The Federal City
Washington D.C. is an intersection of American federalism and a battleground for various regional cultures.
The world of America’s central governing district is a nation unto itself. The historic district built off the Potomac River in between Maryland and Virginia is a modern intersection of global governments and world capitalism, a hub for young intellectuals, and a bane of America’s ever-changing frontier.
The ire directed at this place coalesces with America’s primal fear of centralized power. For some, the federal metropolis only serves to facilitate “elite” designs made for people in places as far as Yakima, Washington.
Of course, many great minds have participated in careful and noteworthy research to show how America’s federal government could function a lot more efficiently for less-developed areas, but the resistance from those places is just as noteworthy. Within each separate state government, the “urban-rural divide” can be seen through representatives’ disagreements and funding priorities. Northern Missouri is a lot different than Southern or Central Missouri, notably more sparse and less associated with the two major Midwestern cities to the North. It also has the Mark Twain National Forest. And you can bet that causes major differences within the Missouri General Assembly.
Washington D.C. is this intersection for each state and their various local cultures, which are competing for power and debating resolutions in this little town off the Potomac.
It is truly a “developed” place. Plus, the infusion of investment is a testament to the way special interests and big industries influence this space. Someone traveling from somewhere in Oklahoma, let’s say, Enid, would come to the District of Columbia and immediately notice that the District is a piece of a larger urban machine that encompasses that particular section of Northern Virginia and the southern tip of Central Maryland. Further observation would understand the city to be part of a larger metropolitan corridor that arguably spans from the Richmond metropolitan area in Virginia to the Boston metropolitan area in Massachusetts. Also referred to as “BosWash” by some.
There are other megalopolises. However, BosWash is extraordinarily central because, arguably, the central hubs for political, cultural, and financial output in the western world are located within its confines.
So, there is a valid skepticism and intrigue when “Frontier America” enters a Phantom Zone not designed by Jor-El, but by Pierre Charles L’Enfant with the help of others like surveyor and free African American Benjamin Banneker.
Considering Washington’s spatial relations to the rest of the country can help clarify another aspect of our national polarization and inequality. Like most forms of inequality it stems from access and information, which is another separation that exists in a far more intangible dimension.
Throughout American history, Washington has found itself in the center of land speculation, industrial contracting, war profiteering, and extorting foreign governments. Nobody said the business of government was pretty. But, the cultural and societal outcomes of these efforts create local fears of an invisible hand pulling the drawstrings to the detriment of nearby customs, folk histories, and small enterprising operations.
I am a big proponent of federal and state initiatives to fund traveling the nation as a form of service to truly take in this reality at a personal level.
Some political commentators consistently argue that part of the problem with modern American politicians is that they easily run against the excesses of “Washington” but when they get to Washington, they are further incentivized to eat lotus on Calypso's Island and indulge in those same excesses. But unlike cunning Odysseus, these politicians forget about returning home.
It is fine to run against Washington, that’s plausible.
However, the level of hypocrisy many representatives are willing to digest just to run an easy campaign that dangerously activates people at home (over strategic fabrications or outright lies) is unsettling. Then to go and make deals in the federal city that bankrupts local economies (thus shutting down Little League and pop’s hardware shop) is really unsettling and arguably, sociopathic.
The Federal City is a marvel of American democracy. It’s a city filled with monuments that many spend their lives working within. It’s an intellectual hub for thinkers, academics, and philosophers studying some of America’s oldest documents and regions. It’s an international hub accentuated by the foreign embassies that beautifully decorate Massachusetts Avenue’s famous Embassy Row. It’s a cultural hub as the city itself was home to an inordinate amount of African Americans, harbors historic Howard University, and is the site of many of America’s most important protests and calls for civil and human rights.
Most importantly, the Federal City is a national hub. Ideally, it is meant to be a temporary conglomeration of America’s various and extraordinary local cultures. They collide and intertwine, ideally in good faith, to set the agenda for our American federation.
Original photo by me.