My Thanksgiving day lunch was a Veggie Christmas sandwich, eaten at my desk in London where the holiday is not celebrated. Bleak, with a side of bathos. Three thousand miles away, my friends and family tucked into turkey, mashed potato, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes and any number of pies. I am sure there were collard greens, and stuffing, and other excuses to add bacon, bread and nuts to the already groaning boards. In the afternoon, the Cowboys beat the Redskins–good news for my maverick offspring who, although DC born and bred, follow the Dallas football team. For a lot of other people in the nation’s capital, the game was another bummer in a month of searing disappointment. While (white) people in the middle and south of the country are tr(i)umphant, on the outskirts of America we are worried sick. Part of me thinks it is our turn.
Washington DC has been sheltered from much of the pain that now-red states have suffered since manufacturing fled, and employers started valuing critical thinking above can-do capabilities. Jobs in and around the government keep a lot of us cosy in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The restaurants are packed every night of the week with lawyers and lobbyists and the likes of me discussing neuroscience breakthroughs and the marvel of digital developments while we enjoy another glass of wine. For lots of us, the world–with us at its centre– is all about looking outward, and doing great things, and sounding clever about it. It’s been lovely. We haven’t been scared about surviving, or felt threatened by change because, whatever the prevailing politics, the agenda was ours. While we opined about the economy, we didn’t look and so we couldn’t see that people who felt broken, and beaten and burdened had begun to live their lives angrily. Angry now ourselves, we start to see how corrosive it is; and the kind of behaviour it drives.
We scoffed when the high wall salesman peddled his pictures of a different kind of cosy, designed to appeal to people outside our own shining self-satisfied sphere: pictures featuring working mines, busy factories, a superhero boss with a beautiful wife and well-dressed children, and everyone looking and behaving like a gloved family in a 1960s school book. Millions of people dreamed of that life, more than we ever imagined.
Now our Camelot is crumbling and I believe the shake-up in Washington will cause after-shocks long after the 45th President is safely back on his golf course, putter in tiny hand. The politics won’t last, please God, but the disruption that is ‘the Donald’ could change how America sees its role in the world, and how Washington works. While I dislike and disagree with everything I think the incoming President stands for, maybe some good can come of this? ( Bear with me. It’s Thanksgiving and I am doing my best…).
The President elect is centre of his own stage, but his audience he plays to is domestic, not global. From his gilted tower in NYC, he faces West towards his voters, not East to talk with the rest of the world. Maybe all those other continents will find they get along without us very well? Maybe we’ll find that our bustling matron or bossy big sister costume no longer fits? Maybe we should plan an international relaunch for 2020, with market research to inform our positioning starting right now…?
Leaving aside all the griping about the cost of security details, is there any reason, today, why the US President should live in the White House? We hear about businesses decentralizing, and boards meeting virtually, so why not the Executive Branch? Admittedly, Fifth Avenue and a Florida golf resort mightn’t provide much of an eye-opener to the cabinet, but imagine if Hillary had said she would govern from Little Rock AK. What might a perspective like that have brought to federal government? What jobs and revenue and wine bars and coffee houses? Maybe it’s time that somewhere other than Washington gets a turn to be the home of government? But please, not Mar-a-Lago.
The leader of the new administration has made it clear he has no admiration for the apparatus of government; and no need of the inputs typically supplied by the press, or traditional policy advocates. His disdain and disregard for “the way we do things around here” will drive many true public servants to despair and retirement. Lobbyists once assured of any Presidential ear may find themselves muted. Journalists are already hopping mad. All these people are my people, and the best do their work with the Constitution front of mind. So far, I don’t like the look of any of the incomers the new President trusts (well, Ivanka looks great) but a crashing wave of people hitting Washington and challenging all protocol and process could allow we ‘swamp-dwellers’ to see things with fresh eyes. We do too much the way we did it a century ago. (However good Ivanka looks, and however smart she is, it’s good we have a law that stops people advancing their own–although if it had been around in the 1960s, it would have cost us RFK….)
‘But what about checks and balances?’ my Washington friends cry. ‘And the first amendment and Obamacare? And the progress we’ve made on everything from climate change to marriage equality and international relations?’ I know. I know. I don’t like it any more than you do.
And while we tremble about the loss of much we hold sacred in Washington DC, we do not tremble like Latinos terrified of deportation, or Muslims fearful their neighbours will turn on them, or women terrorized by predatory bosses with grabbing hands. And the young black men, like my son? They aren’t trembling, except with rage. Boiled sugar rage that threatens to overflow and burn. I know this too.
All I am saying is that we blue state metropolitan professionals didn’t get it right this time, and we have to go on from here. We can work to win the trust of those who chose Trump, and who may quickly feel let down. We can speak and write and protest and campaign. We can tweak and burnish and mend and strengthen. We can touch and support and follow and lead. We can learn. We have much to be thankful for.