Win or lose, Trump’s presence will be in Washington
In the fullness of time — no, make that within a matter of weeks — one of the world's most famous streets, our own “Grand Avenue” and “America's Main Street”, will once again be stained by the presence of a mean-spirited man who smeared and bulldozed his way to the top.
The avenue's first tyrant was J. Edgar Hoover, whose name is on the FBI building at 935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. He soon will be joined by Donald Trump and his Trump International Hotel, slated to open on September 12 at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Yes, win or lose on Election Day, the Republican presidential nominee will be enshrined in a national historic site, the Old Post Office building, on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. As with the GOP nomination, the building in the heart of our nation's capital now belongs to him.
As Trump boasted on the campaign trail, “the hottest development site, probably in the history of the General Services Administration ... is the Old Post Office site in Washington DC, an entire block fronting on Pennsylvania Avenue. In other words, if I don't get to the White House, I'm getting there anyway”.
Just how Trump landed a spot on our corridor of national power is, as always seems the case with him, a point of contention.
In an investigation, BuzzFeed News reported that the real estate mogul won the deal by promising the federal General Services Administration that he would partner with a well-respected architect who is big on historic preservation and engage with a substantial real estate investment firm to finance the deal — and, after getting the deal, did neither.
Trump's organisation maintains that the feds bought the change in plans, but insiders grumble that the GSA went along because it was having political problems of its own and wanted to avoid a dust-up with Trump.
Be that as it may, Trump, like Hoover, is ensconced on the boulevard of presidential inauguration parades, state funeral processions and famous celebrations and marches. And Trump's brand, as Hoover's, will be on display for all the world to see.
What symbolic meaning do these names bring to the avenue?
J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director and relentless persecutor of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Hoover, with his clandestine and illegal operations, secret files, penchant for trampling upon civil liberties and disrespect for civil rights. Hoover, who took it upon himself to be the arbiter of right and wrong, and the judge of who deserves justice — and when.
Hoover, an outrageous presence.
In 1998, Harry Reid, the Democratic senator from Nevada, declared that “J. Edgar Hoover's name on the FBI building is a stain on the building” and sponsored an amendment to change it. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 62-36 to keep Hoover's name aloft.
Now, Hoover's new companion on America's Main Street is Trump, who, like Hoover, lacks a moral compass. Trump, like Hoover, is constitutionally unable to deal with criticism. “Despotic” is the word for the two street-mates.
Partial relief is in sight. Plans are afoot to take down the J. Edgar Hoover Building and construct a new, fully consolidated FBI headquarters in Maryland or Virginia. With the headquarters goes Hoover, at least away from Pennsylvania Avenue. President Barack Obama's 2017 budget includes $1.4 billion for the new facility. That figure, along with $390 million already appropriated, should be enough to give the FBI a new homeland — hopefully minus the Hoover albatross.
Our nation's capital has no such luck with Trump, who, to the contrary, appears intent on expanding his presence among our monuments, memorials and parks. A lawsuit filed this week by the non-profit Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a free-speech advocacy organisation, seeks information from the District of Columbia and federal governments regarding agreements allegedly entered into with Trump “to take public space on ‘America's Main Street' traditionally open for First Amendment-protected free speech and dissent, and create a ‘buffer zone' around the Trump Hotel restricting access to exclusive or priority use of the Trump Organisation”.
For more than five months, the free-speech advocates have been trying to obtain this information through Freedom of Information Act requests, but they have encountered nothing but foot-dragging. It would be an outrage if DC and the federal agencies, as the advocates claim in their lawsuit, had agreed to the Trump Organisation's demand to place restrictions on sections of the Grand Avenue and its sidewalks for the priority or exclusive use and personal profit of the Trump Organisation.
How can such desecration be allowed? The city's bootlickers may show up for Trump's grand opening next month. Washingtonians with dignity and respect for our nation's capital, however, will stay away.
Colbert I. King writes a regular column for The Washington Post