February 28, 2014
It’s easy to heap scorn upon the lavishness. Washingtonians don’t exactly defend their place, temporary as it is, with much vigor. Nowadays, it’s hip to be self-deprecating. And it’s easy to score political points by trashing the “inside” and appearing as an “outsider.” Both sides of the political aisle end up taking glee in criticizing a culture in which they are fully enmeshed.
This kind of negative attitude chips away at a real feeling of place, time, and even transcendence to something larger at work. It takes away from being able to discern real meaning in things. There is something to the Washington lifestyle that is buried under tired platitudes about “draining the swamp” and “cleaning up the town.” In a way, the lifestyle of freewheeling opulence is the lifeblood of Beltway culture. Such indulgence screams of gluttony for the finest things. But there is also a lingering feeling of comfort even in the midst of a grand ride that will come to an end someday soon.
In Washington, you”re hard-pressed to find anyone aware of the lifestyle they”re leading. There is no introspection or greater understanding. Happy hours assemble and disperse before any meaningful conversation takes place. Cell phones are given more eye contact than other people. Everything is highly superficial.
But for now, the party in Washington shows no sign of stopping. The federal government will continue to swallow up more and more power. Money will keep flowing into the city, attracting young upstarts from all over the country. One day, writers will look back at this time in the nation’s capital and form stories out of this period of prosperity. It won”t be all that different from tales recounting the Roaring Twenties, best captured by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I don”t endorse Washington’s appetite for authority. When Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek wrote his defining work, The Road to Serfdom, he included a chapter on why the worst of society always rises to the top of government. For many, government power is a plaything that corrals society. Below the grandeur of all the monuments and buildings, the sin of envy runs rampant. It’s a powerful drug and one that easily stupefies anyone with a distorted moral compass.
It’s not pretty, but it’s reality for those who reside within the District’s immediate sphere of power. The script is being written before us. But we can”t discover what truth, beauty, or the greater good means without recognizing our individual actions within this unfolding history. Leah Libresco of The American Conservative writes, “[T]here’s an absence of joy in Underwood’s Washington.” But for nonfiction Washingtonians such as myself, finding joy is possible. We”re surrounded by decadence. It may not be the Holy Grail of human existence, but it’s ours. It would be best we remember it now, as nothing this good lasts.