Power and Its Expressions

We have been here in Washington, DC for about two weeks now and after two prior stays, one in 2013 and another in 1964 (!), I have a few observations about just how big, powerful and even “Messianic” government has become at the federal level, based on what I have seen physically in terms of especially security.  Let’s start with the White House.  This time, I have noticed that the security perimeter has been extended even farther out.  Now you can’t drive on or even walk as close as you could in 2013. And one can’t visit without sending a lengthy form calling for all sorts of information about each visitor, and presentation at the security check (the first of three) of an ID that exactly matches the information you sent.  If even a letter is wrong, the hassle and wait begin.  Now all of this is to protect the president.  We apparently now think of him as virtually a god who lives on Mount Olympus.  His power is obviously seen as extensive in this age, so extensive that he is often seen as a kind of monarch to some.

Compare this with my 1964 visit when we literally (yes, I am using it literally) walked through the open gates and up to the front porch to wait for the next tour guide.  No security checks and short wait times.  Those were the days!  Perhaps if Congress and the courts had not granted so much effective  power to a president, we would still be able to do that.  Oh, and you could see more then too—including the Oval Office.

Congress is at least better.  It is relatively easy to get to the “people’s representatives.”  But maybe that’s because public opinion of Congress is so low, maybe they need more prospective visitors.  I’m joking—partly.

Moving on, the Capitol Police are everywhere within several blocks of the Capitol Building, even in our neighborhood.  I suppose I should be thankful for the extra level of security they add, and I am, but it again, does make me think about how much power we have given to even this lowly-esteemed body—or is it the building.  Oh well.

The Supreme Court Building is also pretty much a fortress, though, like the Capitol, one can get in for a tour pretty easily.  But, it is much more difficult to get in to hear a case.  That requires a long wait in a single line, and no guarantee that even if toy are close to the front, you will get in, as the members of the DC Bar always have first choice on remaining  seats.  That, in the lawyer world trumps lowly members of the West Virginia Bar, as well as ordinary citizens.  If you get in there is another level of security inside.  At least it’s very easy to get out!  I forgot, now people can’t even stand too close to the building while waiting.

There are of course still interesting places to go that don’t have security and don’t require bureaucratic forms and waits and checks.  The restaurants are legion, though the best are populated by lobbyists and, yes, lawyers, the two most fully employed groups here outside of bureaucrats.  The Metro has only minimal security, although that could change.  And what would a city be like without good bookstores?  And cultural amenities—museums, art galleries, archives, musical events, plays, etc., all edifying and most satisfying.  And too, the think tanks are mostly headquartered here, both liberal and conservative –and libertarian.  The choices of lectures and panels to attend is diverse and thoroughly educational.  It is like a sabbatical I that sense, but without the pressure to publish.  Recreational activities are also numerous.  It seems that half the population runs or bikes.  It is interesting how many apparently fit young people I see, including those working in government.  That is good in one sense, but I wonder (in my cynical way of wondering) whether too many of those people just want to look good and don’t care about the benefits of fitness for their work and service to God.

Power is everywhere in this city.  It even manifests itself when one is just trying to run or bike.  That has happened to me twice.  As I was out for a run, suddenly men (in dark suits) began to stop everyone within a half-block of an ordinary looking apartment building.  They stopped cars, buses, runners, bikers, walkers, everyone.  I wondered what might be happening.  What was happening was power.  Out of the back of the building came racing a convoy of black vehicles (all important vehicles here are black except police cars), all having tinted windows.  They turned toward the Capitol about four blocks away and after about a minute, we were allowed to go our way.  Inconvenient, yes.  But again, it showed how power affects even the common person.  It happens so much that radio hosts routinely mention it as one of the costs of living here—frequent and sometimes traffic-snarling convoys by very important people with retinues of dozens.

That brings me to a final point.  Despite the undesirable aspects of DC, I have heard and seen to an extent, that there are many sincere Christians here.  If the churches are any indication, that is true.  Evangelical churches that preach the Gospel can be found of many denominations (plug for our church, Capitol Hill Baptist), including Baptist, conservative Presbyterian and Anglican/Episcopal, and others.  If God wills, perhaps that will bear fruit someday that will lead to many good changes for God’s glory, certainly the most momentous being the souls brought into the Kingdom.


12 thoughts on “Power and Its Expressions”

  1. Its crazy the differences between all your visits! I am going to DC in October and to even get a visit into the white house, I had to prepare 3 months in advance!

  2. I was just recently in D.C. as well and the security in the area is heavier than I ever imagined. Apparently leaning on the fence to take a “selfie” with the white house is suspect and can draw attention to you. The power is so prevalent that this area is almost an island of its own. Our supposed government that is “for the people and by the people” is not very open to its people.

  3. That is a lot of security. Who would have imagined that there would be that much? Hopefully the tours of such places remain open for the public. It is interesting to go see those places, even with the wait list.

  4. This is an issue that has always conflicted me. Security vs. accessibility. Any government should be accessible to its citizens but yet in the age in which we live it can’t be too open, otherwise, if one can just walk up to the White House as you could in 1964 then there is nothing to stop a suicide-vest equipped fanatic or some other armed madman with whatever motive to do considerable damage. I don’t lament the security itself, but I lament the need for it.

  5. I find it ironic that the folks that are so intent on banning firearms use them on a daily basis for their own protection. If the government is supposed to represent the people, shouldn’t we be afforded the same concessions?

    1. The fact that the DNC had a 4 mile fence around its conference center with armed guards, just show how much they value their own safety and dismiss ours. It would be nice to see them follow their own gun control rules and beliefs.

  6. It is a shame that the world has become a place where such security is necessary. It must be saddening to think of how different DC is now compared to the 60s. But along with that, it is truly a blessing that the lax security wasn’t taken advantage of in a way that could have debilitated Washington D.C.

  7. I visited DC over the summer, and I too was surprised by the level of security. What I also found amazing was the size and scope of the government buildings. It seemed there were more to be found on every street I walked, and all were huge and beautifully designed. Such a degree power and authority seems to have always been an underlying purpose of DC, certainly as far as its architecture is concerned.

  8. I really like the fact that the most powerful person in the world doesn’t make us to pass through security to see him. We don’t even have to wait in line. Yes, I’m talking the big G.O.D. I know pointless speculation is a waste of time, but I wonder what it will like for people under the millennium reign. I would sign up three years in advance just to see His face.

  9. The security there is so crazy. When I was in D.C. in 8th grade, one of the chaperones has never been able to get into the White House, because he goes by his middle name and that throws off the security guards. Every year that he goes, he tries to get in and they always deny him. I am glad that the security is so strict though because I’d rather have more protection than not enough, but it can be annoying sometimes.

  10. Thank you for your vivid analysis of your time in DC. My home is only a few hours from DC, and I feel as if I have returned and am living vicariously through your blogpost! I love the cultural diversity in DC, but I could never imagine actually living there (never make the mistake of leaving the city at 5:00PM). Every time I go, I get the sense that important matters are being discussed all around me, at least I would hope so.

  11. I didn’t even think about the vast differences in life in DC now, compared to that of the 1960’s. I feel like for us young people, all the security checks and demonstration of power have been the norm for most of our lives, so it doesn’t seem very significant.

Comments are closed.