Over the final few weeks of his presidential campaign, at rallies all over the country, President-elect Donald Trump took up a new slogan: “Drain the swamp!” His audience, presumably tired of insider shenanigans from Washington, D.C., ate it up. They chanted the phrase in unison, cheering with relish.
There’s a good reason for this: Most normal, well-adjusted non-Beltway Americans harbor a vigorous and healthy disdain for Washington, D.C. As any well-intentioned visitor to our nation’s capital can tell you, the sights are indeed grand, and the history is inspiring. But sadly, between the trips to the Smithsonian and the National Gallery, one begins to grow rightly suspicious when passing countless upscale bars filled with sometimes-smug 28-year-olds getting hammered on $16 cocktails that were purchased, either directly or indirectly, with your own hard-earned tax dollars.
For most Americans, in other words, a glitzy Washington, D.C., is not a healthy Washington, D.C. A gleaming, prosperous industry town usually makes for a cheerful sight, but not when that “industry” revolves around taking other people’s money — truly mind-boggling amounts of money! — and transforming it into subsidized incompetence, black-hole accounting, and a leading export of sanctimony.
Ah, but never fear. The New York Times sees things differently from flyover America, as it tends to do. After a flurry of post-election stories bemoaning the various potential downsides of President Trump — some legitimate, some not — the storied Gray Lady decided to run with this doozy: “A Newly Vibrant Washington Fears That Trump Will Drain Its Culture.”
One could write a doctoral thesis regarding the multiple-layered ironies within this headline, or merely stare at it and marvel for days. As a bonus, it ran just one day after an equally spectacular headline: “Is Fashion’s Love Affair with Washington Over?” This piece, showing extra chutzpah, earnestly praised Hillary Clinton’s purple and black concession-speech pantsuit, which resembled the getup of a fancy comic-book villain, as “the end of what might have been an extraordinary relationship” between style and our nation’s capital. Okay.
This tone-deaf bonanza should come as no surprise, of course. In the election’s wake, even Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, noted that the paper was profoundly out of touch. “We’ve got to do a much better job of being on the road, out in the country, talking to different kinds of people than we talk to,” he said, “and remind ourselves that New York is not the real world.”
Well, folks, apparently neither is Washington, D.C. Once a staid, boring town plagued by a general sense of malaise, the nation’s capital, at least according to the Times, is now a progressive wonderland. “The administrations of two Bushes and a Clinton in between hardly had an effect on the city,” but thanks to the arrival of the Obamas, the city has undergone “an urban renaissance.”
According to former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray, Obama and his family “brought a level of dynamism that just wasn’t there before.” Among these reported wonders, we read, are SoulCycle, thriving independent bookstores that sell terrible Jonathan Franzen novels, and a bevy of happening 14th Street bars frequented by Obama staffers, with “their barhopping chronicled in the gossip pages.” (Side note: This last item is one of the reasons that the rest of America loves to hate D.C.)
“What the effect on Washington will be when Donald J. Trump moves into the White House, is hard to predict,” the story continues. “But many Washingtonians fear the worst.” What is the worst, you might ask? Exactly what has inspired some to sign up for “free tension-relieving sessions at yoga studios,” and others to cry at their desks? What has driven otherwise semi-sane people to take questionable and unthinkable risks, like accepting “the free hugs on offer in Farragut Square”?
Washington, D.C., should not serve as the top go-to glamour-job destination straight out of college.
“D.C. is going to take a really hard hit, culturally, socially, everything,” says Jazmine Johnson, who is planning to move to New York. At wine bars such as Cork, which hosted an Election Night party that “turned into a wine-drenched tragedy,” the current discussion centers on the possibility that Trump could inspire a city-wide “hemorrhaging of the young, fashionable, and talented.”
That echo you hear, far off in the distance, is the sound of small-government fans rejoicing. Government, after all, should not be a growth industry. Washington, D.C., should not serve as the top go-to glamour-job destination straight out of college. If this mass exodus happened, when you think about it, it would be kind of great!
Spoiler alert: Panicky New York Times pieces aside, it’s probably not in the cards — and the same goes for Donald Trump’s promises to radically “drain the swamp.” To think otherwise is to vastly underestimate the power of the sprawling, locked-in layers of Washington, D.C. — and, of course, to overestimate a guy who seems to make ten conflicting promises every day. We’ll see how things fare over the next four years. Somehow, I’m pretty sure that SoulCycle will survive.