Last night my wife and I returned home from a four-day visit to her brother’s house just outside Washington. Most of the trip was just that, a family affair. But for me, at least, the visit to Washington itself proved to be inspirational. This was the weekend of our Independence Day ! Thus celebration was a pre-condition.

We visited sites that, until the recent attacks on America;s national consensus, I had taken  for granted. Never did I imagine that I would need to pay respects to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, and the National mall. These locii of our national loyalty I had assumed were a given, salutes to ideals and a history that all of us shared and loved. But the destructive events of the past month have shown me that I was wrong; that things which I, and almost all of you, took for granted, had somehow become objects of violent hatred.

I leave aside any attempt to analyze the origins of this hatred, or its manifestations. Plenty of keyboard warriors are out there fulminating and condescending, accusing and sarcastic, bullying the ordinaries, arousing the all-knowing.

One warning for those who wish to visit as I did : it is very, very, VERY HOT in Washington on a July weekend.

I paid my respects to Abraham Lincoln, to George Washington, To Martin Luther King (who delivered his “I have a Dream,” address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), to President Lincoln and Archer Alexander, to the White House’s occupants, to Thomas Jefferson,. to Vietnam’s war dead, to the beauty of the Mall. I saluted the huge US Treasury building, bristling in its Napoleon III spread and bulk. I grinned at the glass-windowed, lobbyists’ offices of K Street. I hummed the elegance of Northwest’s beautiful townhouses.  I crossed the Potomac (though not as George Washington did.) It’s all there, the magnificence of an imperially vast presumption, in our case, the assurance that we are the servants of a manifest destiny, to bring democracy and opportunity, freedom and the melting pot, to every human being everywhere. he finest manifest ever devised by flawed men and women.

I share that assurance. I hope that you share it, too.

There was, of course, more to see. The phrase “black lives matter” has become the song of 2020, and it was sung almost everywhere in Washington that I visited. It was drumming in the fences and barriers erected along every street between Constitution Avenue and the Potomac (and more), protecting national monuments from attack by vandals. It piped in the conversations between my wife, myself, and other visitors who we met. It hip hopped a bassline in the boarded up windows on almost every building — hotels, stores, restaurants, bars — along sections of H street where “peaceful protesters” have disrupted and broken stuff almost every night. And it chuckled a Bo Diddley guitar riff on “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” formerly two blocks of 15th Street facing the White House, are lined with souvenir kiosks hawking T shirts, masks, paraphernalia in the usual tourist manner.

The phrase certainly fits a mood of Washington today. Downtown, it cannot be put out of mind. What it means, is up to you. I accept it because how can one not affirm that a life matters, whosoever’s it might be ? I don’t mind that the phrase singles out, for special attention, certain lives, even if the singling out is done on a skin color basis. Easy as it is for the phrase to lead to logical and factual dead ends, it’s just as easy to not give in to those temptations and use the phrase “black lives matter” to apply to cavalier killings of black persons — but be careful of the definition ! — by agents of our justice system. If we limit the application to just that narrow event pathway we can maybe achieve important reforms that will allow “black lives matter” to become as honorable to remember as the honorables who I visited this past few days.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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