To cover this past weekend’s inauguration and Women’s March protests in Washington, D.C., Longreads teamed up with Seattle publication The Stranger. Armed with mood rings supplied by their editors, writers Sydney Brownstone and Heidi Groover, along with photographer Nate Gowdy, met those celebrating and protesting, shared their personal perspectives, and examined what it means for the next four years. Here’s their full diary from the events of January 18-23.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18
11 am, flight to DC
Mood ring: Lost already. I have to buy a new one in DC.
SYDNEY BROWNSTONE: I’m writing this on a plane two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, and I feel like I know what I’ll be walking into. Like the hundreds of other reporters swarming the capitol, I’ll soon be witnessing a made-for-TV spectacle for a made-for-TV president who was boosted into power by the internet’s worst conspiracy theories.
This scares me. On bad days, trying to tell the truth through the same screens that helped elect Trump feels irrelevant. On the worst days, I don’t know how to orient myself in a reality that can appear to change based on whatever Donald Trump feels like reality should be.
Thinking about this reminds me of a story my dad once told me about my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather, a Jewish immigrant who fled a shtetl in Moldova that no longer exists, had a thing about TVs. He had never owned one, and my dad assumed that was because he couldn’t spend the money. As a gift, my dad bought my great-grandfather his first television set for his Brooklyn apartment. But when my father visited him not long after, he noticed something strange had happened to the TV.
It had been unplugged from the wall and covered in a number of blankets. My great-grandfather was afraid that the Soviet government would use the TV to spy on him.
Trump’s well-documented disdain for journalists and true statements may be new for an American president, but this has happened before. At the time that my great-grandfather fled his shtetl, for example, Czar Nicholas II was using conspiracy theories and “fake news” to consolidate his power and drum up fear. The Okhrana, secret agents for the czar, helped publish a conspiracy theory against Russia’s Jews (“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”) that claimed to detail a Jewish plot to oppress Christians and control global media and wealth. Aided by the printing press, the “Protocols” were disseminated widely and used to justify pogroms that killed thousands of Russian Jews. The area where my great-grandfather lived before he came to the US witnessed some particularly gruesome massacres.
I don’t know much about my great-grandfather’s early life, or what he saw, but I do know that his reason for leaving the country was that he didn’t want to become “cannon fodder for the Bolsheviks or cannon fodder for the czar.” I can only imagine that whatever scared him, even decades after escaping czarist Russia, had something to do with how he felt about TVs later. Trump may be unprecedented in lots of ways, but devaluing truth in order to seize power is not new. Neither is using people’s hunger for information and entertainment against them.
There’s a part of me that wishes I could simply unplug from the inauguration, throw a blanket over my laptop, and hide. But there’s not another America to flee to now. I guess all that’s left to do is to stay and watch.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 19
10:20 am, Capital Hilton
Mood ring: Blue. “Normal, relaxed, calm, confident, reflective,” according to the box. I do not trust this thing.
HEIDI GROOVER: Seattle mayor Ed Murray is wearing a navy suit and an uneasy smile when he meets me in this DC hotel lobby. “It’s very weird here” are his first words. Murray is in town for the US Conference of Mayors, a group that has been defying Donald Trump all week. A couple days earlier, Murray had been one of four mayors to introduce a resolution calling on the Feds to continue the deferred action program for young undocumented immigrants. At the DC conference, he skipped a speech from Mike Pence, sure he’d probably walk out anyway. Murray’s message to Trump: “Stop demonizing us and work with us.”
When the interview is over, I leave and wander past the Capitol Building, where someone is sound-checking for the end of American democracy as we know it. Two security guards are hunched over a map of the grounds. One of them points at it and says: “Scale-proof fence, scale-proof fence, scale-proof fence.”
12:30 pm, National Mall
Mood ring: Black, i.e., “sad.”
BROWNSTONE: After taking the Metro in from the place I’m crashing in Northern Virginia, I meet Kimball Allen and Scott Wells near the mammoth stage set for Donald Trump’s inauguration, just a few hundred feet from the Capitol lawn’s reflecting pool. Trump supporters in “Make America Great Again” hats and Burberry scarves mill around the two men, snapping photos. The couple, who married in October, accepted inauguration tickets from South Seattle congressman Adam Smith’s office before they knew the outcome of the election. Now, as far as I can tell, they’re the only gay couple in sight near the platform that will be used tomorrow for swearing in Trump.
“We’re not here because we’re excited to be here,” Allen tells me. “After the election results, [Representative Smith] wrote back to us saying, ‘Do you really want to be on the ticket list?’ [My husband’s] first impulse was, ‘Hell no, why would we be there?’ And we thought about it, and said, ‘No, we need to have a voice in this America, too.’”
Allen and Wells met a Trump supporter in the morning who seemed perfectly willing to have a conversation with them. But to a gay couple whose ability to have a family could be targeted by the new administration, the dissonance between “nice” Trump supporters and their political choices is still deeply disorienting. Republican ideologies aren’t foreign to Allen and Wells; both were born into conservative families in Idaho and Indiana respectively. But their families have also started to recognize how their politics affect those close to them, and subsequently, their political alliances have begun to shift, too.
“My family’s Republican, but none of them voted Republican this time,” Wells said. “I asked [my mom] why and she said, ‘Because I love you.’”
2 pm, Protein Bar
Mood ring: Blue, “normal.”
GROOVER: After the morning of interviews, Sydney and I meet up at this restaurant to file stories. Outside, we see a Trump supporter trip on a curb. This is very satisfying.
5:30 pm, National Mall
Mood ring: Black, “upset, frustrated”
GROOVER: A crowd has gathered near the Lincoln Memorial for the president-elect’s inaugural concert. The smell of cigars mixes with the smell of porta potties. There is no subtlety in Trump’s America. Toby Keith takes the stage and sings his post-9/11 anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” Members of the crowd sing along, their faces lit by the jumbotrons: “And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A. ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way.”
8:30 pm, National Press Club
Mood ring: Deplorable.
BROWNSTONE: After the “concert,” I head to the National Press Club, where Trump signs are burning. Inside, members of the white nationalist “alt-right” are celebrating their victory over anyone who wants America to be inclusive and welcoming to immigrants. A crowd of several hundred anti-fascist protesters boo and chant as Milo Yiannopoulos and “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli make their way into the “DeploraBall.”
I watch two women in white robes enter the party.
Later, an anti-fascist protester pushes past me and says, “It was better when there were less media people around.” The attendees of the DeploraBall might agree.
After the DeploraBall, I throw on a dress and a blazer and head to the Young Republicans’ Make America Great Again Ball. (Mood ring: A swirl of black, purple, turquoise, and brown. “Sad,” “excited,” “flirty,” and also “crabby.” Really I just feel like I want to walk into traffic.) It is mostly white people. The DJ plays a Beyoncé track, which is an odd choice considering the absurd conservative backlash to her Super Bowl performance, but the Young Republicans dance to it anyway.
12:30 am, Friendship Heights, Washington, DC
Mood ring: There is no color for “wondering if my friend got killed by Nazis.”
GROOVER: When your friend is a queer, Jewish, feminist journalist you last saw on her way to a Young Republicans party, it seems important to check in on her. Sydney and I have been texting a little throughout her time at the $100-per-ticket event. These texts mostly consist of her asking, “WHY DID I DO THIS?” Now it’s been an hour since I’ve heard anything and I am worried. I refresh her Twitter feed again.
Twenty minutes pass.
Finally, at 12:50 a.m., Sydney texts back. Her message: “Nazis are real.”
1:30 am, Arlington, Northern Virginia
Mood ring: The color of a Nazi’s swollen eye socket after he gets punched by a protester.
BROWNSTONE: I’m done with the Young Republicans’ MAGA Ball and I can’t sleep. At the end of the night, I went outside to get an Uber home and bummed a cigarette from a guy with a fashy-looking haircut (picture Macklemore) and a pin depicting an ancient Germanic symbol for the choice between good and evil. I told him I was a reporter and asked him what he thought about the alt-right. He said, “Off the record?” and stupidly I replied, “Okay.”
Because I agreed to go off the record, I can’t tell you anything he said. But I can tell you that it left me feeling deeply shaken. I can tell you that it made me want to remind people that science says race is just a social construct, that Nazi attempts at eugenics were wrong and horrifying, and that contemporary conspiracy theories about Jews and the media trace back 200 years to that Russian czar desperate to consolidate power around white nationalism. It made me want to remind people that believing any of these things doesn’t make a person cool or current or edgy, but instead demonstrates that the person believing these things is a weak-minded, Kool-Aid-drinking tool of fascists who is probably just looking for new ways to get laid. I want to throw up, but I can’t.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 19
7:30 am, somewhere near the Capitol Building
Mood ring: Again, blue, “normal.” I am thinking of writing the manufacturer with a complaint. Sydney texts that hers is still black, sad. “Dimmed,” she says, “just like my sense of hope.”
GROOVER: I’m in search of a coffee shop where I can file a story. As I cross the street, a man calls me “baby.” Getting catcalled is not new. Getting catcalled on the day an admitted sexual predator will become president feels worse than usual.
I find a coffee shop and step inside. Trump supporters and protesters are crowding in alongside each other, sipping from paper cups. I ask the barista how she’s feeling. She replies carefully, “I’m feeling a lot of feelings.” Me, too. And they are all bad.
I make my way toward the ceremony through crowds of Trump supporters. As I wait to get through security, I meet a Boeing recruiter named Mike. Surprisingly, he tells me he was a Never Trump–er. He’s a churchgoing guy. He voted for Mitt Romney. He doesn’t like the way Trump talks or acts; the “pussy grabbing” tape was “horrifying.” But he’s still hopeful. “If our leaders are guided,” he tells me, he thinks everything will be okay. He says he attended Barack Obama’s inauguration, too. He’s planning to post a photo of himself at today’s inauguration on Facebook, but he’s worried about the anti-Trump backlash in his feed. So he thinks he might post a side-by-side of both ceremonies. “I just wish there was more tolerance on both sides,” he says.
By late morning, I’m at the US Capitol Building for the swearing in. The crowd here is smaller than other recent inaugurations, but the people around me in this cordoned-off section of the crowd near the Capitol Building don’t know that. On a big screen, they see an aerial view of the National Mall and cheer. They see Melania Trump and the Trump kids and cheer. They see Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and boo.
A lone woman in the crowd near me wears a purple pussy hat. She shouts “Yes we can” and two small, fidgety children in bright green jackets heckle her. “You’re an idiot,” one of the kids yells. “You’re a child,” she replies. “Yes,” he said, “but at least I’m smart.” The adults nearby love this.
Trump arrives, takes the oath, and delivers his vengeful, “America first” inaugural address. The lines that focus on isolationism and American exceptionalism—”your country,” “America first,” “buy American and hire American”—win huge applause.
Throughout the speech, some of the most enthusiastic shouts and cheers around me come from women. They appear almost entirely white; presumably, they were part of the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump in November. They looked past the pussy grabbing, looked past his call to punish women who have abortions, looked past “slob” and “pig” and “dog” and “blood coming out of her wherever,” looked past racism and xenophobia. They either looked past it or actively welcomed it.
When Trump promises, “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it,” a woman behind me in a red jacket and American flag scarf shouts, “Thank youuu!”
“You will never be ignored again,” he says, as if he’s answering her directly.
“We will make America proud again,” Trump says. “We will make America safe again.” And then comes what they’ve been waiting for. The crowd shouts along with him: “Make! America! Great! Again!” Chants break out—”Trump! Trump! Trump!” “USA! USA! USA!”—and then it’s over.
I ask the woman in the American flag scarf to talk but she doesn’t want to. Another woman nearby, a broker from New Jersey, tells me she’s been “ignored” and asked to “share my wealth” for the last eight years. She says it is harder to be white in America today than in the past. “Everyone says white people are bad people,” she says.
11:58 am, intersection of L and 12th Streets
Mood ring: Black and purple. Purple means “excited.” Oh boy.
BROWNSTONE: While Heidi is watching the inauguration, I’ve been following the morning’s demonstrations, from No DAPL water protectors who shut down an inauguration entry point to a group of “DisruptJ20” protesters who have attracted the attention of riot police. By the time I catch up with another contingent of DisruptJ20 protesters, about 50 of them have been kettled into a building entrance on L and 12th Streets by rows and rows of Metropolitan Police Department officers.
A bystander tells me that the people who have been kettled across the street had caused some property damage earlier, but I wasn’t there to witness it. (By the end of the day, it’s revealed that the windows of a Starbucks, a Bank of America, a Wells Fargo, and a McDonald’s have been smashed.) More protesters are showing up to support those who have been kettled. They shout, “Fuck the police!” and “Let them go!” Police unfurl crime scene tape to keep journalists and protesters away. No one messes with the tape while I’m there, but police dispatch a row of riot police with pepper spray canisters and batons to face us anyway. They shout at us to step back as they march closer to the tape. Meanwhile, the protesters who have been kettled are being arrested one by one. They’re led off by zip cuffs and put into arrest vans. Every time another protester gets peeled off from the group, the other protesters around the intersection cheer.
At one point, it looks like riot police outnumber protesters by about three to one. Then more protesters show up to witness the mass arrest. Hundreds of people now surround the area.
By 12:30 p.m., the arrests are still proceeding slowly and the protesters have been chanting “Black Lives Matter!” and anti-capitalist slogans for hours. I duck into a burger place across the street to file a piece. An hour later, I’m done filing and back on the street and protesters are chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” There are even more protesters than there were before, and I can’t see what’s happening at the very front of the crowd.
If I didn’t capture on video what happened next, it would surely be a blur. Riot police charge the crowd of reporters and protesters with pepper spray. Many reporters and photographers stay up front to capture the scene while protesters run in the opposite direction. Police pepper spray the face of a man taking pictures on top of an elementary school sign; when he falls off, medics run to help him. Meanwhile, pink tear gas grenades go off in front of the crowd. A protester throws a glass bottle at the line of riot police, who start to advance down 12th Street toward protesters. At that point, riot police start using flash-bang grenades, which send even more people running down 12th.
At the next intersection, black bloc protesters break up pieces of asphalt and start throwing the chunks at police. I watch one black bloc protester take a brick off a building and use that, too. Police are throwing flash bangs and tear gas grenades left and right, and protesters erect a barricade of newspaper boxes on K Street. Another line of riot cops advances from the other side of 12th Street. Two men in “Make America Great Again” hats watching the scene unfold from the edge of the intersection give me a “thumbs up” sign as I film them. Later, another reporter tells me that the two men I filmed commented that the people protesting belonged in gas chambers.
All of the sudden I hear a thud. When I run over, a reporter is on the ground and appears to be unconscious. He comes to in a few seconds and is briefly confused. His phone is smashed. Later, he tells another reporter that he got punched and fell. Medics and bystanders urge him to sit down, but he whips out his notepad and continues to write. When police advance down 12th Street, I watch them brusquely push another reporter out of a building entrance and toward the crowd. Earlier in the day, riot police pushed Washington Post reporter Dalton Bennett to the ground while he covered the same protest.
Later, in Franklin Square, behind a National Guard truck and directly adjacent to the clash between police and protesters, two 14-year-old boys stand quietly with signs that read, “Dump Trump” and “Tiny man, tiny hands, tiny ideas.” Aaron Long and Marquis Crawford go to Hardy Middle School in Georgetown in DC. They say that when some Trump supporters saw their signs, they shouted “Fuck you!” and “You suck!” at the teens.
“Seeing people throw stuff at cop cars and busting windows, that’s kind of scary, you know, you don’t see that every day,” Long says. “[But] the thing of people protesting and having their voices heard, that gives you a little bit of hope. It’s a huge thing. It’s not going to make Trump go away, but protesting is letting your voice get heard.”
Our conversation is interrupted by a crowd of people running into the park, away from pepper spray or tear gas. Crawford and Long disappear with their chaperone, but minutes later they’re back at the same spot, silently holding their signs.
I take a break to go charge my electronics, but the cafe I’m sitting in soon fills with the smell of burning rubber. I run outside toward the smoke.
On the street, protesters run in one direction; a woman in a glossy fur coat who appears wholly undisturbed saunters down the street in the opposite direction. I make my way through the crowd and find the source of the smoke. A limousine has been set on fire.
By 5 pm, I’m back in Franklin Square. Punk bands are playing and riot police are still confronting protesters near the park. Things appear to be winding down as the sky darkens. I smoke a cigarette with a friend (and fellow reporter) who did me several favors by pulling me out of the way of flash-bang grenades and pepper spray when I tried to Facebook Live the earlier action.
I am consumed with gratitude for my friend, who, as a woman of color, faces more threats to her safety under a Trump administration than any of the white black bloc bros throwing rocks that day—or me, for that matter.
We smoke in silence.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 21
8 am, along Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol Building
Mood ring: A swirl of purple, green, and yellow, which means, let’s see, “good, excited, falling in love”—great!—and also “mischievous, anxious, nervous, worried.” Oh.
GROOVER: The existential hangover I have from Friday is worse than any actual hangover I’ve ever had. Last night, after checking in on the black bloc–ers one final time, I stopped in an overpriced basement bar for a whiskey. I sat at the counter and mindlessly scrolled through social media. On Instagram, someone had posted Trump’s “I moved on her like a bitch” quote. It hit me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. My face felt hot; I stared up toward the ceiling trying not to cry. The bartender passed by and asked, “How was your day, darlin’?” “Okay,” I said. “Just okay?” he asked. “Well, Donald Trump is president,” I said. His response was quick. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton were equally bad, he told me. Trump is a bigot, he said, but Clinton acts as if she’s above the law. Neither of those are what the country needs. “America should just be single for a while,” he said. I didn’t feel like arguing.
When I woke up this morning, I was still feeling that sense of defeat. Things begin to shift on the Metro when I hear two women from Ontario say they’re in town for the Women’s March. “What affects you affects us,” one of them says to a woman from New York who is also headed to the march.
As I make my way to the march, I get a call from Washington senator Patty Murray. Murray isn’t really the protesting type, but she says today feels different:. “It’s such an important time for all of us to be participating loudly and visibly,” Murray says.
By 2 pm, the National Mall and the streets surrounding it are packed with hundreds of thousands of people. There are anti-Trump, pro-woman signs and “pussy hats” as far as I can see. Signs declare, “Women’s rights are human rights” and “Girls just want to have fun(damental rights).” Marchers chant, “My body, my choice! Her body, her choice!” and “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter.”
Despite being an early obstacle for the event and its organizers, racial diversity is on display. “This is a women’s march, and this women’s march represents the promise of feminism as against the pernicious powers of state violence,” the activist Angela Davis tells the crowd. “An inclusive and intersectional feminism that calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to anti-Semitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation.”
As I stand on a traffic light post taking photos and video, I talk to Selina Vickers, who came to the march from West Virginia. Vickers is holding a sign on which she’s written a quote attributed to Vermont senator Bernie Sanders: “People say all the Trump supporters are idiots! They’re not! They’re in pain! They are hurting! And we damn well better stand up for them!”
As “a product of the Bernie revolution” she tells me that “we have to find common ground” with average Trump voters. “[Trump’s] ego is so big and he wants good ratings,” Vickers says. “If we work together with the average Trump voter, we can make him a good president.” I admire her optimism, but I’m not convinced.
Soon, so many people flood the area that the march can’t actually move as planned. We are stuck for a while before the crowds spill out all over downtown. Hundreds end up as close as they can get to the White House and leave the signs they brought propped up against the White House lawn fence. Two blocks away, a Trump-themed float tries to make its way through the crowd. It is surrounded by chants: “We! Are! The popular vote!”
3:30 pm, along the National Mall near the Smithsonian
Mood ring: Black, with maybe a glimmer of something that isn’t.
BROWNSTONE: Cell service is terrible, dense crowds are everywhere, and my legs hurt. I’ve been taking pictures of people’s signs all day and conducting short interviews, but at a certain point I decide to shift objectives. My little sister, who I haven’t seen in more than a year, made a last-minute decision to come down to DC for the Women’s March. Amid half a million people, I try to find her.
Only half the texts I send to my sister are actually received, but we finally agree to meet at the Washington Monument. She tells me she’s by the 14th and Madison sign. There are four 14th and Madison signs. I choose a random one to stand by and resign myself to the idea that I might not find my sister among the 500 or so people crowding this one intersection alone. Miraculously, my sister’s friend spots me.
“Sydney!” My sister looks exhausted, but happy. She’s been marching all day. Right now I’m so proud of her I could cry.
My sister shows me the chants she and her friends have been using.
“Fire it up!” she shouts.
“Fire it up!” the crowd responds.
“Ready to go!” she shouts again.
“Ready to go!”
Fuck it. I tuck my press credentials into my jacket and link arms with my sister.
“WHOSE STREETS?” I yell. My sister and the crowd shout back: “OUR STREETS!”
4 pm, an oyster bar called Pennsylvania 6
Mood ring: Very black, the blackest.
GROOVER: As it gets dimmer outside, my hands are freezing. I need to find somewhere inside to sit. Every fast food restaurant I see is filled with people and has a line out the door. I see a swanky oyster bar and slink into the one open seat at the bar. I wonder if this place is too expensive to put on our boss’s credit card [Ed. note: yeah, probably] but I am too cold and tired to care.
The bartender is frazzled. They weren’t expecting this, he says—especially coming off the chaos of yesterday, when protesters lit a limo on fire right outside this place. I look up at CNN. They’re talking about the day’s massive women-led, women-focused protests. They’ve invited a man, Michael Moore, on to talk about it.
Afterward, I cross Franklin Square, a gathering spot for protesters all weekend, and enter Almas Temple, where people from Socialist Alternative, the Green Party, Occupy Wall Street, the Movement for the 99%, and Jill Stein’s campaign are all hosting an event called “Inaugurate the Resistance.” (Mood: Socialist Alternative Red™.)
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, the star of the national Socialist Alternative party, is set to speak. So is Stein, whom Sawant backed in November. They’re joined by Standing Rock Sioux member Chase Iron Eyes and Tim Canova, who ran against embattled Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida’s primary election last year. They all rail against capitalism, the media, and the Democratic Party. Some, like Canova, want to reform the party from the inside. Others, like Stein and Sawant, want to build an entirely separate party. “This election, I think, was no surprise,” Stein says, calling for ranked choice voting and allowing third-party candidates to participate in presidential debates.
Sawant delivers a version of her official response to Trump’s inaugural address. She warns against creating “false equivalencies between Republicans and Democrats” but says she does not believe the Democratic Party can be reformed from within. I tweet that perhaps encouraging your supporters to back Stein over Hillary Clinton was making a false equivalency and someone responds, “The Stranger continues its beautiful tradition of left bashing instead of holding Democrats accountable.”
“Merely protesting will not be enough,” Sawant says. Then she calls for “mass nonviolent civil disobedience” on March 8 (International Women’s Day) and May Day. I write in my notebook: “1. Says protest not enough to stop Trump. 2. Calls for protests to stop Trump.”
As she finishes her remarks, Sawant says she’s drawing hope right now from young activists. “We need a radically different society,” she tells the room. “We need socialism.” The crowd gives her a standing ovation.
5:41 pm, Dupont Circle
Mood ring: Black and brown. “Sad” and “crabby.” I think this is my baseline setting.
BROWNSTONE: I’m back at my sister’s friend’s place, and people are hushed around the TV. Sean Spicer is about to give a briefing about the unprecedented Women’s Marches around the country, or so we think.
Instead, Spicer—who I later find out has had a multi-year Twitter feud with Dippin’ Dots ice cream treats—takes the podium and proceeds to lie. Blatantly. To the entire country. He claims that media distorted the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd (false), that the attendance was the largest to ever witness an inauguration (also false). He calls the media shameful.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable,” Spicer says. “And I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well.”
The people I’m with giggle about how puerile the whole thing seems. “My party was bigger than the other party because I said so!” someone snickers, lampooning Trump’s priorities. But I don’t laugh. I’m silent and furious. The briefing isn’t about crowd size. It’s nothing less than a declaration of war on journalists, facts, and truth.
There’s no such thing as an executive branch of government “holding the press accountable.” When the executive branch controls the press, that’s called authoritarianism. “The job of the White House press office is no longer to inform the American people, but to bend reality to glorify the Great Leader’s ego,” Adam Serwer, a senior editor at the
Atlantic, tweets. “Statements like the one Spicer just gave are why access journalism does not matter in the age of Trump,” ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman adds. “Investigative journalism matters.”
Later, Trump’s administration will claim that Spicer simply had “alternative facts,” which only makes sense if you believe words have no meaning and there is no such thing as a fact. The left is not immune from this kind of thinking. During the election, liberals were also guilty of relying heavily on clickbait-y “fake news” sources that merely reaffirmed what they already believed.
If I flew to DC feeling sick and lost, Spicer’s briefing makes me realize that I will leave DC feeling sick and angry. The principles that I believe in are under attack from all sides, and a Trump administration calls for journalists to be more aggressive and more accountable to our communities than ever.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 22
11:30 am, Grand Hyatt Washington
Mood ring: Spilled hot coffee on myself, which made the ring go bright purple —”Feeling good!”
GROOVER: In a big conference room in the basement of this hotel, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is telling a crowd of several hundred women, “If people didn’t know until now that we are in the majority and we are not silent, they certainly found out yesterday!”
Jayapal, the first South Asian woman elected to the US House of Representatives, has been on the job for about three weeks but is already rising to prominence on the left.
Endorsed by Bernie Sanders, Jayapal is the epitome of what many Democrats say the future of their party should be: a former immigration activist, a savvy organizer, an unapologetic progressive. Speaking to the crowd at this pro-choice event organized by EMILY’s List, it’s clear that Jayapal knows how to get already-progressive voters excited about politics. But now she must translate her grassroots organizing cred into success in Congress.
In an interview after her EMILY’s List speech at the hotel, Jayapal rightly acknowledges Democrats are unlikely to win legislative victories in her first term. Instead, she says, they have to win hearts and minds. If she can successfully fire up blue voters, she says, she’ll ask them to call the people they know in red districts. It’s those constituents, she says, who can pressure their lawmakers to change.
Jayapal has already put these tactics into practice. During her first week in Congress, Jayapal participated in a last-ditch effort to block the electoral college vote making Donald Trump president. A week later, she held a rally in defense of the Affordable Care Act in Seattle. On Trump’s inauguration day, Jayapal skipped the ceremony to attend a roundtable with undocumented immigrants in her district. On Saturday, she marched in the Women’s March here in Washington, DC.
Jayapal sees these actions as ways of renewing the leftist enthusiasm needed to take back control in the capitol.
“We have to be unapologetic about our platform,” Jayapal says, pointing to Arizona, where Trump won but voters also increased the minimum wage. “This is not a choice for the Democratic Party of identity politics versus economics. They are deeply intertwined. Everybody wants the same things for our future and everybody wants a place to stand—even some of the people who voted for Trump. We have to recognize that it’s our job to bind those deeply together.”
MONDAY, JANUARY 23
12:10 pm, Dupont Circle
Mood rings: Black and black.
GROOVER AND BROWNSTONE: After the tumultuous weekend, DC appears to have gone back to normal, whatever the new “normal” means. People have gone back to work, the Metro is running with less crowded trains, and lobbyists are having meetings at the coffee shop where we’re filing this piece. But underneath the surface, we know that something profound has shifted: We know that in 2017 America, facts are now devalued, journalists are the enemy, and racists are unafraid. History books will be written on what this means. But for now, for our own sanity, there’s only one way to think about it: that all this means is that the self-styled “resistance” has more work to do than ever. We have one another, and we have to be grateful for that much. It will have to be enough to carry us through the next four years.