For Your Society

The skyscraper raccoon gave America what it’s been missing

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A raccoon on the window sill of the UBS Tower in St. Paul, Minn. (Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio/AP)

It’s Flag Day, and you know what that means. Whether your neighbor agrees is less certain.

It happens every year. The flag is supposed to be a symbol for all Americans, but in a polarized country, Americans can’t possibly agree on what that symbol is trying to say, whether it’s liberty or hegemony or empathy for the oppressed. We’ve been conditioned to feel a sense of collective ownership over the flag, and that compels each side to fight for its interpretation — in front-porch displays of patriotism and, of course, in hashtagged tweets.

This year, though the skirmishes look the same as ever, something else is different. This year, the day before flag day, there was a raccoon.

The critter in question caught national notice when it began to scale a 25-story Minnesota skyscraper late Tuesday morning. By lunchtime, the raccoon (a female, it was later revealed, though onlookers initially misgendered her) had reached floor 12. On floor 22, she stopped to take a midafternoon nap. An array of rescue strategies, including extraction by drone, were explored and discounted as impossible. She had to reach the roof, or . . . kersplat.

Reader, she did it.

The raccoon would not stop for death, and when she completed her climb she was rewarded with a can of cat food and her release into the wild. The country, which had tracked her progress and prayed for her survival on Twitter, celebrated her victory. Dissent was next to nonexistent.

It’s not that Americans everywhere didn’t manufacture narratives around the St. Paul raccoon to suit their personal and political fancies, much as they do with the flag. They did. The raccoon, like the nation, faced an existential crisis, but she kept going up and up and up and came out unscathed, said some. Our compassion toward her is the same compassion we should feel for those seeking asylum, said others. No, a Fox News commentator argued, the raccoon was Congress, helpless to act against the overreaches of presidents from either party.

But somehow, it didn’t matter what anyone thought the raccoon meant. Everyone was rooting for her anyway. A literal garbage animal was bringing us together when the high-flying flag, proud representation of the American


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