By Jessie Seigel
People think of Washington, D.C. as the center of political power, with all of the machinations that entails. The media talks of inside and outside “the Beltway” (an interstate highway surrounding D.C.) as if that designates separate political universes.
Inside are the power players: Pelosi trying to push COVID-19 relief through the House; McConnell refusing to take the matter up in the Senate while he simultaneously tries to push through Trump’s right-wing Supreme Court nominee; Trump tweeting his vitriol from the White House and lying to the public about COVID in his CDC “press conferences,” over and over.
And now, Trump has escalated from simply lying to the public about COVID-19 to his current insanity, personally exposing everyone in his ambit to the disease: the political sycophants who attended his Rose Garden soirée, the Secret Service agents forced to drive him around in a hermetically sealed SUV so he could wave to his supporters outside Walter Reed Medical Center, and his own White House staff. And that’s not to mention his maskless Mussolini-like appearance on the White House balcony, proclaiming his manliness in “beating” the virus.
How frenetic it must be to live in the midst of all that, you may think, and even if in a frightening way, how exciting.
But if, like me, you are a longtime citizen of the District, you are living in the eye of that hurricane, that quiet place in the middle—but with the storm as ready to upend you as anyone else in the nation.
Like you outside the Beltway, we’re working from home when we can, or are forced to go to work despite the COVID-19 danger in order to pay the rent. Unlike some other places in the country, we are mostly obeying the rules, wearing our masks—whatever else those in the White House may be doing.
And yes, we’re as much prisoners of the political hacks and maniacs as the rest of you. Maybe more so because we do not have the autonomy that states have. When our leaders pass legislation, the Congress can overrule it, and actually has, on occasion, refused to even let votes on our citizen-backed ballot initiatives be counted.
Here, we are living through an inverse version of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” with President Trump as Prince Prospero in all his hubris, the Republican hierarchy as his courtiers, and we citizens of the District as the mere peasants outside his palace. The only difference is that Prince Prospero put up barricades to keep the Plague out of his palace while he and his courtiers reveled within. The White House, on the other hand, has opened its doors and invited the COVID virus to enter. The other difference, of course, is that in Poe’s story, they wore their masks. We can only hope that the virus running rampant through the White House does not spread into the District at large and raise our death numbers.
Although we in the District of Columbia can now vote in presidential races, we still have no voting member in either the House or the Senate. Eleanor Holmes Norton, our representative to the House, caucuses with the Democrats but has no vote in that body. We do not have the power the rest of you have to change this nightmare. So please heed this cry from the capital--VOTE!
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.