WASHINGTON – Construction scaffolding surrounds the U.S. Capitol dome like a metal honeycomb. Yet this iconic symbol of freedom, built to host the men and women who enact America’s laws, still gleams beautifully on a cloudless fall day.
Unseen by the naked eye, thousands of tiny cracks have weakened the more than 150-year-old cast-iron structure; time, stress and weather have taken a toll on its exterior as well as its interior, where a canopy drapes over the frescos inside the Rotunda.
For nearly 10 years, a deep distrust of anything associated with the men and women who govern here has built across the country.
War fatigue, a financial meltdown, political corruption, a burdensome health-care law, class warfare, scandals at the IRS and the Veterans Affairs and Justice departments, incompetency in dealing with Syria, the build-up of ISIS or the most basic boundaries for handling Ebola — all have contributed to the country’s break from Washington.
Those fissures have turned America into angry factions; they have inspired movements, ended movements and rallied people who never voted to show up for change in one election but then refuse to vote again two years later.
In short, we keep giving Washington a chance to self-mend its cracks. And it keeps making them deeper.
In 2006 our war-weary country moved away from Republicans, handing Democrats both chambers of Congress.
By 2008, with no evidence that Republicans got the message, voters gave Democrats ultimate power by electing Barack Obama as president and increasing his party’s numbers in Congress.
Less than two years later, the country had had enough and overwhelmingly handed the House back to Republicans.
On Tuesday, they likely will take the "change-agent" president’s last cover of power away, by giving Republicans the control of both chambers.
We keep sending Washington a message — and Washington keeps misreading it as verification, not repudiation. We don’t kick one party out of power because we like the other party; we kick them out because they have spoiled their chance to govern.
America wants Washington to explore bold ideas but to move at a measured pace. It wants Washington to protect our freedoms, to keep us safe, to offer compassion and opportunity to the underserved, and to work across the political aisle.
It never wants Washington to pit one set of people against another, which has been the norm for more than a decade.
Unseen by the naked eye, thousands of tiny cracks of incompetency have been committed by the men and women who work under this dome and under the roof of the White House at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
But powerful scaffolding can encircle and restructure that ineptitude: It is the American voter.
We should never get caught in the arrogance of the moment, believing we are governed in the worst times ever in our short history; Washington always has been a hub of drama and insecurity, as well as leadership and innovation. It is, like it or not, a reflection of who we are as a society.
Our country is never more rambunctious than when a populist movement is afoot, and Washington always reflects that uneasiness in who we elect to Congress and the White House.
Such a populist zeal is building outside Washington and will be reflected in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
It’s not much different from what the country experienced when industrialization changed Main Street and rural America in the 1890s; lifestyles and farm-centered revenues were wiped out by low crop prices and the cost of transporting goods. Main Street blamed the elites — bankers, robber barons, industrialists; farmers teamed with factory workers to shove aside the sitting Congress.
That was not so different from today’s social readjustment to a new economic system powered by the Internet and social media. You see Main Street partnering with urban service workers and young people, all profoundly discontented with the way government is functioning and, especially, with political parties.
The evidence of that will be apparent in Congress after Election Day.
This time, perhaps, whoever presides under this dome will understand that Americans did not send them here to be powerful — and the White House will realize this election was all about its failure to hear Americans’ voices.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter