“Awe and reverence. I remember the first time I entered the U.S. Capitol. I was 14 or so. I came down from Pennsylvania by train, and I was overwhelmed by the glory of the place. This was where Lincoln and Henry Clay had worked. This was where the 13th Amendment was passed, the Land Grant College Act, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Act. It was such a beautiful building, I was stunned.” David Brooks, New York Times, January 9, 2021.
David Brooks, an opinion writer for the Times wrote those words to preface his disgust at the invasion of the nation’s capitol on January 6.
Those words resonated with me. In May 1962, I was among a number of relatively new employees of the Social Security Administration to go to SSA headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, for three weeks of training, in addition to three months of training we’d had just a few months earlier.
On our first weekend, a group of us decided to rent a car and go see the sights in Washington D.C.
We started the tour by doing something we couldn’t do now, for more reasons than one: we took the steps to the top of the Washington Monument. It was a warm, humid and sunny morning and after that climb, the only thing we could do, after getting down, was to find an air-conditioned bar and drink some cold beer.
After recovery, we did some serious touring, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, Arlington National Cemetery, with the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Iwo Jima memorial, the Lee-Custis Mansion (now renamed Arlington House), overlooking the peaceful hillside where, a year and a half later, John F. Kennedy would be laid to rest.
We walked up the steps of the Capitol Building, taking in the majesty of the “People’s House,” where our laws are made, and where so much history has taken place. We went to the visitors’ galleries above the House of Representatives and Senate.
All in all, for a day trip, we did a pretty good job of seeing the sights of our nation’s Capitol.
In 1976, we went to a conference in Washington D.C. and that time we got to tour the White House, where a tour guide explained that President and Mrs. Ford were gone that day, “Because they didn’t want to spoil our tour.”
While I have been to Washington D.C. several times, I’m by no means an expert on the city but like David Brooks, I cherish those visits and the opportunities to see and walk where our nation’s leaders have served and made history.
Also, like David Brooks, I was angry when news bulletins started coming about the mob scene at the Capitol, especially considering that our President, Donald Trump, incited riots to intimidate Congress from accomplishing the normally mundane counting of the Electoral College votes.
Angry? Maybe enraged would be more accurate, and I was enraged at Senator Steve Daines and Representative Matt Rosendale, for their roles in aiding and abetting Donald Trump’s attempts to overthrow the election. In earlier messages to Sen. Daines, I asserted that he and his Republican colleagues should be telling Trump to face up to the truth that he lost the election, instead of playing along with and encouraging Trump’s fantasies.
Today, most likely before you’ve read this, we have witnessed history again, with the inauguration of Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President.
I’ve been reading “A Promised Land,” President Obama’s autobiographical account of his early years and first term as president. He wrote, appreciatively, of how, in sharp contrast to Trump, President Bush facilitated an almost seamless transition in power from his administration to Obama’s. I recall President George H. W. Bush’s gracious handwritten note to President Bill Clinton, welcoming him to the Oval Office.
At this time of transition, we might remind ourselves that all these presidents and politicians will, at some time, be part of that “ash heap of history.”
For Donald Trump and his lackeys, I suspect it will be the dung heap of history.