For reasons of association my thoughts from time to time turn to the former Soviet Union’s misadventure in the Ukraine, known as Chernobyl, and how its image inspires reflections on today’s U.S. Congress: They are both arguably huge disasters with current dire, as well as lasting, consequences. What’s more, Chernobyl has been abandoned as has the city that housed its workers and their families and that may be what should become of the U.S. Capitol and its surroundings.
Let me explain. Chernobyl, you’ll remember, was a nuclear reactor that blew up on April 26, 1986, ultimately killing dozens of workers from radiation exposure and contaminating that part of the Ukraine so badly that the entire area for miles around is no longer habitable. The U.S. Capitol has also “blown up,” or imploded, or both, and has become more a dangerous liability than a national asset.
The idea occurs then that, like Chernobyl, a sarcophagus should be built around and over the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress, their servile aides, and the contaminating and corrupting tsunamis of lobbyists that buy members of Congress, those same folks who swore upon taking office to protect and defend all Americans, would, of course, be saved from the “coffin” and allowed to go free if each would promise in written contract form to do something worthwhile with their life.
More than a half-century ago the U.S., with its states and territories, their populations, their natural resources and the leadership at the national level were, collectively, the only power on the planet to defeat the war machines of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and the Empire of Japan. For a few years between December, 1941 and August, 1945, then, all Americans threw themselves into the effort to defeat the Axis powers and it was by those means of unity at home, with some help from allies abroad, that the war was won.
The North and South have never found common ground; the differences are as pronounced today as they were in 1861. It would be a improvement, it’s proposed, for the governing of the land that comprises the United States of America, if, in addition to a separate nation of the Southern states, there were established the sovereign nations of the Western States of America, the North Central States of America and the New England States of America. There could be an amnesty period during the reformation where Americans who wish to could relocate without penalty to certain states that have all but nullified the Bill of Rights while those Americans seeking sanctuary in the 21st century could also relocate to find a new home of progressive practices. Of course, some individual states are so determined to remain in the deep past that they would fit in nowhere.
Whatever the fantasized re-design of the U.S., the regional differences are too entrenched to make things work and run for the benefit of all citizens. What’s referenced are the rights and protections of women, freedom of choice, marriage equity, respect for all religions, world peace and diplomacy versus constant warring overseas, enforced laws of immigration, the protection of earned entitlements, progressive taxation, voting rights for all citizens, and full and final racial integration, to name but a few issues that fanatically divide and remain the nation’s chronic unfinished business.
The U.S. Congress today is a first cousin to Chernobyl and the place at which its members curse one another, refuse to compromise and practice extreme partisanship “tilling” no future for a “land” so poisoned nothing can “grow” on it. Metaphors like cobras getting along with mongooses or California sea lions working with killer whales appear as perfect fits in the country’s Capitol context.
The case is made every day in D.C. by a hopelessly dysfunctional Congress that can get nothing done, that forecasts ugliness as far as the visionary eye can see and that promises only a downward spiral and misery for most Americans. Further, the whole mess is simply getting worse at every session of Congress, with neither hope of reconciliation by the sides nor a new start dedicated to making life for all Americans, as the Declaration of Independence promised generations to come, for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)