Jennifer Wagner: Tradition grounds nation’s otherwise chaotic politics

Keywords Forefront / Opinion
  • Comments
  • Print

WagnerFormer President George H.W. Bush’s funeral services became one of those rare occasions when bustling Washington, D.C., stands eerily still.

The roads, blocked for the motorcade from the Capitol to the National Cathedral, were devoid of typical D.C. traffic jams. Metro train cars were empty, and many government offices closed so employees could pay their respects.

As I stood and watched the military processional around the Capitol after the hearse departed, I thought about the traditions of the presidency—both in life and death.

The pomp and circumstance of a presidential funeral reflects the seriousness and sanctity of the office and pays tribute to the few who have been privileged to hold it—to stand, for a time, as commanders-in-chief and leaders of our nation. Despite the sadness of the occasion, there was a comforting, consistent cadence to it all.

On that same morning, a very different tradition was taking place inside the congressional office buildings: moving day.

Democrats won back the U.S. House majority in November, which means they have access to the best office space Capitol Hill has to offer. (If you’ve ever been to a House office, you know they are nothing glamorous; space is cramped, and in some buildings, potable water is available only by the jug, not from the taps.)

Moving up in the ranks might only mean a few more square feet of space, but it’s how the system works, and the leather chairs and upended desks scattered through the halls were a reminder of the consistent ebb and flow of power in the nation’s capital.

Later in the day, as the stock markets continued their spike-and-dive routine as a result of the current president’s erratic trade war, I thought again of that word: consistency, an underrated commodity that’s not traded on any exchange.

The political life cycle can seem, from the outside, tremendously inconsistent. Elections are often won or lost based on emotion, and someone who has served for decades might wind up replaced by someone who’s making her first foray into elected office.

The consistency isn’t who wins or loses: It’s rooted in the rules of the game. Much has been written about how those rules have changed under President Trump. They haven’t. He’s just not playing by them, which can be unsettling.

Consistency is important because it allows us to gauge where we stand against where we want to be—and to see a path between the two. As a parent, there’s nothing more important in my household than making sure the rules are clearly enunciated and consistently enforced. If they’re not, you can be sure my kids let me know.

As I watched both the funeral procession and the reshuffling of furniture, I was reminded that Washington is a tremendously consistent place, no matter what the outside world sees in a snapshot moment. It, like all of us, will stop for the important moments, embrace the positive ones, and power through the negative.

The bedrock of democracy is strong, and so are we, even when it doesn’t always feel like the ground beneath us is as solid as it used to be.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

__________

Wagner is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and vice president of communications at EdChoice. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In