There is a weird and confusing excitement in D.C., for sure.
On the Amtrak down from New York, the train a mix of ball gowns and protest signs and bomb sniffing dogs. In the capital proper, police are everywhere. Buses, nose to nose, ring Union Station, a 21st-century circling of the wagons. Everyone wants to talk.
My Uber driver emigrated to the U.S. from Somalia. Former software and hardware designer. Teacher. Can’t wait for Trump. Trump speaks his mind. The average American, the man in the street, is so frustrated with the establishment. Trump sticks it to the establishment. He is doing things different. “I don’t like the hate speech but … he says people are so angry and frustrated. They aren’t even allowed to say it. I drove two authors, and they had to go to England to publish their book. They have taken things too far, way too far. The average person can’t do anything.”
I ask my driver what he thinks about the Russian involvement in the election. He says Russia is a failed state. “Outside of Moscow and Petersburg, (he pronounces it like Pittsburgh) the people are eating grass… The oligarchs have destroyed that country. Generals don’t have enough to eat. They used to rule 50 percent of the world. Half the world! I know! Somalia was in the Soviet bloc!”
I ask if he is comfortable with Trump’s friendly approach to Putin. He thinks I am naïve. Trump is playing Putin. He is making him look good. Why not? That is just what Trump is doing to manage Putin.
Without prompting, he turns his attention to Obama: Do I know about Christmas Eve in Chicago? Eleven people killed, 60 shot. “In Chicago! Obama’s City! After eight years of an African-American president! Obama could have made Chicago great. But look at it! Obama’s legacy? What legacy? What has he done?”
* * *
Trump International Hotel has been open since October. It could not be more prominently located on Pennsylvania Avenue. Lit up at night, it seems as if it intends to make a statement.
* * *
As I walk into “basement atrium” of the Senate Office Building – only in Washington can there be a basement atrium – to pick up my press credentials for the inauguration, I get an email from a friend in San Francisco. A photo of a dark, complex, multilevel cloud from a Bay Area sky. Behind the cloud you can see sunbeams scattering to the sides. The caption: “The day before. The dark comes to block out the light.”
* * *
I hear from a friend in New York who reports that at the head office of his company the corporate people are bubbling with excitement. There are tax cuts coming. Money is coming back from over the seas. There will be a lot to work with. Axes will be taken to the overgrowth of suffocating, overbearing government. Yes there is a personal liberty issue, but we need this. It needs to be done. Very optimistic. Giddy.
* * *
I run into a well-dressed, courtly man of 65. He has spent many years coming to Washington from his home in the Heartland, but he hasn’t been here in a long time. He doesn’t come when Democrats are in power. He knows where things used to be but there have been changes. He points them out as we walk along. Security for the inauguration is ubiquitous. Checkpoints. Jersey barriers and 10-foot black fences surrounding monolithic government building facades. “Don’t let anybody tell you things haven’t changed since 9/11.”
We wait in line to get into the House Office Building. Ahead of us there is a man wearing a denim jacket with cut-off sleeves and a foot-long gray ponytail streaming from his red cap. My companion says there’s gonna be a lot of guys like that tomorrow. “Bikers are angry about the way this country is going. You don’t have to have ethics to be mad.”
He says, they’ll all be up the street on both sides of Constitution Avenue. And there isn’t a cop in D.C. that will give them any trouble. They were in Cleveland. There was a guy there burning a flag and they saw him and they beat the hell out of him. Then they threw the flag on him, still burning. The Fire Department cleaned up after. And guess what? There was no problem afterwards. My companion sees I look skeptical: “You can look it up. Great thing about the internet you can verify everything.”
I ask what he thinks about Trump’s cabinet. “I think they are going to kick ass. They are going to shock people. They are going to get things done. And fast.”
* * *
I leave my companion in Senate Office Building, and I walk out onto Independence. There are half a dozen bikers preening before tourists. IPhones and cameras surround them as if this was a press availability. One Trump-supporting tourist says, “I was worried when we came down but then I heard you guys were here.” He paused. “I know with you guys here everything will be all right.” The woman next to him added, “Thank you for your service.”
* * *
I am meeting David Paul, my writing partner. We are going to be collaborating in D.C. for the next several days. As I head toward our meeting place, I get a text from him: “It’s a funny thing,” he texts, “I don’t expect Trump to affect my life, but I find it nauseating. Trump. Pence his dutiful factotum. The trust-fund baby kids.”
* * *
The vendors are in full force. Trump buttons and t-shirts. Shot glasses, ashtrays, endless bric-a-brac. I admire the bobble-heads. Trump’s hair looks just right on a bobble-head. But I am most struck by a bright red t-shirt that says, “America Is Great Again”.
The vendor is wearing a Trump hat, which means this T-shirt is not one designed to rebut the Trump slogan. No, this T-shirt means that by electing Trump — by that alone — America has been restored to greatness. All it took was one election.
It is going to be an interesting weekend.