I think the term “apocalyptic” was best to describe what Americans thought their country would be like when spending cuts came into play March 1. I could imagine families stocking up on non-perishable foods, stealing away to an underground bunker and getting settled with their torches.
However, Sequester Friday in the capital was a rather subdued affair. There was no rioting in the streets, no march down the National Mall. Abuse had already been hurled between politicians and the harsh reality was beginning to set in. And the frustration of both sides flatly refusing to engage with the other persists. The dreaded sequester cuts are beginning to come into effect; a consensus between parties seems to be an outcome reserved for a parallel universe, certainly not our own. Perhaps Washington should take a leaf from the book of the Modern Family cast and get trapped in an elevator.
This past week was one of countdowns. The clock hit 2 p.m. eastern time as I sat at my internship desk, and all of a sudden the Catholic Church was without a Pope. In an historic manner, the world seemed to be unfurling into organized chaos. Headlines about cyber attacks from the Chinese government on American businesses and institutions danced across my screen. Secretary Of State John Kerry travelled to London and made a royal mess of remaining impartial on the controversial Falkland Islands territorial dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina. Everywhere I looked, things we took for granted — like a plethora of government programs, a leader of a church, a strong partnership between countries — were all morphing into the unknown. Deciphering between mass media hysteria and a flickering optimism was getting too hectic.
When your immediate surroundings seem so divisive, it is only natural to want to return to a time when unity was celebrated. That’s how we found ourselves at Ford’s Theatre and consequently the Peterson House, the former where President Abraham Lincoln had been shot and the latter being where he eventually died. You can still see the actual clothes Lincoln wore on that fateful night. You can observe his blood stains on a yellowed pillow. I couldn’t take my eyes off these faded marks, which were decades old but still present to remind generations of the damage caused. In front of me, in an enclosed case, was the actual gun that John Wilkes Booth had used to shoot a bullet through the President’s head. In the actual theater hall, you can walk into the box entrance where Lincoln sat with his wife on what would be the last night of his life. The air is musty, the walls are a deep burgundy with a sign pointing to the door that indicates where Booth entered during the performance: A moment that sent shockwaves through the theater and the American people. Just like today, it only took one major event to change the face of everything you knew.
After Lincoln was shot, those around him knew he was going to die in a matter of hours. Rather than risk taking him by carriage back to the White House, they carried him down the steps and into a boarding house across the street. As I walked into the room where he spent his last hours, a wave of pity came over me. The author of the Emancipation Proclamation, the leader who had dragged America out of its civil war, spent his last painful night in a small room with a bed that could only hold him if he lay diagonally. The days of his uplifting speeches were gone. He had died in silence with no last words. When his body was placed in a train car to be taken all through the land for his citizens to pay their respects, he had requested his deceased son be placed near him, a tragedy that harrowed the president along with the war.
Lincoln used to request to see his son, who died of typhoid at the age of 12, unburied. It’s strange, but there’s a parallel to a father clinging on to the past where his son was still alive, and disgruntled, sequester-burdened politicians clinging onto anger and resentment of the past instead of trying to reach a consensus for the future. There’s also the parallel of Lincoln’s literally divided America compared to our own. The difference? One madness is born out of love, the other out of spite.
Sofiya Mahdi is weekly columnist for the Daily Free Press, and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying abroad in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at email@example.com.