Look past shenanigans for enduring Washington inspiration

Mike KnaakColumn, Opinion, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Watching from Area Code 320, the nation’s capital appears to be the land of shenanigans and ridiculousness.

Consider these recent events:

• For the first time, a House of Representatives chaplain was fired, apparently because he offered a prayer that was not sufficiently supportive of the Republicans’ tax plan. The chaplain is a Jesuit, a religious order known for its intellectual rigor and social-justice stands. He was unfired a few weeks later.

• Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump planted a tree on the White House grounds meant to symbolize the deep ties between France and the United States. The act exposed the obvious – Trump and Macron have never used actual shovels to do actual work. Then in a few days, the tree disappeared. It was unplanted until the tree could pass quarantine as a foreign plant.

• The director of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose job it is make sure we have clean air and water, ordered up a bullet-proof Chevy Suburban, complete with lights and siren so he could get to dinner on time and respond to environmental emergencies without delay.

• The director also rented a Capitol Hill condo for $50 a night. He unrented it on nights he wasn’t in town. I was not able to find a similar deal on Airbnb or anywhere else in the shared economy during my trip to Washington last week.

I was in Washington to see my younger daughter, who works in the District. Over the last 40 years, I’ve visited the city perhaps two dozen times, including living there for a few months in the 1980s. Early May is a good time to visit. The hordes of high-school students on spring break trips are long gone and the cherry blossoms have fallen. Families pushing strollers and buying trite souvenirs from street-side vendors are yet to arrive. Plus, May weather is usually breezy and pleasant before the summer heat and swamp-like humidity sets in.

I’ve done the standard tourist activities long ago and as much as I’d like to check out the phantom White House tree and Scott Pruitt’s armored SUV, I chose a few activities that are more enduring.

There are three photo exhibits on display at the Newseum. On the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, The Marines and Tet: The Battle That Changed the Vietnam War showcases the work of Stars-and-Stripes photographer John Olson.

Another gallery features the most comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs ever assembled, including photographs from every Pulitzer Prize-winning entry since 1942, when the award was first presented.

The third exhibit I wanted to see was Pictures of the Year: 75 Years of the World’s Best Photography featuring seven decades of award-winning images from the archives of Pictures of the Year International, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious photojournalism competitions. The pictures were selected from POYI’s archive of more than 40,000 photos, tracing the evolution of photojournalism from World War II to today.

Any visit to Washington should include a short walk to visit Lincoln, MLK, FDR and Jefferson. Starting with the Lincoln Memorial at the west end of the Mall and then heading south around the Tidal Basin, a visitor will find inspiring words.

On the north wall of the MLK memorial, a visitor can read: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Walk another 500 yards to the south and FDR reminds us: “We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

The shared human moments captured by the award-winning news photos and the timeless quotations will endure, while the shenanigans and ridiculousness of the current administration will be swept away as soon as the next election or perhaps with a string of federal indictments.

Author: Mike Knaak

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