What Trump destroyed will rise again: in Mars!

Amado Valdez (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2021 - 12:00am

Many stories can be told but no other has left me with a lasting wonder as this one that deserves to be shared.

No, the melee of people climbing the walls, crushing windows and doors, trespassing the Speaker’s office, was happening in a Third World country.

Yes, it is the United States’ capitol in Washington DC which was under siege.

The siege of the Capitol eclipsed its grandeur. It crushed the world’s awe of the greatest example of humankind’s achievement to govern itself – a place where an abstract concept of a sovereign lawgiver sits, collectively performed by elected representatives.

History tells us that the unique magic of the US Capitol was earned with sweat, blood and the lost lives of heroes and martyrs. Each man or woman who enabled the success of this experiment to establish a free society is connected one way or the other to the peoples of the world.

It was one early morning in 1985 when I took a train ride from New York’s Grand Central Station to Washington, DC. After passing through the countryside, a captivating mix of rustic and cosmopolitan, this hillbilly was transformed into a slick by the enchantment of traveling alone.

That train ride was also a trope, a mind trip. I reflected on the fruits of American grit. Fortune had favored this brave people but there is that feeling among the American blacks and the colored that “freedom mattered more.”

When I arrived at the Capitol, a mystery awaited me – the listening walls under the big dome.

With the fatal collapse in 1848 of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States in his seat under the present capitol dome, the puzzle was unraveled.

After his failed reelection bid as president of the United States, John Quincy Adams ran and served in the US House of Representatives. He was an aging man, dozing off in his seat even while his colleagues were engaged in heated verbal exchanges. But what surprised the other representatives was that when a critical issue like the abolition of slavery would crop up, he would rise and argue, answering questions from everyone, including those whispered in pocket parleys held in the corners of the session hall.

His contemporaries called him “Old Man Eloquent.”

One of his pet battles was against the gag rule, a resolution of southern representatives prohibiting the discussion of slavery in the House, which was finally repealed in 1844 with his efforts four years before his death.

Had Adams lived now, the anti-immigrant policies of President Donald Trump would evoke a déjà vu feeling. When black slaves mutinied against their Spanish slave owners and brought the slave ship Amistad into United States waters near Long Island in 1841, he argued and won in the US Supreme Court against the efforts of the then administration of President Martin Van Buren to return the slaves to their owners and to their deaths.

When Adams collapsed in his seat, his allies and friends ministered to him, as well as his detractors who at his death finally realized his patriotism and selfless service. As they milled around his seat, they could hear voices from the corners as far as possible. Then they realized that the location of his seat is a mystic place that makes muffled voices clear and audible to the old man.

I was skeptical. The tourist guide demonstrated that phenomenon and let us stand where Adams’ seat had once been and, lo and behold, I could hear clearly the voices from the other end.

John Quincy Adams did not have many friends as he was austere, cool and reserve. After his defeat by Andrew Jackson, he was advised against becoming a member of the House of Representatives but he told them “that no person could be degraded by serving the people as a representative in Congress, or as a selectman of his town.”

I was thinking as the siege of the Capitol was unfolding: Had Rudy Giuliani, Eric and Donald Trump, Jr. thought of advising Trump about the humility to serve in a lower capacity as exemplified by John Quincy Adams?

More than what Trump suffered, Adams lamented in his diary that his “whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in anything that I ever undertook.”

Why? Adams was unceremoniously dismissed from his Senate seat and was defeated in his reelection bid as president. Yet when elected as a mere member of the House of Representatives he said: “I am a member-elect of the Twenty-Second Congress. No election or appointment conferred upon me ever gave so much pleasure. My election as president of the United States was not half so gratifying to my inmost soul.”

Donald Trump missed an opportunity to be mourned. Instead, I hate him for destroying that symbol of an enduring democracy I learned to love that morning in 1985.

Where else to turn next for a model of man’s successful experiment of people’s government that the US Capitol is?

Perhaps it will be in the plains of the moon or in Mars, if Elon Musk and his rocket science succeed.

*      *      *

Amado Valdez is former dean of the UE College of Law.

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