Letter from America

The Capitol, Washington DC

Regular readers of Rye News may well remember Mary Cooper, who lives in Washington DC and who has been visiting Rye for the arts festival since 1968. A regular reader of Rye News, she continues to contribute to life here by her commitment to St Mary’s church, indeed see her comment only this week on the retirement of Canon David Frost.

In an article in 2016, she was going home to listen to the Trump/ Clinton debate so it seemed fitting we should ask her to comment on the end of the Trump presidency, with the recent awful storming of the Capitol building, in a “Letter from America”. This is what she sent us:

“To Americans who know their history, the US Capitol in Washington DC is a shrine to liberty.  Begun in 1793, shortly after the Revolutionary War and the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, it took seven decades to build.  Then, in the midst of the Civil War, President Lincoln insisted that it be finished, despite wartime demands on the federal budget, as a sign to the people that the republic would survive and be united again under a single government.”

Designed like St Paul’s in London

“The dome, modeled on that of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, is sacred space to most Americans, the place where they pay a final tribute to the nation’s most distinguished and beloved figures. The first person so honored was President Abraham Lincoln. The catafalque on which his body rested is still in use.

“Last year it held the coffins of Representative John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist icon and long-time member of the US Supreme Court. Both were champions of liberty and equal justice under law.

“For our entire careers, my husband and I were privileged to work across the street from the Capitol, he for a government agency and I for two national religious organizations.  Every day, as we left the parking lot at my building, we would pause for a moment to gaze up at the Capitol dome and marvel at its beauty, whether against a glorious sunset or a dark or rainy sky.”

A survivor of the 9/11 attacks

“After September 11, 2001, when assassins were prevented from crashing a plane into it by patriots who gave their lives to save those of their fellows, we cherished it even more.

“We expected trouble in Washington on January 6 as Congress completed the last step to certify that Joseph R Biden, Jr. would be the next president of the United States.  The incumbent president had done everything in his power (and attempted things not in his power) to prevent that certification.

“In a final desperate move, he had called on racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and nationalistic groups to mobilize in Washington to stop Congress from taking the final step.

“As the mob gathered on the Mall, which runs from the White House to the Capitol for about a mile and a half, he addressed them, condemned the process at the Capitol which is mandated under the Constitution, and said, “We will walk up Pennsylvania Avenue and stop them.”

The President retreated to safety

“Then he retreated to the safety of the White House to watch their desecration of the Capitol on television.

“Despite laws against carrying guns in Washington DC and even stricter laws about having any sort of weapons, such as clubs or sprays, in the Capitol, thousands of armed, screaming people poured across the grounds, climbed the walls, smashed through windows and doors, and entered the Capitol. The building’s police force did little to stop them.

“When assistance was requested from the National Guard, the president refused the request. Members of Congress, as well as the vice president of the US, were initially trapped in the House and Senate chambers, but were eventually moved to a secure location on the grounds.

“Both legislative chambers were invaded and vandalized by demonstrators.  Eventually city police, the National Guard, and police from Maryland and Virginia arrived to put an end to the violence. Ultimately, five people were dead, hundreds injured, and the president was under pressure to resign for inciting a riot.”

But what happens next?

“How all of this will end is unclear.  The same groups have called for another demonstration on January 17.

“The inauguration of President Biden will take place on January 20. Because of coronavirus restrictions, it was always planned to be a modest event, minus the usual grandstands full of celebrities, the parade, and the inaugural balls – but President-Elect Biden wants to carry on the tradition of doing the actual administration of the oath on the Capitol steps, in full view of the public.

“Everything else will be done virtually by the team that put on the highly effective Democratic national convention.  The Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas will all be present, as is the custom. But former president and Mrs. Carter are in their late 90s and unable to travel.

“It is unclear what will happen to the incumbent president. Many in Congress are attempting to remove him from office before January 20 to prevent him from doing more harm. He may face criminal charges when he leaves the White House. Nothing like this has ever happened before in this evolving democracy.  There are lessons to be learned here.”

Government has been undermined

“There is hope, though. Joe Biden is a thoroughly decent man. When he announced his candidacy for president, some thought he was too old for the job and that it was time for “new blood”.  What we know now though is that the departing administration has undermined the government by dismantling or disabling many of its functions.

“At a time like this, having a person in charge who has such a deep knowledge of government as Joe Biden does, and so much experience on the world stage, is exactly what is needed. At a time of crisis, he brings a level head, a good heart, and a steady hand to the job. This experiment in democracy will recover.”

Image Credits: Mary Cooper .


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