Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Christopher Caldwell

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Christopher Caldwell

Article excerpt

Washington DC

Washington has been, for the past two weeks, indescribably depressed. When I walked into the deli down the street to buy a bag of cookies, a neighbour who was having coffee with her girlfriends hailed me. 'Are you as despondent as the rest of us?' she asked. I told her: 'No, I'm not.' But that has been true since we moved into the neighbourhood 20 years ago. The students at the nearby Wilson High School 'Human Rights Club' staged a walkout a week ago. 'We will march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Trump Hotel,' they announced. 'We will then stand before the building and hold hands.' You would need a heart of stone, as Oscar Wilde would have said, not to titter a bit. When did human rights become a specialised hobby that required a club to practise?

Parents' general reaction has been to applaud their children's 'rebellion' -- after checking with school authorities to make sure that participating in it would not adversely affect their grade-point averages or harm their chances of getting into a top university. The faculty at Wilson High have apparently assured them that it would not. Defiance loses a bit of its meaning when the defied are constantly telling the defiers how wonderful they are. How does anyone rebel in an atmosphere of privilege like that? What could one say in America's capital city that might provoke genuine outrage on the part of the powerful? Leaving aside 'Make America Great Again', of course.

Washington DC gave 4 per cent of its votes to Donald Trump. Explanations for the low tally have been advanced, but they fail to satisfy. Yes, the city is half black, and Trump drew only about 10 per cent of those votes nationwide. Yes, large parts of the city's northwest quadrant have become super-rich in a Hampstead-ish way, and four of the eight highest-earning American counties are in DC. The Inside-the-Beltway boom appalled voters elsewhere. It just as surely cemented the allegiance of DC voters to the candidate who was on more intimate terms with their investment advisers. But 4 per cent? If, during the Cold War, you read of a country in which a largely unpopular ruling party won the vote in the capital by 93 per cent to 4, what kind of country would you think it was?

Last Friday I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to give a post-election talk. I lived there a quarter-century ago, and something about the early days of this Age of Trump recalls old times. …

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