Like many of you, I was appalled at the chaos unleashed at the U.S. Capitol the other day. It was especially sad to see that beautiful building, a place many of us have been to, invaded by swarms of ugly, hateful rioters.
My one and only visit there was in June 2019, when my husband and I took off for a whirlwind trip to New York City and Washington. Our good friends joined us for the NYC part of the trip, but we visited Washington on our own.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about the idea of going to Washington. For one thing, the occupier of the White House did not impress me much. But my husband had always been interested in visiting the city, so I tagged along.
We took the train from New York through Philadelphia, along the Delaware River past Wilmington, Baltimore and finally into Washington D.C. It was a great way to see a little bit of the eastern coast of the U.S.
We booked an older hotel, not far from the National Mall and within walking distance of many of Washington’s landmarks and museums. On our first afternoon and evening, we took a bus tour to get our bearings and to see the sights at night.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the city. The architecture was impressive, especially the Capitol building. The history represented in places like the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials, was inspiring. And there were so many museums. We could easily have spent weeks there exploring it all. I was especially moved by the Korean Veteran’s War Memorial, where we witnessed two vets, both in wheelchairs, introduce themselves to each other, sharing their memories of that time.
We did manage to drop by the Whitehouse. I was a little hesitant to go at first, but we found out that the Orange One was off golfing somewhere at the time, so that made the visit somewhat easier to stomach. And what gave me a little sense of hope were the other members of the public who were there, out on the street in front of the White House, protesting his presidency. A man stood on a riser with a megaphone and spoke out against many Trump transgressions. Another fellow seemed to be a permanent fixture, living in a tiny trailer across the street plastered with protest signs.
But we also noticed the numerous souvenir vendors along the way, selling pro-Trump paraphernalia. Bobble heads and MAGA hats, t-shirts and buttons. People were gleefully buying all this stuff.
At one point, we saw a busload of what appeared to be high school students, disembarking for a tour of the Capitol building. A number of them were wearing those unmistakable red caps, which was particularly disappointing. So young, and likely completely unaware of what that hat actually meant.
All of these things were like ugly scars on an otherwise beautiful city. This historic and distinguished community had been crashed by a nasty clown.
I’ve mentioned our hotel, which seemed to be a good deal when I booked it. It was an older building and the room we stayed in was pretty much stuck in the 70s, but it had everything we needed. Downstairs there was a restaurant and bar that we tried out a couple of times. And, of course, there was a souvenir shop with MAGA hats. Groan.
Harry’s Bar was a little bit dark, but certainly colourful, with stained glass light fixtures and red soda fountain chairs from some other decade. There appeared to be a regular crowd that hung out there. People who knew the place.
So it was a surprise to us when the name of that hotel popped up in the news the other day. With all of the Trump supporters expected to crash Washington to attend his rally, the hotel was promoting the fact that it would temporarily shut down.
Why? Because the Hotel Harrington, the place we stayed, is apparently a favourite hangout of the Proud Boys. And Harry’s is their bar of choice.
In 2019, I’m not sure if the term “Proud Boys” had entered into my consciousness yet. I wouldn’t have recognized the people in Harry’s as being anything other than maybe a bunch of bikers or something like that.
I remember standing in front of the White House back then and reminding myself of something important: that presidents whom I have admired had also occupied that famous residence. Presidents who understood and respected the office they held. I looked at it again, with that in mind, and it felt much better.
In a couple of weeks, the White House will once again be occupied by someone I have great respect for. Someone who understands that the presidency isn’t just about the President.
January 20, 2021 can’t come soon enough.