Sunday, July 7, 2019

Defiling a Sacred Space

I managed to restrain myself by briefly maintaining a self-imposed exile on making social media political posts (excluding in this space) for as long as I could. I agree that the constant haranguing of the current administration can be self-defeating as much of it has become tedious and self serving. Plus, it only manages to fuel the fire of the other side who buys into the lie propagated by the administration, Fox News and others, that any criticism of the president surfaces for no substantive reason other than out of an unjustified hatred of the man. Despite that I admit that many of the digs at Donald Trump are petty, bark up the wrong tree, and do little to advance the cause of meaningful dialog.

On the other hand, this president is a loose cannon with a resume of many controversial (to put it mildly) actions under his belt, any one of which would have would have cast a deep shadow upon another administration. Yet with Donald Trump, every breach of protocol, diplomacy, morality or basic human decency is looked upon as just another day at the office.

Case in point: recently a very credible accusation of a rape that allegedly took place twenty years ago was leveled against the president. He denied it (of course) and in a few weeks time the issue has been all but forgotten. I guess if the accusation had been unique, we'd be taking it a little more seriously but as this was merely one of dozens of similar accusations, all of them denied by the president, the public has become desensitized to the issue. Detractors will go on believing the president is a sexual molester while supporters will go on insisting that all his accusers (including Trump himself who admitted to on tape being a sexual predator), are lying.

Which begs the question, was Donald Trump right when he said during the 2016 campaign that his followers were so loyal they would continue to support him even if he shot somebody for no reason? After over two years in office and a litany of verifiable lies, transgressions, moral lapses, and outright chicanery, the answer is clear: you betcha they would.     

Since there apparently is nothing this president could do to sway his base, or for that matter his detractors, perhaps there is little point to publicly criticize him anymore, or so the theory goes. Maybe we should just go on with our lives, ignore the whole thing and pray that everything will work out for the best, after all it always does right?

On the other hand, I deeply care about this country and believe in, despite its faults, failures and atrocities committed in its name, the ideals of this nation, stated most exquisitely in President Lincoln's words: "a government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Yet strangely enough, those very words evoked by Donald Trump the other day while he was standing in front of the famous likeness of the sixteenth president, had a hollowness to them.

Perhaps it was because Trump went against a tradition that has existed from time immemorial that presidents for good reason have stepped back from the Fourth of July, letting Americans celebrate the holiday on their own. without an official blessing from the head of state. The holiday does after all celebrate the right to self-determination by declaring our independence from a king. Since the time of George Washington, presidents, admittedly some more than others,  have gone to great lengths to distance themselves and their job, from that of autocratic rulers. Not this president who seems to relish the company he keeps with autocratic rulers and time and again has made no bones about sharing his frustration with the laws of this country which help ensure that he can't be more like them.

Perhaps is was the tanks that flanked the monument, their gun turrets pointing directly at the crowd. Calling themselves "conservatives" Trump supporters like to express their disdain for government oppression of the common folk. But what could be more a symbol of government oppression than having to look at down the barrel of a gun as your president speaks at you.

Fortunately for most in the crowd, they weren't able to get close enough so see those guns as all the "good" seats were reserved for big money donors to the Republican National Committee. The devoted "common" folk, who constitute the vast majority of Trump's base, had to make due with standing wherever they could in the rain to catch a view on the Jumbotron of their dear leader standing behind a massive rain soaked sheet of bullet-proof glass.

Or perhaps it was the setting itself, as I have said in this space before, unquestionably our country's most sacred space. The act of holding what amounted to a display of military force, albeit a laughably pathetic one if you listen to Russian media, in front of the  Lincoln Memorial is what rankled me enough to violate my pledge to avoid political commentary on social media. One of my friends, definitely not a Trump supporter, made a tongue-in-cheek comment on one of my posts to the effect that a military parade might as well be held in Washington as Stalin did the same thing in a similar place. That inspired the following reaction from me:
For the record I know where you’re coming from but let me just play along with you. I was in Moscow and Washington has no equivalent to Red Square. On one side of Red Square behind an enormous wall is the Kremlin and all that entails. In front of that is the tomb of Lenin whom I hear has to be removed, bathed and re-stuffed on a regular basis so his nearly 100 year old corpse doesn’t become rancid. On the other side is an enormous department store which at least when I was there, had nothing in it worth buying. In between is the enormous brick paved square itself, which you'd think was built just for massive displays of national military might.
Our National Mall on the other hand, between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials is comprised of an enormous reflecting pond flanked by public park space. The very moving Vietnam Memorial sits on one side the park, and the almost as moving Korean War Memorial sits on the other. Neither monument glorifies war or the military in the least. The Lincoln Memorial is so well known it’s hardly worth mentioning except for the words inscribed both inside and out. Inside on one side of the iconic Daniel Chester French sculpture of the seated Lincoln are the words of the Second Inaugural Address and on the other, the Gettysburg Address, two of the most inspiring, heart rending works of American rhetoric. On the steps leading up to the monument you will find inscribed the words “I have a dream”, marking the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his most famous speech. Then behind the Lincoln Memorial you have Memorial Bridge, both literally and figuratively re-connecting this country, North and South, as it connects the District of Columbia, the capital of the Nation, with the Commonwealth of Virginia, whose main city Richmond, was the capital of the Confederacy. On the other side of the bridge is Arlington National Cemetery and of course all that entails. 
This magnificent assemblage of monuments, memorials, public space and infrastructure, something every American must visit at least once, is a devotion to honor, service, democracy, sacrifice, justice, liberty, reflection, and above all, to healing and unity, none of which are things the current president has any tolerance for or understanding of. 
Red Square on the other hand I have no doubt, is a place he would get completely, despite the language barrier.
As public architecture and urban planning reflect the society they represent, I can't think of any space in this country that resembles Red Square. Perhaps that's why Trump's appearance in front of the Lincoln Memorial was so ludicrous, he simply needed a setting that was more hospitable to a foolish yet dangerous dictator wannabie, spewing nonsense to a doting crowd.

Red Square would have been much more what the doctor ordered.

Maybe as a token of appreciation to our dear leader, we should contribute to an all expense paid ticket for the president and members of his administration to Moscow.

One way of course.

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