Following all of the straight-forwardly crazy articles popping up everywhere regarding Donald Trump and his supporters, I was vaguely expecting (or hoping for) a city in turmoil. However, that was not the case. Washington just kept buzzing on as usual; but everyday life is of little interest to newspapers. Congress was in recess because of the election. There were no protests or rallies. In other words, it was a calmer and milder city that met me, silently crushing my expectations.
If I had checked the facts before I’d left, I’d have known that DC is probably the most liberal place in the US; uninteresting for the candidates as the Democrats were wholly confident of their lead (Hillary Clinton won the state by 93 per cent in the end). Yet, at a closer look, there were plenty of signs indicating a country facing quite a special election. It just wasn’t shoved in my face in the way that I had expected.
If media coverage of this election had been overwhelming in Europe, it was nothing compared to the US. No matter the TV channel, no matter the time of day, people were constantly discussing, looking at polls, shaming the candidates. Hillary signs were, if not abundant, common in several neighbourhoods. In front of the Capitol, there was a large Trump poster crammed in a bin, and there were a lot of posters reading ‘Make America Sane Again’ hanging around. I counted exactly four people with Trump t-shirts, daring to stand their ground in this liberal Mecca.
On Halloween, a man dressed as Bernie Sanders pressed a Jill Stein flyer in my hands and begged me to vote for her. Later that day, I could not help overhearing a man on the subway talking on the phone about Trump: “If he wins, I’m gonna freak out. I’m gonna fucking lose my mind.”
Election aside, I explored the touristy Washington as well – and liked it a lot. The capital of the US is a very white and surprisingly clean city. For a European who had never been to this country before, the vastness of the avenues and its endless boulevards were fascinating. The majestic, borderline pompous buildings are heavily inspired by classical architecture, reflecting the nation’s founding ideals. One of DC’s early nicknames was, quite fittingly, ‘The American Rome’. The Capitol, the Supreme Court and every memorial and monument are all open to the public. If you fancy, you can actually attend Supreme Court hearings – however there are limited spaces, so it is necessary to rise early and get in line.
If he wins, I’m gonna freak out. I’m gonna fucking lose my mind
Despite being one of the few US cities with well-developed public transport, Washington is great for walking as well. I tend to prefer going by foot in big cities: it gets you closer to the people. Conveniently, the majority of main attractions are placed close to each other, making them extra accessible to pedestrians. All the biggest and best museums are placed on each side of the Mall, the famous ‘town green’ leading up to the Capitol. The Air and Space Museum, National Gallery of Art, African-American History and Culture Museum – take your pick. As parts of the Smithsonian Institution, they are all free and worthy of a visit of some hours, if not days.
You can really revisit history in DC: Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, for instance. You can visit Ford’s theatre where Lincoln was assassinated, or drop by the Watergate buildings, the setting of President Nixon’s infamous scandal.
The city also prides itself on its culinary scene – Ethiopian food has become especially popular. Street vendors are abundant, but quite pricey, and of course the portions are enormous. After a ‘regular’ burger and milkshake lunch at The Good Eatery, I didn’t eat again for 22 hours.
The people I met were overwhelmingly friendly and open, your stereotypical Americans. Still, one topic seemed to cause a drastic but general mood change: the election. Most turned pessimistic in the blink of an eye. Despite, or maybe due to every paper, TV channel and website’s bombardment of the latest news and polls, people seemed to be tired of the whole circus show. Jade, a Hillary supporter from Tennessee, was an exception: “I’m so excited,” she told me. “She’ll beat his ass to the ground. I hope he never rises again.”
Not surprisingly, the majority of people I talked to were voting for Hillary because they detested Trump, not out of devoted support. There seemed to be a general distrust; a clear lack of faith in politicians and institutions, even here, in Washington itself – or the swamp that must be drained, as Trump would have put it. For many Americans, it’s as simple as that: if you don’t trust the system, you vote for the outsider. When I asked a taxi driver if he was ready for Tuesday, he candidly answered, “yes, to get it over with.” He, like so many others, saw Hillary simply as the lesser of two evils. Still, he firmly believed she would win. “Trump’s gonna scream a lot. He’s gonna be like a wounded dog.” Did he think there would be riots?
“No. Not in this country.”
On my way back to the airport, I had a feeling of calm before the storm. The hot sun was setting over enormous, flaming red woods, leaving me feeling pretty unenthusiastic about the English November I’d soon be facing. At least, my Über driver Ali was eager to discuss the election. He was from Afghanistan and currently trying to grant his family US visas. “Of course I voted for Hillary,” he told me excitedly, “I hate Trump!” He, along with the rest of the world, took it for granted that she would be the champion.
“Are you afraid of what may happen if Trump actually wins?” I asked.
“But what if?”
“Listen to me, he won’t win. I know it. That’s never gonna happen.” M