Domnica Radulescu
14 min readJan 11, 2021


Grafitti by Banksy, street artist

“This is not who we are!” I have heard it said hundreds of times, like so many other insufferable American political cliches. I have heard it said equally by presidents and politicians I abhor and by the few I admire and even love. A crazed American white male with a gun collection, volcanic hatred against immigrants, POC, LGBTQ people or against humanity in general and occasionally even filled with a passionate love of Jesus (as many domestic terrorists are great lovers of big crosses and other such phallic symbols, bless their “Christian” hearts) shoots and kills dozens of children in a daycare center, another shoots and kills parishioners engaged in Bible study in a historically Black church and there it goes: “This is not who we are!” Babies and toddlers are yanked away from their parents’ arms, placed in cages, made to sleep on cement floors and cover themselves with sheets of aluminum foil crying themselves to sleep, and there it springs as sure as sunrise: “This is not who we are.” Thousands of fascist, white men and women with guns, pipes, chemical sprays, trample over police, break doors and windows and vandalize no other but the very Capitol of these United States, reminiscent of Medieval tribes of centuries ago desecrating places of worship or seats of judicial and political leadership and there goes as sure as the day that comes after night: “This is not who we are,” and occasionally an original variation such as “this is not what we do!”

I have news for everybody who thinks “this is not who we are” and that such sinister acts of violence are an anomaly. IT IS EXACTLY WHO WE ARE. It is what America has always been: a country built on the blood of exterminated indigenous people and the blood and work of enslaved people, the country of burning crosses and lynching, Jim Crow, McCarthyism, the Hiroshima bomb and Japanese internment camps, segregation, the continued and continuously unaccounted for murders of Black people, colossal incarceration rates, heartbreaking homelessness, lousy health care, flaming misogyny, more deaths of women in childbirth than in any other developed country. Seventy-four million American people voted for a man who makes Mussolini appear almost simpatico. He certainly makes the psycho dictator that I ran away from decades ago, appear almost dignified. More white women, Black men, and Latinos than in the 2016 election voted for this specimen. That is times and a half the entire population of the country of France. “This is not who we are?” Seriously? “They are just bad apples,” or whatever the cliché goes? Well, then that is a damn rotten apple orchard, if I ever saw one.

I remember watching the famous film Doctor Jekyll Mister Hyde as a little girl on the tiny black and white television set in our tiny apartment in the country of the stupid dictatorship I had the misfortune of being born (or maybe the fortune, depending on how you look at it). It terrified me more than anything else I had ever seen and the image of that man who one second was the salt of the earth, full of kindness and charm and the next a terrifyingly violent and sinister, almost subhuman individual, a killer and a rapist, was imprinted on my psyche forever. It is how I see this country now: as a gigantic Dr. Jekyll Mister Hyde, half filled with the worst of humanity, reminiscent of concentration camp guards, gulag and political prison guards, Hitler’s fascist crowds, efficient functionaries and people of the law participating with gusto in what Hannah Arendt so aptly called “the banality of evil.” And half with inspired, hardworking people, rebellious, courageous fighters for justice, sparkling artists, trendsetters, trailblazers, groundbreaking scientists, integrous brave reporters and journalists, nurses dedicated to a fault to their profession, workers who have more integrity in their little finger than the entire body of the present Republican party put together. And no, as Chris Cuomo pointed out recently in one of his powerful statements on CNN, the republicans who suddenly found shreds of a conscience at the bottom of their white supremacist psyches and decided to speak out against the man that they enabled and supported for 4 years, are not sudden heroes by a long shot of the imagination. Nothing that they do or say now redeems their nauseating cowardice and corruption of having done that for 4 miserable and devastating years. Oh, and by the way, there were Republican lawmakers from different states participating in the Capitol takeover. This is who half of the country and its leaders ARE!

And to all the white wide-eyed enthusiastic American born liberals filled with unshaken confidence in the “checks and balances” and the infallibility of the constitution of this country who keep being perplexed by police brutality, vicious racism, violence and injustice and who were so surprised by what just happened on January 6th 2021, I say: what part of the following did you not hear, believe or understand: “stand back and stand by,” “it will be wild,” the attempted kidnapping of a state governor by a self-proclaimed militia, Don Jr’s actual calls to “arms”? Have the last four years not taught you that when this guy threatens that he or his cultish crowds will do something abhorrent, he fully means it, and that calling him a “buffoon,” or a “clown” is an error of morality as it dismisses his very well calculated evil motifs and intentions? It’s not that we shouldn’t be surprised. Of course, we should always be surprised at the sight of sinister violence such as the one on January 6th and all the other instances, and never become inured to it. But here in the US we are both too surprised seeing events that we should see coming and not surprised enough when we do seem them happen. We get used to them and after the first shock quiets down, we adapt. We call it “the new normal” and the bar of this continuously evolving grotesque new normality keeps going down and down and where is it supposed to stop?

Recently I have been seriously pondering the move to another country, a better country, with a less sinister Mr. Hyde. France has always been my Mecca. It is where I feel deeply and joyously at home and fully, completely alive. I love and understand the culture, the people, the language, the critical thinking, the literature that I teach, the Parisian or Provencal streets that I love to roam. I realize that my experience of France is partly idealized or utopian as I have known it in utopian circumstances, having lived, worked, or studied there for limited blocks of time in close to ideal conditions. It inspires neither the ambivalences of my native country that I ran away from once, nor the sharply mixed feelings inspired by my adoptive country. But that is not where I have grown my deepest roots as an immigrant, and is not where I have built my profession, birthed, and raised my children, cared for my house and garden, taught most of my students. It is in the fault lines between Hyde’s predatory grimace and Jekyll’s alluring kindness that I have written my books, loved, and laughed and created the most, where most of my dearest friends live and where I always return from my journeys. And I still get a mad thrill whenever I drive across the large expanses of American earth, its mesmerizing geography, the Appalachian chains amidst where I have lived for the last quarter of a century, the unequivocally flat fields of Indiana, the startling beauty of the Lake Shore drive along my beloved city of Chicago, my first American home. And the refugee girl in me is tired of running away and playing home in other Western countries, and just wants to stay for a while. This is my country too.

For the last two months, I have been working on a collaborative project about African migrants in France, with a dear student of mine. We both love France and its language, and we both experience a sense of non-belonging in the small southern town where I teach and where she goes to school. As we researched the conditions of African migrants in the country of the beginning of rationalism, the enlightenment, of Voltaire, of “liberté, égalité, fraternité,” we discovered atrocious acts of racism and injustice as well: French people throwing bananas in the street at African migrants, telling them to go back to their country, migrant children sleeping in the street, a pregnant African woman asking to have her shoe repaired by a cobbler inside a metro station and the cobbler saying: “on ne répare pas les chaussures des noirs” (“we don’t repair black people’s shoes”). Things like that. The same racism as here in my adoptive home, only in French. Everybody with their Jekyll/Hyde complex by various degrees. One difference being that, as much as I know of France and the French people, I have never heard any French politician or regular citizen saying the equivalent of “this is not who we are” when referring to the so called “rotten apples” of their own orchard, but rather something more thoughtful, to the effect of “yes, this is also who we are, there is racism and there is inequality and injustice in our beautiful France too.” And my favorite French rapper Black M says in one of his songs: “je suis fier d’être français d’origine guinéenne” (“I am proud of being French of Guinean origin”), all while imbuing his songs with unflinching criticism of the racism in France. But there is still something that makes him proud to be French, despite the prejudices and inequality still existent there. There is something to be said about a strong system of free education and free health care. They may just be a productive deterrent to mindless populism of the kind that took hold in “the land of the free and home of the brave.”

At the end of the Nobel Prize winning novel The Plague by Albert Camus, the narrator warns the reader that the plague virus never fully goes away, but rather, after periods of virulent epidemics it goes dormant and lives unnoticed among linens and household goods for awhile, until the day it comes alive again in a “happy city” only to bring new death and devastation. Let us presume that January 20th of this year comes and goes uneventfully, that vaccinations against the “plague” of this past year are distributed efficiently and the virus goes dormant. Let us presume that the new president, vice president, the newly elected Senate and Congress start a better, more productive, and equitable system of governance amid the repaired and cleaned up breakage from an almost coup d’état. Maybe some members of Congress will even have PTSD triggers as they take their seats and flashback to the day when armed bearded men with QAnon shirts (or to my horror, with T shirts of the notorious Romanian World War II fascist Corneliu Codreanu, just like during the Charlottesville deadly rally of 2017) barged into their sacred chambers with guns and pipes and maybe these lawmakers will proceed with a newly acquired humility about the frailty of their positions. One can only hope! However, the virus of the plague of fascism doesn’t give any signs of going away anytime soon and even if it may be contained for a while, it is still going to lay dormant, maybe hidden in the plush upholsteries of the chambers of Congress, stuck to a confederate flag or a swastika in some house, big or small, and mostly in the hearts of many, many Americans. Likely, a younger, smarter, more competent white supremacist will win the hearts of many, revive the hearts of the seventy-four million disheartened citizens with wild hopes, sort of like France’s Marie Le Pen added some class to the crass fascism of her father and doubled up the appeal of the Front National. Fascism “with a friendly face,” smiling as it chants “La France aux Français” (France to the French people”). What then? Where are we going to run for cover? I am fiercely safeguarding my European passport and thank my immigrant intuition that I never gave up the citizenship of my native country.

Often, as in the last year before my escape from my native country, I fantasize of being caught at the US border in an attempt to leave, and put in prison for being “an enemy of the people” as those of us who escaped my native contry wused to be called. Of course, every white American born friend and even family member looks at me with a half ironic smile, like “this is never going to happen here,” or “you are being paranoid” whenever I vent such thoughts. Well, neither did any of my white liberal family, friends, acquaintances ever believe me when I was “ranting” about the clear possibility of a coup, because, well — those in power kept announcing it all over the media. Call me crazy, but the “flight” instinct of the refugee girl in me tells me that when country leaders, highly placed politicians, lawmakers announce violent actions, take overs, insurrections, and incite calls to arms, it’s a good idea to take them seriously and get the hell out of there or run for cover. Or stay put and put up a fight? At least be alert. What would the hero of Camus’s The Plague, Doctor Rieux do? I ask myself now, as I just recently reread and taught this timeless masterpiece. Probably stay put and do what he does best: heal and care for patients, tell and safeguard the truth about the virus, be calm and kind. Once in a while, he would go for a swim in the Atlantic to clear his thoughts and steal a moment of communion with nature and why not, even happiness. A French Doctor Fauci. Lucid, relentlessly hard-working, kind, and truthful.

The playwright in me occasionally imagines a dialogue and confrontation between the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of today’s America of the kind:

Dr. Jekyll (after Hyde has just killed someone or stormed the US Capitol): This is not who we are! Shame on you Hyde!

Mr. Hyde (looking at the murdered victim or the wreckage at the Capitol): It is who we are! You did it too.

Dr. Jekyll: No, it was you who did it, that’s who you are! I am the good one.

Mr. Hyde: We are part of the same person, you fool. This is who we are.

Hyde and Jekyll start a fist fight with each other but really it is one man fighting himself. A policeman arrives at the scene and shoots him dead. Or if it was to be a cartoon, they both explode and go up in flames and poof! There goes our hero/villain!

Spoiler alert for anyone who has not seen this classic Hollywood masterpiece: in the film, in which Spencer Tracy plays the title character, Hyde/Jekyll is shot and killed by the police. Both the good and the bad ones die. The good one became contaminated by the bad and couldn’t save either of them. Maybe he shouldn’t have experimented with that questionable serum of evil in the first place.

According to Camus and his existentialist philosophy, doing the right and moral thing doesn’t make us heroes, just responsible human beings who assume our human condition fully and the responsibilities that come with it. Seeing and upholding the provable truth is one of them. Otherwise, what are our options? Remember that both Hyde and Jekyll die in the end because they are one. With the bad, also the good dies. The dormant plague virus is bound to awaken again and again, even more virulently than the last one, whenever we stop being alert, lucid, fully awake, and responsible, and is ready to kill the villainous as much as the virtuous. And well, if you happen to have been born on the wrong side of the tracks and with the darker skin hue, the likelihood of dying from this “plague” is wildly and obscenely higher. Yes, not even in the face of natural catastrophes and global viruses are the poor, the downtrodden and the non-white equal. Only in America!

But let alone the long-term future, the threat of more violence is still very real in the days and weeks to come. The Washington Post just announced: “Twitter warns of new violence to come, brewing again on social media,” as it banned the president’s account. The Post warns of “a looming ‘secondary attack’” on the US Capitol and state government facilities next weekend” and protests that are supposed to culminate with a “Million Militia March on Jan 20” (The Washington Post, January 9th). The author of a recent article in the New Yorker following the Capitol failed coup relates his conversation with one of the terrorists during the siege, after he introduced himself: “The New Yorker? Fucking enemy of the people. Why don’t I smash you in your fucking head? […] Right there in the blue mask! Fucking enemy of the people!” (“Mob Rule in the Capitol,” by Evan Osnos, January 6th, 2021). How does a person who still believes in reason and critical thinking, basic humanity and kindness respond or deal with that? The reporter and writer from The New Yorker continued the reporting with clarity and objectivity, recording facts and statements. The article ends with one of the terrorist’s threat: “Of course if we come back, it will be with a militia.” No comment. Just run for cover, I guess. Are the police and law enforcement agencies going to protect us or are they going to take selfies with the militias and open doors for them?

This is the “greatest country in the world?” If I needed to emigrate from my native country now, the USA would be the last one I would want to settle in. In the next life, I’ll be sure to choose France, despite its imperfections and social justice issues, at least critical thinking is still taught in schools, and it’s a continuously evolving and self-questioning country and people. There are better countries. But for this one life, this is still my home and I intend to make the most of it, one day at a time, one precious hour at a time.

And forget the Jekyll/Hyde analogy after all. Jekyll himself is also sort of creepy and he hides the truth about Hyde and his crimes. The whole thing is still based on the same old binaries of good/evil, passive/active or passive/aggressive, masculine/feminine, love/hate, on and on. I see the dismantling of patriarchy and of the old models of masculinity as the only answer. The invention of new forms of leadership, soft power, and feminist leadership. I put my faith in the generation of my children, the millennials and the Gen Z. Greta Thunberg’s and Malala Yousafzai’s generation. The generation of gender fluidity, thoughtful activism, creative uses of technology in the service of social justice. And of course, I hope that for this immediate future of the presidential inauguration looming tall above us, the US law enforcement and military will limit the taking of selfies to birthdays and family outings and not when on duty and crowded by terrorists, that they will protect us from the obscenity of violence the kind we have seen on January 6th with all the resources and dedication that they are expected to do.

Not to be overlooked is that January 6th is also known as the day of Epiphany and of the celebration of the Three Kings or the three Magi that saw the so-called Christmas star which led them to baby Jesus, which for the first time in eight centuries was seen this past December as Saturn and Jupiter were aligned with each other. The huge irony of it is priceless! The etymology of “epiphany” is from the Greek “epiphainen” which means to “reveal.” Many things, good and bad were revealed on January 6th of 2021. I don’t know what revelations our leaders had, but despite everything, I keep hoping that the best of them might have had a revelation that is not packaged in the worn out “this is not who we are,” but in an aspirational “this is NOT who we should ever be!”



Domnica Radulescu

Domnica Radulescu is Professor of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels and award winning plays.