Washington thrums with recent history.
Most European cities are so cluttered with fragments of the past that their citizens hardly notice them--churches and cobbles and ruined castles, as remarkable as wallpaper.
American cities, on the other had, cling to the impression of age despite their youth. Buildings less than 200 years old echo old Greek and Roman styles, giving the appearance of a vigorous nation striving desperately for age and pomposity.
In Washington DC, the country's veneer of age bumps up against its short and vividly remembered history. Perhaps because it is youthful enough to fit its timeline into a manageable narrative, the USA has taken care to studiously document its mythos--the country born in revolution, divided by civil war, and made great in global conflict. Its capital is filled with grand monuments to famous American figures, with extracts from their most well-known speeches engraved on marble walls. The capital pivots around the great obelisk of the Washington Monument, while memorials of old Presidents sit pensively in their stone cages, waiting for tourists to photograph them.
While I was in DC, I followed a trail of free canapés to a glitzy formal event held within the Library of Congress. Called the Golden Goose award, it was a ceremony celebrating scientific discoveries in odd or unusual areas. In between glasses of free champagne, I was struck by the dizzying array of marketers, stylists, and artists (some more narcissistic than others) who had gathered at the party, largely for one reason--to propagate business cards. As much as it is a symbol for democracy, Washington is a mecca for people who crave advancement, power and connection.
DC's most famous landmark is of course the White House; the most powerful building in the world, home to the most powerful man in the world. But much as Presidents collapse into mere men on close inspection, the White House is a curiously underwhelming sight in person. The most powerful building in the world, it turns out, is still just a building.
Yet in a few weeks, the 2016 election will reach its climax, and the fight for that building will blot out every single other news story on the planet. Whatever its eccentricities--and there are many--America is still America, a behemoth on the world stage. It's the world's prime exporter of movies, television, magazines, celebrities and assorted pop cultural gossip. It's a country that people pay attention to unlike any other.
Because like the people at that cocktail party, America knows how to market itself--with flags and TV and Lincoln biopics, and towering monuments.
And it knows that, when a decision is made for DC's most famous house, the whole world will be watching.
And feel that history is being made.
> I usually try to be constructive in my political musings, but Donald Trump is a moron of unmitigated proportion. The thought that he could one day have a monument in Washington makes one inclined to burn the city down again, for its own protection.
> It took serious effort to resist making this entire blog post out of West Wing quotes. Actually, you know what? Let's pretend it is.