‘State of the Union from a Citizen’s Point of View’

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Central West Virginia Republican Women's Club member Cristin Dusenbury was the featured speaker at Monday's meeting.

Editor’s note: Cristin Dusenbury, a member of the Central West Virginia Republican Women’s Club, shares her experience attending President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in February in this column. Dusenbury served as the featured speaker at the group’s meeting Monday, March 25. Cristin and her husband, Rhett Dusenbury, were invited by U.S. Congressman, Rep. Joe Wilson, who represents the Second District of South Carolina, and his wife, Roxanne Wilson, a first cousin of Rhett’s.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last month on Tuesday, Feb. 5, I had the distinct honor of attending President Trump’s State of the Union address.

My husband, Rhett, and I were invited to attend by Rhett’s first cousin, Roxanne Wilson. Roxanne is married to Joe Wilson, a U.S. Congressman from South Carolina. Joe is a great Republican, who has worked tirelessly as a member of Congress for over 17 years. He has dedicated his life to keeping America safe and prosperous, and keeping us the strong, powerful leader of the free world.

Joe and Roxanne had been wanting Rhett and me to come visit them in D.C. for quite some time, and our schedules had not permitted. However, when she invited us to attend the State of the Union address with her, I must admit we worked a little harder to adjust our schedule.

Members of Congress and their spouses are permitted to invite guests to State of the Union addresses, or addresses to a Joint Session of Congress. Members sit in seats on the floor of the House Chamber, and spouses have assigned seats up in the gallery.

They acquire tickets for their guests, and their guests will be assigned a seat, which may or may not be next to the person who invited them. (But it doesn’t matter – you’re ecstatic to take any seat).

Each year, spouses can get assigned a new seat, and put in a request for a particular seat.

The afternoon before the State of the Union, Rhett and I met Roxanne at Joe’s office in the Longworth House office building. We walked over to the Capitol building for a personal tour from Roxanne, and most importantly, stopped by the House Chamber to check out where our seats were going to be.

The Capitol staff in charge of seating took us into the empty House Chamber and showed us where Roxanne’s new seat was, and where her two guests would sit. To Roxanne’s surprise, and ours, her new seat this year was four seats down from the First Lady’s seat. In Roxanne’s tradition of always treating Rhett and me so well, she said, “Cristin, you sit in my seat tonight, and Rhett and I will sit over here.”

I rarely tear up with joy, but I could feel it happening at that moment.

The next few hours of waiting for the big event seemed to move at a snail’s pace. We walked around the Capitol building some more, and then went back to Joe’s office to put up our feet, and relax a while, waiting for the 7 p.m. start time.

(Note here: never wear uncomfortable dress shoes to D.C., thinking, “I’ll survive.” You will, but it will be quite painful. And not just pain in your feet – aching legs, aching knees, aching back. D.C. is a walking city, and quite challenging for those not fit enough to run a 5k.)

As the 7 o’clock hour grew near, we headed back over to the Capitol building. It was an unusually warm night in D.C.

The night was clear, and as we walked over to the Capitol building, without coats on, the view of the Capitol dome lit up against the clear, dark winter sky was amazing. Equally amazing, was the stillness and quietness of the area surrounding the Capitol building.

The Capitol police and Secret Service shut down several blocks around the Capitol building preparing for this event. There were no cars on the streets, not even parked cars, and very few people. No one is permitted to be in that zone, unless they are a member of Congress, or one of the other dignitaries of our federal government, or a guest of one of those people.

All official people, including Members of Congress, wear an identification lapel pin. Spouses also have a special pin to wear. The Secret Service, or Capitol Police see your pin, and send you on. You are a very V.I.P. with that pin on your lapel.

We entered the Capitol building and it was buzzing with people anxiously awaiting the start of the State of the Union. The hallways around the House Chambers were packed with Members of Congress and their guests, news media, photographers and even some famous people.

It all seems surreal, as you are seeing people who you are used to only seeing on TV: members of Congress like Jim Jordan or famous TV personalities like Glenn Beck, Maria Bartiromo, Kimberly Guilfoyle and even Diamond (of Diamond and Silk).

Roxanne took us into the Members’ family room for a meal. We ate and talked and ate and talked, waiting anxiously, and I passed the time going to the bathroom, and touching up my hair and lipstick, probably more than needed. (It was going to be a big night for me.)

The security is top priority in the Capitol building that night, and at the same time, all V.I.P.s are treated like royalty. If Members of Congress, or their spouses, or their guests, need to the leave the Members’ family room to go to the restroom, they want you to be escorted by a member of the military they have provided, who is dressed in their formal attire.

Rhett was amazed that he, too, had to be escorted, so it wasn’t just for the ladies. Rhett was reassured of everyone’s safety in the Capitol that night, and the awesomeness of our country, when on the way to the bathroom, he saw members of a rapid response team in a holding area, complete with gurneys, med bags, and some of them dressed in full chemical contamination suits – prepared in case of a chemical attack upon the building. It also reminded him that we were a primary target that night.

(You have to remember in the House Chambers during the State of the Union ALL members of Congress are present: House of Representative members and U.S. Senate; the President; the Vice President; the third in line for the presidency, the Speaker of the House; all of the Supreme Court justices; and all of the President’s Cabinet, except for one who is designated for continuity of government in case of a catastrophic event.

In the hallways surrounding the House Chamber and throughout the Capitol building are bins that look like nice furniture, just part of the decor, but they actually contain protective head gear/hoods for people to grab in the event of a chemical attack in the building. The hood would provide the person with enough oxygen to be able to exit the building safely.

At about 6:30 p.m., Roxanne directed us to go get our seats in the House Chamber. We had to go through one last security check metal detector with the Secret Service before entering the House Chamber. Once seated, it became evident how close I was really going to be sitting to the First Lady, Melania. Around 10 minutes to 7 p.m., the Sergeant of Arms begins introducing the members of the President’s Cabinet as they entered, the Supreme Court justices, and the Speaker of the House.
They come in and take their seats at the front of the House chamber. Everyone applauds as each is introduced and walks in. The Second Lady, Karen Pence, enters through a door up in the gallery and takes her seat. The First Lady enters through that door also and walks down the steps located next to my seat.

Yes, she is as tall and thin, and majestic in real life. The entire Trump family follows in behind her, and yes, Ivanka is also as tall and thin, and even more beautiful than on TV. They are all striking. They take their seats directly behind me, and to my right. (I teased Rhett, “I made eye contact with Don Jr.”).

Sitting beside me is one of the President’s special invited guests, Matthew Charles. Matthew had been incarcerated for 20 years on a drug charge and as part of the President’s First Step Act, his sentence was commuted. President Trump’s administration, and the grace of God, gave Matthew a second chance at life. While in prison, Matthew began studying the Bible and found Christ. He began doing Bible studies with other prisoners. His story reminded me of the truth that I know: “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

I live by that belief every day. Every time I reflect back on that night of Feb. 5 and think of how I sat with the First Lady of the United States, the Second Lady, and the Trump family during the State of the Union address, I think of that truth again, “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

I also think of another truth, that “God can exceed abundantly more than we can ever ask or imagine.”

This all gives me hope for America’s future. I believe we can be a Godly nation again, a nation of laws, a nation of well-behaved citizens who treat each other with respect, and have manners, and do their part to be responsible citizens.

I believe we can get God back into our schools, back on TV and the devil out. We must all pray that all of America will unite, and the damage done will be repaired.

We are bombarded with constant negativity every time we turn on the news or read the news on Facebook or in the newspaper. And we too quickly accept it and believe it. It’s a habit America has embraced, but habits can be broken.

We, as strong, good Republican women must be the example to others to break that habit. We can resist the temptation to think negative thoughts about our government, to speak negative words about our government.

I would say every member of this club loves President Trump and what he is doing for our country. He is great. But so is everything in D.C.

Like I always tell people about the Bible, don’t merely trust the person behind the pulpit, or the preacher on TV to tell you what the Bible says, read it for yourself at home, and draw your own conclusions. God has given each one of us a sound mind. I tell you the same thing about our nation’s capital city. Go see it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

I am so glad I got the chance to go to our capital city and to our Capitol building and attend such an important event. I had fallen for the trap of thinking and speaking negativity about the swamp in D.C. It is not a swamp. It is a beautiful seat of government, which is highly efficient, extremely well protected by members of the U.S. military, the Secret Service, and the Capitol police who all work together like a well-oiled machine.

Washington D.C. is not on the brink of chaos or utter destruction like the fake news media wants you to believe. I encourage each of you to plan a trip to our nation’s capital. Take your kids, take your grand-kids. You would probably be surprised that most kids would choose a vacation to Washington D.C. over any other place.

And I’m sure you would be surprised to see what I saw – a fabulous city, with fabulous buildings that all belong to us. They are clean, beautiful, free to the public, and staffed by courteous and competent employees of the federal government who take enormous pride in their jobs.

We must teach our children to take pride in their nation. We must teach them about our country’s founding, its history, the Constitution, the wars fought, and about our representative democracy – the best form of government on Earth.

Sadly, as most of you know, all of these things are not being taught in our public schools as thoroughly as they were when we were all growing up. Now the focus is on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), or science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).

Where is the H? It’s not there. Teachers are not encouraged to teach history. In fact many times, they are told, don’t give any time to it, focus on these other things.

I was a fifth-grade teacher in a public school system for 13 years, and I had the privilege of teaching Social Studies, U.S. history and government to my students. It was my favorite part of my job, and I felt it was my duty and honor to do it justice. I worked hard to make sure my students understood how our country was founded and what it was founded on, and how so many men and women gave their lives to create this great nation, and to preserve it, at all costs.

It’s been almost 10 years now since I left teaching, but even 10 years ago we were told specifically to “not worry about teaching Social Studies.” We were told to focus on math, science and language arts – the tested subjects.

Of course, I and other good, patriotic teachers were not going to capitulate. We taught math, science and language arts only as we were told, but we made sure that every story we read in Reading Class was about our nation’s founding and history.

So, in closing, I plead with you to teach the Social Studies and the American history to the children in your life. You cannot count on the schools doing it justice anymore. Take your children to history museums. We have many right here in West Virginia.

We have two fantastic ones right here in our area. The Beverly Heritage Museum in Randolph County is a comprehensive and captivating walk-through of West Virginia history. (I think it’s only $5 to go through it.)

Another one is the Mountaineer Military Museum in downtown Weston. You will be shocked at the number of artifacts that have been collected, and the way they are displayed. They wonderfully showcase the highest heroes of West Virginia from all wars. (There is no cost for this museum – but I am confident you will be inspired to make a donation before you leave).

Take your children or grandchildren to the local library and check out books and movies which tell about our nation’s history and wars fought. Take them to spend an afternoon or evening with a veteran who can tell them firsthand about the ultimate love for one’s country, and the sacrifices made.

And most importantly, plan a trip to our nation’s capital. If you don’t have children, take yourself, take a friend. If you don’t want to do that drive into the city, (which I personally do not), go on a charter bus tour. Sometimes these are organized by your local senior centers. Either way, just go see for yourself, that America is great!