says:

      I am a retired federal worker – right now I am not directly effected – but I rent a townhouse to a furloughed worker and have communicated w her to let me know if she needs to pay less -that I would work w her – she appreciated it – fortunately for me she is not living paycheck to pay check right now – I kind of am being a new retiree – count my blessings.

  3. Edward Jenny says:

    the worst ever global reality show.
    Nicely written as always, Peace.

  4. Kimothy Cruse says:

    Patty…you speak TRUTH with a real clarity and understanding that comes from your experiences and great empathy. THANK YOU for that and please continue to speak out and #RESIST!

  5. Deborah Caplan says:

    Last week Kamala Harris said the shut down will end when there is a hue and cry such as when they were taking kids away from their parents at the border.

    How can we get that going again? How to make the republicans in the senate who are enabling Trump realize that this policy of holding the Furloughed workers hostage is CRAZY! Furthermore the republicans are betting on the wrong horse – thats for sure. My big fear is that this is a distraction so it takes the hate of Trumps looming legal problems

  6. Mark Neuwirth says:

    Time for you to run for office. Your country needs you.

  7. David Marks says:

    Of course, you are very right about this emergency, and sadly, it falls at the threshold of the White House….OUR White House, where Trump laments his pathetic loneliness while nearly a million people go without a pay check. What you witnessed, Patti, was far worse than anything we can imagine, but the social and emotional correlation is quite compelling. The fact that you could establish such a vivid tribute to complementary situations, is dramatic, and brings home the absolute depravity of the Trump regime, so to speak. Thank you for the personal gift, one which certainly gives rise to the severity of our own national emergency. Without any doubt, without debate, Trump has offered America little hope, and in his turning of the proverbial cheek, he has invited an enormous wave of pain to so many. Thank you, Patti.

  8. thanks for sharing your work. these are frightening times, exciting times. i like to think its bringing to light some great writing, poetry, art. i enjoyed your article, it brought up some interesting observations. thank you!

  9. Michael Baron says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this brilliantly written and extraordinarily meaningful article, Patti!

  10. Ciaran Ryan says:

    I hate to say it, but the only place I’ve encountered the type of poverty you described, and the glaring gap between rich and poor, is in the United States of America. And I’ve been to Europe, Asia, Central America.

    San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington DC were the worst.

    In the nation’s capitol, in particular, I wondered how the powers that be could proudly maintain their great monuments to Lincoln and Washington etc, and turn a blind eye to all the (mainly black) men sleeping on the streets. It’s embarrassing.

    How can the richest nation on earth, that has spent trillions on “nation building” in the middle east and elsewhere, do nothing about this epidemic? Has everyone become numbed to the problem?

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