I put on my Washington DC sightseeing hat and board a Metro to Capitol South, just a short walk to many and varied American landmarks.
It’s hot outside, the kind of hot that makes the sweat run in rivulets down the back of your knees. There are other tourists everywhere. And heaps of police. Everywhere. I am by myself and make some silent snide remark about the US being a police state, quirk one eyebrow up to the lady of liberty on top of the Capitol Building (facing east ‘so that the sun will never set on the face of liberty’) and scoff. Ha! Other tourists look at me like I might be about to infect their children with throat diseases.
I walk up some steps and then I enter one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.
Head at 90 degrees to my body, I wait in line for the requisite security screening, peering up at golden and autumnal reliefs and mosaics adorning the Library of Congress.
The Library’s mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.
I walk around the three levels of the Library, including through the reconstructed library of Thomas “I cannot live without books” Jefferson. I see mosaics in tribute to lyric poetry, to the different forms of government, to the goddess of learning and knowledge portrayed as the guardian of civilisation. I see an elegant reading room. I see books. So many books.
This is when I kind of fall a little bit in love with America. I fall in love with her ideas and her ideals:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal….”
“our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
“I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.”
“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both.”
“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
I know it has never been that simple. There has been hypocrisy and all manner of other messy raw indignity right from the start. It is certainly not that simple today as a fearful America tries to grapple with vaulting debt, while the legacy of ill-advised wars continue to litter the landscape.
So, it is a sad and beautiful thing to walk through this building where dedication to truth, knowledge and creativity shine out. Despite all the madness that is going on outside its doors and across the way, this place is still incredibly inspiring. I guess that’s why they call them ideals.
I spill back outside into the air so thick I can chew it and look across to Ms Liberty atop her perch on the US Capitol building, winking in the late afternoon sun.