We had made plans to go to Washington weeks ago, and there was no way to change the trip. The train was almost empty when it pulled into Union Station on Friday night. The next morning, we went out into the dead heart of the city. The government shutdown was in its third week. Nearly all the museums that would have interested the kids were closed, and so were the ones that would have bored them. There was nothing to do except wander around, but the crowds we expected in the district center were absent, the streets and sidewalks almost empty. Without people, the scale of the capital dwarfed us. Each mid-century concrete building looked like its own walled city, the National Mall was a vast plain, and an endless highway separated the White House and the Capitol dome. It was as if Washington had been stricken by a grotesque illness that caused the body to swell up and suffocate the spirit within. The federal city was one great sarcophagus.
We wandered across the mall to see the monuments, which are always open. We climbed the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There was the somber giant in his chair. Our 7-year-old daughter’s eyes filled, and she read out the Gettysburg Address: “A new birth of freedom … government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The second inaugural was too much for her, and she asked me to read it.
And the war came … Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword … let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds …
It shamed me to read it. Abraham Lincoln’s eloquence touched levels of morality and high resolve that were preposterously out of reach in the first days of 2019, in the third year of the Trump presidency.