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A Plea to Reject 'Brutal Imperial Arrogance' in Wake of White House Breach

   

Recent security breaches shouldn't compromise basic civil rights, argues Philip Kennicott. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Recent security breaches shouldn't compromise basic civil rights, argues Philip Kennicott. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the nation's foremost architecture critics says Washington has already given up too much of its openness and beauty as a city and that the recent security lapse at the White House "is an institutional, organizational problem; it does not require an architectural solution."  

The argument that Philip Kennicott lays out in the Washington Post is not merely an aesthetic one, though. Rather, he notes that in cutting off access to the Supreme Court, the West Terrace of the Capitol and the White House in recent years, all in the name of security, the very pillars of representative democracy are being compromised. "The loss of public space and the intrusion of the security apparatus into daily life are not merely inconveniences. Among the most cherished symbols of democracy is openness, including direct access to our leaders. ... It is not reasonable to ask a free people to continually submit to police control; doing so becomes ingrained, and when we freely submit to unreasonable searches, we lose the all-important reflexive distrust of authority that helps keep us free," the Pulitzer Prize winning writer asserts.  

Kennicott's plea that the nation's leaders think before stringing up barbed wire and more bollards is one that goes against the one-way trend of increasing levels of lockdown in the seat of government. Monday's White House press briefing suggests the executive mansion's staff is leaving things to the Secret Service , who were responsible for the breach in the first place, to decide. Kennicott reaches back to ancient Greece for his closing argument: "'We throw open our city to the world,' Pericles said in his Funeral Oration. We, alas, have become the descendants not of that fine and fundamental sentiment of democracy, but of the brutal imperial arrogance that corrupted the Athenian state in later years."  

If people, staffers, tourists, citizens alike, can't literally see the beauty and good things around them in Washington, at the Supreme Court, at the Capitol, at the White House, should anyone be surprised there is distrust and disdain for the place?  

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