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D.C. and me: From the Newseum to Chinatown, Prioleau drains the pomp

April 3, 2019

 

Washington, D.C. is the last place you want to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat. Recent media blathering has attempted to frame the MAGA hat as the new KKK white hood… you know, like the hood worn by the late, beloved Democrat Senator Robert Byrd.  

 

TV reports have gone so far as the claim wearing a MAGA hat in our nation’s capital can lead to fights, arrests and potential mayhem.

 

So, of course, I wore mine on a recent visit to D.C.

 

My wife and I took one of the direct flights from Charleston to Reagan International, then Ubered to Chinatown to stay in a hotel called “POD”… the Google ratings were to the moon. However, there were some truths and lies in the advertising.

 

First, the false:  Washington’s Chinatown is about as Chinese as the lower King Street shopping district. Doodle some Chinese characters under the words “Baby Gap,” and that’s D.C.’s Chinatown. Of course, there are no Chinese people in the area to confirm what’s actually written, so there’s a fair chance the characters might translate as “I am the sign painter and I hope you horrible tourists die in a fire.”

 

D.C’s Chinatown is as authentically Chinese as South of the Border is authentically Mexican.

 

Second, the truth:  The name of my hotel, POD, is 100 percent on the up and up, as the rooms are the size of a green bean pod. The customer service is exceptional, but I was a little surprised that, quite literally, there wasn’t enough room to lay a suitcase on the floor. That’s not an exaggeration. Then, it occurred to me: All the signage posted in lobby is about carbon footprints and “waiting” to flush the toilet and not asking for fresh sheets until you’d been there a month. Clearly, POD gets rated superb by people who lie awake (awoke?) at night fretting that the Green New Deal doesn’t go far enough.

 

Truth be known, I felt proud of our hobbit-sized carbon footprint, but I also yearned for the ability to open my suitcase. Apparently, you can’t have both, so I needed to choose. And I choose … oceanfront property in Orangeburg.

 

In the morning, as we contemplated what sites to see, I told my bride I’d brought my MAGA hat and I intended to wear it. Her response? “I assume you brought mine?” I hadn’t. She was not happy. I promised I’d pay for her to get a MAGA tattoo, so she cooled a bit.

 

I told the bride I’d like to walk the Mall, just like we’d done 20-years earlier in our relationship — from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Our previous journey carried us past hilarious protests by PETA, a wonderful Latin American festival, some young people demanding we give D.C back to the Native Americans and a homeless dude eating his shoe and screaming, “The president’s wife is the anti-Christ!”

 

Given that the president at the time was Bill Clinton, had I known then what I know now, I’d have given him $1,000, interviewed him and asked if he’d share a bite of his prophetic shoe.

We also both signed the petition to give D.C. back to the Native Americans, but informed the protestors that “Native Americans” never refer to themselves as Native American. With the exception of the few professional spokes-victims, every member of every tribe refers to themselves as “Indian.” The white kids from Harvard got angry and I think they redacted our signatures.

Anyway, we did our part to get rid of D.C.

 

Okay, back to the present:  Before beginning our stroll down the Mall, we tried to visit the Capitol Building. You can’t. You can go to a visitor’s center, but the hallowed halls of Congress are closed to the proletariat. But, I get it. If I had lunatics like Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and AOC working in my office, I’d lock the doors, too.

 

Truth is I didn’t really mind. Just being outside the Capitol building is, for me, a very special experience. It is the architectural symbol of a government of the people, by the people, for the people. We sat on the grass and I pondered all the fearless decisions made by revered men:  Declarations of war; fights for the rights of the individual; building a railroad across America; created an interstate highway system; passing the Civil Rights agenda; funding our Moon Shot. It really is humbling to think about all the great things our beloved nation has accomplished, brought into existence by the men who worked in this very building.

 

As we sat in the warm spring sunshine, I wondered what critical issues they were debating today:  Genderless bathrooms? The voting rights of illegal immigrants? What the definition of “is” is?

After a bit I suggested we pop into the Supreme Court, as it’s located right behind the Capitol. The building is amazing and the institution has long been considered above reproach. We had a question and answer session with a docent and I asked if she could point out the place in the Constitution that Chief Justice John Roberts used to decide it was Constitutional to “make Americans buy health insurance, even if they can’t afford it and impose a monetary fine if they don’t, to be paid with money they didn’t have to buy insurance.”

 

She told me there was a new Smithsonian building on Mental Illness in Politics and they’d be better qualified to address my inquiry.

 

We began our walk down the Mall and after what I’m sure was mile number 23, something occurred to me:  20 years after our first Mall march, my wife is still beautiful and fit and I am the opposite, times infinity, no takes back.

 

We eventually passed the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which I told Heidi was high on my list. It wasn’t, but I was sure they had a bench in there somewhere. I staggered in with a heavy heart, knowing the place would be politicized and that Pearl Harbor exhibit would likely trumpet, “Sexy American Battleships lured adolescent Japanese bombers into their Pearl Harbor brothel.”

It wasn’t. It told the history of a great nation, not a nation of sissies, whiners, defeatists and professional protesters. The section we started in was a military area called “The Price of Freedom” and after about 15 minutes — well, let’s just say I haven’t been that lost since I was paying the price of freedom as a second lieutenant, trying to figure out why my map and compass were in such complete disagreement.  

 

Remaining lost, we wandered around and Heidi asked if perhaps the designers were drunk and I wondered if she wasn’t right. Unlike most Smithsonian museums, this one was designed sort of like my eighth grade science fair project — the one I forgot about until the morning it was due. The overall experience was “okay” in terms of choosing things to see in Washington, D.C., but if you have a kid coming home from sixth grade insisting that our nation’s history is one of “genocide, imperialism, racism, theft and misogyny,” it’s a must-do attraction.

 

That evening, the wife had to leave for an organizational job in Chevy Chase. I hated to see her go, but since I’m a writer, someone in the family needs to make a living.

 

The next day I went to the Newseum, a museum devoted to journalism throughout the life of our young Republic.

 

The museum starts out perfectly, exploring the news coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall, certainly an occasion where the press brought important and joyous news into our homes. Just that one event got me thinking:  Consider the role journalists once played in our republic! In the past 70 years alone, they covered Iwo Jima and D-Day. They exposed the My Lai massacre. They shared with us the moon landing. They toppled the Nixon presidency. They covered 9/11 brilliantly, risking their lives to bring the unfolding story into our homes.

 

Sadly, the museum designers feel quite proud of the work done by the media in the past 20 years … so for every section exploring the golden age of journalism, there’s a section exploring all the “important” issues they’ve covered since 9/11. Oddly, they find it heroic they no longer report the news, but shape public opinion among people dense enough to have their opinion shaped.

There was also a great deal of outrage about the fact that the Internet has enabled the public to access news and opinion without their permission… and much anger that President Trump has dubbed their fake news as, well, fake news.

 

With all these reminders of their current commitment to “helping” me understand the news, I began to ponder the question, “When did serious journalism die?” I concluded it began around the time Katie Couric simulcast her colonoscopy on her morning show. Seriously — can you see Walter Cronkite asking America to peer into that particular abyss?

 

Let’s compare some Golden Age headlines to today’s headlines:

 

Old: FBI Reports Hillary Clinton Deleted 30k emails, Some Classified

New: Clinton Discards a Few Strictly Personal Emails: Nothing but Yoga Poses and Wedding Plans and Things She Knew Would Be a Waste of the FBI’s Time

 

Old: Documents Show Democrats May Have Rigged Election in Hillary’s Favor

New: Hillary Clinton Shows Grit, Overcomes Bernie’s Challenge Through Hard Work, Fashionable Clothes, Soothing Voice and Solid Message

 

Old: Trump Cures Cancer

New: Trump Puts Tens of Thousands of Health Care Workers on the Street, Big Pharma to be Top Beneficiary.

 

The Newseum is actually a must-see attraction for your next visit to Washington. Readers of the Mercury can go knowing in advance about the “modern news” displays and hold their noses and sprint past them. Take ear plugs, too, because you’ll encounter Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart reruns on three of the floors.

 

As I was leaving, I wondered if the curators’ self-love for their new style of “helpful, interpretive news” was off-putting to other Americans. I mean, I may personally find their arrogance as repugnant as a romantic getaway with Hillary Clinton, but —

 

“Sorry to interrupt, Prioleau — breaking news just in: The Newseum has lost money every year since it opened in 2008, and has scheduled an appointment with media darling Dr. Jack Kevorkian at the end of this year. They’ve unloaded the building to Johns Hopkins, but announced they plan to take this “important message” to the great unwashed via traveling exhibits. Yes, that’s right — hauling their memorabilia around in an 18-wheel to display at county fairs. Our analogists haven’t seen a moment this humiliating for modern journalism since Dan Rather’s attempt to stay relevant involved starting a podcast. This Newseum is now… history. Back to you.”

 

A couple days later my bride returned from her job, but while on my own I did more of the usual D.C. attractions: Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Arlington, Smithsonians I, II, III, IV and V and a viewing of the White House — where I wore my MAGA hat and asked some protestors confusing questions like, “Can you name the three branches of our government?”

 

I love visiting Washington. No, I am not particularly enamored with most of our current leaders, but Washington rises above that. It is the cradle of the American Experiment and everywhere you look is a reminder of Uncle Sam’s greatness. Our nation is the undisputed leader in aiding the oppressed, developing new technology and medicine, advancing the rights of the individual and organizing the most powerful military in history. We invented the car, the airplane, nuclear power, the personal computer, smart phones, the Internet and Clint Eastwood movies. We are awesome.

And the MAGA hat? Never caused a stir or even a sideways glance. I think that’s because people in D.C. actually have jobs, so they have actual grown-up issues to deal with. I guess the Ivy League bedwetters were on spring break.

 

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