Goodbye, Ben Franklin, we hardly knew you

I was in D.C. on Dec. 10, 2016, for an event and drove by the Trump International Hotel near the White House. There weren’t any protests there at this time, but I had to stop to take this photo of the old Ben Franklin statue in front of Trump’s hotel. Flags were at half-mast – I assume to honor John Glenn – but they seemed an appropriate distress signal.

The statue was built in 1889 by German-American sculptor Jacques Jouvenal, commissioned as a gift by Stilson Hutchins, one of the founders of The Washington Post. For almost a century, it stood a few blocks away until being moved to the present site in 1982. I remember taking my kids up to the Old Post Office Pavilion tower when they were young; it provided the third highest viewpoint in DC behind the Washington Monument and National Cathedral. It was free to go up the elevator, and usually the wait wasn’t long.

My kids put this elevator ride among the top of their to-do list in DC back when they loved almost every excursion we’d take. When the Washington Monument closed for several years due to earthquake damage, this site became a focal point for those wanting a higher view of DC until it ironically closed itself about the same time the taller monument reopened.

Trump took over the building for his hotel a few years ago, and those days of free access to this historical landmark appear to be limited, if not over. Federal officials still say they control the tower and elevator, but it hasn’t been open since mid-2014. They claimed it would reopen last spring, then late this year. It’s not yet open and who knows what constraints there will be once it does finally reopen.

The feds made Trump agree not to move Franklin’s statue, as well as not open a strip club or tattoo joint on the property. While the property has become still another private shrine to Trump’s excesses in a harbinger of things to come [privatizing Medicare, Social Security, even college loan programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs is on his agenda], it’s also become a focal point of protests that Trump tries to limit since he can somehow say no to permits even on federal public property near the hotel.

Franklin appropriately appears pensive, even sad, in this statue. Some say he is waving hello; I suspect he is waving goodbye….to what? Access to public amenities and historical sites? Programs that a lot of us count on and have long paid for, like Medicare and Social Security? The American Dream of living in a free and tolerant society? The First Amendment and other constitutional rights? The U.S. Republic itself?

Goodbye, Ben Franklin. We hardly knew you.


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