By the quirk of this season’s holiday calendar, we recently made a visit to Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, while visiting family and friends in nearby Maryland. The visit offered us a chance to affirm that our Republic, in all its manifestations of power, laws and democratic institutions was still standing in upright position and not collapsing under the weight of the current impeachment turmoil. After listening for a week as our highest elected officials ranted, raved and foamed at their mouths during the Congressional hearings, we half expected to see the U.S. Capitol’s dome smoldering in black smoke.
That’s not what we found.
The neoclassic white stone building and its cast-iron dome stood stolidly at the east end of our National Mall, undecorated except for a U.S. Flag near its roofline and a lighted holiday tree on its west lawn. The exterior scene under winter gray skies and a cold December breeze belied the klieg-lighted, hot tempers flaring inside the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee room. A tour bus of Japanese tourists was parked along the Mall, near a large RV vehicle with Oklahoma license plates. Ear-muffed joggers shuffled by. On the other side of the Capitol, out of our eyesight, Jane Fonda was being arrested again during her weekly protest about climate change. Not that much excitement, really.
Just to be sure, we went to the National Archives building just a half block away. Under the rotunda is where the Charters of Freedom are to be displayed. These include the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We are pleased to report all three documents are safe and sound, including Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, granting the House and Senate legislators the power of impeachment. (We re-read it, just to be sure it had not been erased.)
We walked up and down the Mall, across the Capitol grounds and across both Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues. We went looking for physical signs or evidence of all the partisan divides, extreme politics, tribalism and the many themes of upheaval some say are pointing us to a civil war. But all we could find were families ice skating on the National Sculpture Park ice rink, a small crowd lined up to see Michelle Obama’s new official portrait in the National Portrait Gallery and a gaggle of noisy black crows. Where other nation’s capitals such as Hong Kong, Beurit, Caracas, Baghdad, Tehran and even Paris, France are full of violent protests and even killings, Washington, D.C. looks just like the post cards they sell year-round near the Washington Monument.
Next, we went snooping to uncover the infamous “Swamp” that President Donald Trump has promised to drain. We didn’t find any traces of Trump’s swamp because it is mostly an invisible bog of lobbyists, Super PACs, political party mega-donors and elected pawns. Maybe it was too cold for these swamp dwellers to be above ground right now.
Our nation’s capital looked very safe, secure and stable. We have visited these monuments, galleries, government institutions and broad malls and public grounds many times over many decades. We marched here in 1968 against the Vietnam War and again at the very first Earth Day in 1970. We took our children to the 1980 inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. We’ve wept at the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We’ve walked the steps of the Lincoln Memorial pretending to hear echoes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Now, we have documented what the physical setting will be in this coming election year of 2020 where it appears our nation’s preservation will be supremely tested not by a war, an assassination, violent protest marches or foreign invasion — but by our will to pledge allegiance to the documents under the rotunda of the National Archives. It’s worth a visit.
— Rollie Atkinson