Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Uneasy Compromise of America

Living on the west coast, the origins of the country have always felt bloodless and distant. My impression when I come to D.C. is one of wondrous, tangible incoherence. You walk around the city and you see a country that mythologized its founders as near godlike figures, wreathed in the regalia of Ancient Greece. But walk into the museums and you get the fuller, darker picture. In a town where the majority are black--as are many of the museum staff--we learn of our long white supremacist history, that these founders were as venal and conflicted as modern politicians. On the one hand they mouthed the word of liberty while they passed laws legalizing slavery and limiting those liberties to white, wealthy men. 

Yet the US contains multitudes. It is not possible to slide fully into depression about a country that really does take to heart the effort to create a more perfect union. I visited during pride weekend, so the city was festooned with rainbows, smiles, and, well, pride. The Library of Congress had a wonderful temporary installation of the history of gay civil rights. This, just in view of the Capitol building, where many members want to roll back these rights, and the Supreme Court, where the rights were finally affirmed.

On a stroll down 12th (?) I passed by the President's new hotel, which is as stark a symbol of corruption and decadence as one could imagine. Yet within five months, he's managed to rouse a country that means to check his power, and all the news rumbles with reports about obstruction of justice, lawsuits about emoluments violations, and federal probes. (As I judged cider and beer in Navy Yard--the purpose of my visit--Attorney General Jeff Sessions was being grilled by the Senate.)

What a weird, bloody, contradictory country we live in. It's too big and too populous to ever fall under a single orthodoxy. We live by uneasy compromise, lumbering from one fight to the next, always somehow united by belief in the character of a country that stands for so many different things.

Supreme Court

The Capitol from the Supreme Court.

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