WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just a short walk from the fortress that is now the White House, isolated from what its present inhabitant apparently fears is the terrorism of public opinion, are the words of a flawed but arguably great president and eloquent speech-maker, Franklin D. Roosevelt, carved in the granite of his immense and hallowed memorial.
It is questionable whether the present occupant of the temporary seat as the people’s chief representative has read, in place, the common-sense, Jeffersonian- and Lincoln-like sayings that accompany such classic FDR/U.S.1930s and 1940s scenes as bread lines and rural electrification. Modern presidents do not walk about the District of Columbia as Harry Truman did or get around Washington and the nation, as FDR managed even in hidden infirmity. Now the presidency, like the country, is often in lockdown, a self-fulfilling affliction that does not, as claimed, protect democracy but eats at it.
Even if the president in 2017 would take a walk among the fountains of the FDR Memorial and look up at the carved words, so often delivered in wonderfully direct, arm-touching “fireside chats,” the fear is he would not understand, so opposite is his political philosophy about the natural, God-given, inalienable rights citizens possess.
“We must scrupulously guard and protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, no matter what their background,” reads one Roosevelt inscription.
“We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our nation” proclaims another.
There seems no learned history in Washington these days. In one part of town – the people’s town – is a sitting president who will not or cannot read history to the point of applied understanding while just a short distance away is the visible commemoration of a long-gone leader whose words, from an acknowledgement of the divine rights of the people, offer the nation’s real life force.
Which is the truly dead presidency?
The writer is a retired newspaperman (firstname.lastname@example.org). This essay is adopted from an earlier column.