Last night, I took my usual evening stroll in Friendship Heights, only to realize that it could have an insalubrious outcome as I saw a group of ‘protesters’, as they are known, huddling on Wisconsin Avenue. Discretion appeared to be the better part of valor: I made a swift left to avoid them only to detect another group of about 20 young men and women wearing ski masks and holding what appeared to be sticks and batons. No police were around. A quick calculation suggested that a reversal would be interpreted as fear. I strode ahead and about 10 seconds after I passed the group, I suddenly heard them rush toward me, yelling and laughing. Their target turned out not to be me but the stores on the business strip in Friendship Heights.
This morning the strip is essentially shuttered. The stores are all boarded up. I’m told over 100 police showed up last night but essentially did nothing to stop the looting. Their passivity is extraordinary. The idea seems to be that it’s better to allow the looting than to prevent it. It’s an odd mindset: the criminal gets to set the terms of the encounter. By this afternoon, the Washington police is declaring that it will take anyone into custody that violates the new 7 p.m. curfew. A crackdown appears to loom.
It can’t come too soon. Downtown Washington resembles a war zone rather than the nation’s capital. Lafayette Square, right across from the White House, is a disgusting mess. The protestations of the protesters extended to defacing statues of the likes of Polish Col. Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kosciuszko who fought in the American Revolutionary War in the Continental Army. The ubiquitous ‘fuck 12’ was sprayed in black on the plinth. Rather rough treatment, I should think, for a Polish freedom fighter against the Russians who also directed in his will that the proceeds of his American estate be used to procure the freedom of American slaves, including ones that his friend Thomas Jefferson owned.
As the acrid stench of smoke lingered in the air from a fire at the venerable St John’s Church, I strolled over to the middle of the park to look at a Secret Service structure that was covered with such pearls of wisdom as ‘Fuck AmericaKKKa’. Buildings, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, had smashed windows. The old standby, ‘eat the rich’, was sprayed near the Bombay Club. Clean-up crews were everywhere, performing the laborious task of effacing, as far as possible, the slogans that had been scribbled to liberate America.
Perhaps the oddest sight was to see the new ‘Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute’, just around the corner from the White House, boarded up. Reagan breathed optimism about America’s future. Now, as Trump cowers in the White House bunker and sends out serial tweets without actually taking any action, the contrast between Reagan era optimism and Trump era decline could hardly be more striking. ‘Amerika, du hast es besser — America you have it better’, Goethe once said. No longer.