Magazine | September 9, 2019, Issue

Life in D.C. 

The Washington Monument seen through cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., March 27, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
In the hurly-burly of politics, we usually don’t stop to note our simple, unadorned love of the things that make this country so marvelous. That’s what we’ve asked our contributors to our latest special issue, "What We Love about America," to do.

I adore my hometown, a homey place called “Washington, D.C.”

The image of Washington as a cesspool of preening pretense is not completely libelous, but neither is it the whole story. You can live here and avoid all that. Among natives — and after 38 years, I think I almost qualify — weeks can go by without the subject of government even coming up. We Washingtonians walk our dogs, have block parties, attend concerts, grill steaks in the backyard, and shovel the elderly neighbor’s front walk when it snows. We have religious institutions, book clubs, and PTA meetings, just like people in other places. At the dog park, we discuss gardening, home repair, our children, and local gossip; rarely does gun control or Medicare for All come up.

That’s the ordinary. Now for the extraordinary: I’ve traveled the world a bit and still consider Washington to be one of the most beautiful cities on earth. “Thine alabaster cities gleam” captures our capital — my town — even if we can’t quite say “undimmed by human tears.” Every time I land at National Airport and catch sight of the pure lines of the Washington Monument, the majestic Capitol dome, and the blue Potomac setting off Lincoln’s white-marble temple, I exhale with pleasure.

Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Regarding Washington, I would add that if you’re bored here, it’s entirely on you. The 20 Smithsonian museums are treasures (though the zoo is having issues), and they’re free. This encourages frequent short visits, which are the best way to view masterpieces or mastodons. History is ever present, from Mount Vernon just down the George Washington Parkway to Ford’s Theater on 10th Street.

D.C. is infamous for steamy summers, but it shouldn’t be. We have the ideal climate. Winters are mild, with just enough snow to enchant adults and give the kids some days off from school. Spring explodes with fragrant flowers while you still need a warm coat, and lingers till flip-flop weather takes over — two months in a good year. Summer is hot — but it’s a wet heat. Okay, some people find it oppressive, but we’re not Paris; we have air-conditioning. The autumn air is crisp and the skies are the deepest blue of the year, providing a brilliant backdrop for the foliage fireworks. Best of all is what we do not generally have: wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes. If we do get any of these things, they’re so mild that they serve as social glue without the pain of a real catastrophe.

We have no iconic cuisine or accent. Instead, we have them all. “Cosmopolitan” is a much-abused word, but it’s apt. Washington attracts talented — and, yes, public-spirited — people from all over the country and the world. My social circle has included transplants from Kansas, Georgia, Great Britain, Ohio, New York, Iran, California, Canada, Illinois, Indiana, and many other locales. The lure of Washington makes it the least provincial city in America. Many are drawn here by love for the country. There’s no better place to be.

In This Issue

What We Love About America

U.S.

American Men

American men — with few exceptions — treat you like a human being, in a free, natural way, because they’ve done it from the nation’s youth.

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Most Popular

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How to Bend the News

This, from ABC, is a nice example of a news organization deliberately bending the truth in order to advance a narrative that it wishes were true but is not: Venerable gun manufacturer Colt says it will stop producing the AR-15, among other rifles, for the consumer market in the wake of many recent mass ... Read More
U.S.

Trump’s Total Culture War

 Donald Trump is waging a nonstop, all-encompassing war against progressive culture, in magnitude analogous to what 19th-century Germans once called a Kulturkampf. As a result, not even former president George W. Bush has incurred the degree of hatred from the left that is now directed at Trump. For most of ... Read More
World

Iran’s Act of War

Last weekend’s drone raid on the Saudi oil fields, along with the Israeli elections, opens a new chapter in Middle Eastern relations. Whether the attack on Saudi oil production, which has temporarily stopped more than half of it, was launched by Iranian-sponsored Yemeni Houthis or by the Iranians themselves is ... Read More
Education

George Packer Gets Mugged by Reality

Few journalists are as respected by, and respectable to, liberals as The Atlantic’s George Packer. The author of The Assassin's Gate (2005), The Unwinding (2013), and a recently published biography of Richard Holbrooke, Our Man, Packer has written for bastions of liberal thought from the New York Times Magazine ... Read More