DC at Coronation Time

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Capital cities,
like courtesans, are traditionally bound by a certain societal
hypocrisy that demands, though their souls be as black as pitch,
they at least put on a pretty face for general consumption. So
it is not surprising that in 1910, H.L. Mencken wrote that Washington,
D.C. "has some claim to the title of the most beautiful city
in the world." In those days, the leviathan of federal power
had not grown sufficient in strength to display its true face
— today it has.

When I came
to Washington in that fabled time called "pre-9/11,"
the city had a certain bloated, pursy quality to it, not unlike
the public officials, staffers and lobbyists who crowded the Hill.
Back then, one was still free to march up the Capitol steps and
into very bowels of the American of government. Once inside any
building of the congressional complex, like some civics-book-based
petting zoo come to life, one was allowed to observe senatorus
doltus, bureacratus abdominous or secretarious steatopygous
moving slothfully through their natural environs. On the whole
they were tame creatures, though if you caught their eye, they
possessed a specific hubris that infects all the "public
servants." There air was one of both arrogance and insecurity.
I often imagined it stemmed from the circumstance that, for whatever
the reasons, these drones were collectively a people who "never
fit in" in their home state; but now that they were about
the people's business in cosmopolitan Washington, they assumed
the haughty demeanor of those who have "arrived." Staring
too closely had the disconcerting effect of making them think
that you had pierced their mantle of faux importance and were
able to apprehend that they were still spotty-faced teens with
underwear firmly wedged up courtesy of their hometown classmates.
All in all, the demeanor of the pre-9/11 "Hill-rat"
hinted that not much separated the young staffers' backgrounds
from the equally outcast Trenchcoat Mafia of Columbine infamy
– with the notable exception that the Columbine monsters chose
a nihilistic rampage of violence and intimidation over mere power-basking
sycophancy. However, in post-9/11 Washington the distinction between
bureaucratic toady and hooligan has blurred.

The new face
of Washington is angular with a thick neck and a curled wire running
into its ear. Its presence can be caught out of the corner of
the eye like a phantasm. It is ominous and omnipresent. Like a
scene out of Animal
Farm
, their brutish physical presence has allowed the
porcine members of the farm to grow bolder in their control of
the manor. This unmistakable face has even infiltrated
the ranks
of groups planning acts of protest and dissent.
Though this face has slowly gained ascendancy over the past three
years, it appears that its coming out party will be this month's
Presidential Inauguration activities.

The actual
inauguration ceremony of George W. Bush is of secondary importance
— the more important event is a formal and overt display of force
designed to make the masses cower. The haute couture of the festivities,
with all due respect to the
First Lady's designer
, will not be grand ball gowns nor even
"black ties and boots" but the S.W.A.T.-style assault
jumpsuits. The special guest list of "military
personnel, FBI agents in full SWAT outfitting, snipers on rooftops
and scores of bomb-detecting dogs
" has also been confirmed.
Just as important as the seating arrangement and placing of name
cards is the "inspecting miles of underground Metro and sewer
tunnels, sealing manhole covers, closing streets and surveying
the more than 450 downtown buildings." Naturally, as in planning
any grand party, accommodations for out-of-towners must be made
— in this case between 1,600 and 2,500 police officers from foreign
jurisdictions and 4,000 active-duty combat forces. Finally, one
should not forget to take pictures
on the big day
, so the Metropolitan Police Department will
have its Big Brother system fully ramped up. (MPD has also announced
that the spy cameras will awaken again for that most subversive
and dangerous of events — the March for Life.)

Pageantry
aside, the only joy greater than having the party that you want
is the schadenfreude of keeping what you view as the riff-raff
out of the party. Like the Neanderthal bouncers outside of chic
Hollywood nightclubs, the "security force" will decide
who gets in and who doesn't. Without "your papers,"
residents of the Shaw neighborhood will
not be allowed ingress and egress
from their own homes. Other
"security" measures have had the (intended?) effect
creating such inconvenience that law-abiding
people plan to stay away
.

Once upon
a time a man said that if the terrorists forced
us to change our way of life
, then they will have won. But
things have changed. This means that either the terrorists are
winning or that these changes were not forced — but desired —
by our leaders.

In either
case, on Inauguration Day all of the nation will get a view of
the new Washington, D.C. — America's jack-booted debutante.

January
15, 2005

C.T.
Rossi [send him mail]
is a law student in Washington, D.C.

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