In trying to sum up the disgraceful goings-on last week in our nation’s once-proud capital, I can hardly improve on New York Times columnist Mark Landler’s comment.
“Washington these days,” he wrote, “resembles nothing so much as an unruly sandbox.”
And sadly, or alarmingly, it’s not just at the national level. At both the state and international ones as well, leaders who should be serving as examples of reason and cooperation chose instead to make a public show of their backsides — to the dismay of friends, if there are any left, and the delight of enemies.
All in all, since news is often defined as conflict, I can hardly remember a newsier week than the last one — or a more alarming one.
First Washington, where President Donald Trump hardened his insistence on building a wall. The latest installment of the sorry soap opera began when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested to Trump that he not come to the Congress to deliver his State of the Union speech until the budget shutdown was resolved.
In a childish tit-for-tat response, he outdid Pelosi by abruptly forbidding her and others to use a government plane in their planned trip to visit American troops in Afghanistan. He made that announcement at the very last minute, when they were all packed and about to head for the airport.
He then suggested that they take a commercial flight instead — something that could have exposed them and other passengers to a terrorist attack, since he had blown the cover on what was supposed to be a secret journey.
Yep, an unruly sandbox, all right.
Then last week, in Europe, an incredibly rowdy British Parliament seemed to take public delight in voting at a historically unheard-of two-to-one level to summarily and insultingly reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Brexit” plan to pull out of the European Union.
This leaves everything dangerously up in the air in terms of European unity, or the failure thereof. But it must have powerful people chuckling and gleefully rubbing their hands in places like Moscow — especially after our president was quoted as making an offhand and unbelievably imprudent comment that maybe the U.S. should, oh, consider pulling out of NATO as well.
Where all that goes, nobody knows.
Last but not least, the next big story of last week played out at the state level — on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. What happened there accomplished just the opposite of providing students with an example of enlightened pursuit of truth and fairness.
At issue, of course, was the long-simmering issue of what to do with the Confederate monument Silent Sam. An impatient group of protesters had brought the matter to a head last year by unceremoniously jerking the statue down from its base on McCorkle Place. Since then, the discussion on what to do with Sam had centered for a time on the ridiculous proposal, later jettisoned, to house him in a new, $5.3 million building elsewhere on campus.
The insoluble dilemma had put UNC Chancellor Carol Folt under unrelenting stress. Finally, fed up, she made two startling announcements last Monday: She was resigning, effective at the end of the semester. And she had removed the Silent Sam pedestal, which workers accomplished later that night. This in turn outraged the university system’s politically motivated board of governors, which wasted no time in speeding up Holt’s departure schedule and giving her the rather common two weeks’ notice.
All this has left students — especially minority students — dismayed and confused.
(By the way: If you think Sam was just a benign tribute to fallen soldiers, remember that he was erected not at the end of the war, but a half-century later, at the height of the Jim Crow era. And that the prominent KKK supporter who spoke at its dedication bragged in his speech that he had once “horse-whipped a Negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” because “she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”)
Enough. Too much, actually. Suffice it to say that last week’s events did little to make me feel better about our state, nation or world.