The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No, Marjorie Taylor Greene, D.C. is not a crime-ridden hell hole

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Nov. 17, 2021. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The city of Washington, D.C., is roaring.

With new basketball and soccer stadiums, start-ups and entertainment districts on both sides of the Anacostia River opening faster than locals can visit them, with famous restaurants and shops adding “Washington, D.C.” to their New York/London/Paris/Tokyo résumés, with growing educational opportunities and homelessness at a 17-year low, the city that was once routinely in financial trouble now has an annual budget surplus in the millions.

This is a “hell hole” to an American politician whose divisiveness is inversely proportionate to her time in the city she’s trashing.

“Washington DC is a crime ridden hell hole,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted this week. “Congress should revoke Home Rule. Our nation’s Capital is an embarrassment.”

It’s hard to see what — exactly — the underpowered, flame-throwing Georgian sees in a dynamic city that is riddled with construction cranes, sprawling blocks of upscale glass buildings, terraced, million-dollar condos and 24 Michelin-starred restaurants (in a city the Michelin critics didn’t even believe was worthy of a visit before 2016.)

It is an embarrassment — of riches, perhaps. Touché on that word, Greene.

“People who are new to the city have no idea how far it’s come,” said a Washington lobbyist, in between sips of sauvignon blanc at a Navy Yard bar, one of the areas that Greene is rumored to haunt when she’s not inciting hate from her office in the granite and marble, neoclassical revival Longworth House building.

It’s even more boggling because this is probably one of the few parts of D.C. that Greene visits.

Sure, she’s gone to the D.C. jail to decry the deplorable conditions of her fellow 2020 presidential election deniers who are still imprisoned after being arrested for the biggest embarrassment of our city’s history — the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

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But I doubt she’s spent time with the hard-working immigrants selling tamales in Adams-Morgan or gone to a Go-Go at the St. Elizabeths East arena. And I’m sure she hasn’t looked 88-year-old Virginia Ali in the eyes to describe her family’s iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant as operating in a “hell hole.”

Maybe that’s why her office didn’t respond when I asked them for examples of things that Greene found hellish.

The truth is, D.C. does have its struggles — like all big cities. There is outsize wealth and poverty here. There is diversity and density. There are homeless encampments, teens jacking BMWs and pirates swiping packages from porches.

How these tensions are experienced often drives my reporting. But today is an occasion to step back and celebrate the city for all that it is, to someone who doesn’t get it and who shouldn’t speak on it.

Because here’s another truth: although violent crime and property crime are down year-over-year, gun violence remains a wrenching problem. And Greene has built a political résumé trying to protect gun owners and make access to guns easier: Proposing the Second Amendment Preservation Act and the Gun Owner Privacy Act, for example.

As citizen Greene — a then-married, conservative gym rat who raised three children on a foundation of generational wealth — she came in 2019 to protest at the U.S. Capitol for easier access to guns.

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Greene knows that words matter. She’s built a career twisting them, straight from the Trump playbook.

In 2019, President Donald Trump called Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and not long after, conservative entertainer Tucker Carlson called the city “Haiti.” It’s a time-honored conservative tradition. Even before the hate-blossom of the Trump era, President George H.W. Bush’s administration orchestrated a drug bust outside the White House in 1989 so the president could use a plastic baggie of crack to color D.C. as an epicenter in the nation’s drug problem.

Baltimore is like Haiti? Why yes, Tucker Carlson, it is.

The habit of trying to punch down on a place, to define it by its problems, is laughable. But its real-world impacts are not. Much of middle America — at least the slice that consumes Fox News — likely has a warped view of D.C., Philadelphia and New York City.

And although Greene’s casting of D.C. is ignorant, her targeting of home rule signals an understanding of our history, and how to weaponize it.

She called to repeal the state of governing enacted in 1974 that gives D.C. residents power, however limited, to determine what we want our city to look like.

It’s what a gang of her fellow Republicans are threatening to do, now that they are poised to hold a thin majority in the U.S. House.

“Oversight Committee Republicans have called on the D.C. mayor repeatedly to address the surge of homelessness and violent crime and to withdraw her unfair vaccine passport,” Rep. James Comer (Ky.), top Republican on the committee, said in a statement to The Washington Post earlier this year, when they began banging the repeal home rule drum. “When Republicans are back in power in 2023, we will hold the D.C. mayor accountable for implementing policies that are destroying Americans’ capital city.”

Home Rule repeal is what Republicans are going to fight for

Accountable? Laughable.

Let’s be honest for a moment. The folks mucking around in D.C. problems are trying to deflect from their own, back home. They come from states — Georgia, Florida, Kentucky — that consistently rank lowest among states in education, health-care coverage, income and property values. In other words, their states have a low quality of life compared to others in our nation. They bicker and battle over a federal budget that has a $1.4 trillion deficit.

The busybody fight to repeal home rule and drag D.C. back to the 1970s hammers on homelessness and crime — both of which Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council consistently debate and work to address.

Greene and her MAGA pals can pocket their paternalistic concerns for a city on the come-up. Because this naked attempt to stoke the culture wars is about anything but the 712,000 people who live here.

And Greene is waging it as she struggles for relevance in a shifting GOP that’s seeking — however slowly — to move past Trump.

That’s the part that’s embarrassing — for her.