E Pluribus Unum has felt hard to come by on the streets of Washington this time around. But consider another fine feature of what the Founding Fathers intended to be a peaceful and orderly transition of power: It gives the people of the District something to do. There’s a ritual unique to this place — from the workers who know exactly which lift is needed to hang the bunting at Union Station, to the military bands and practiced commuters who pivot with precision, and the protesters who know how soon the parade review stand will come down, so they can resume their constitutionally protected exercises in Lafayette Square.
That choreography may bring some comfort. But is there hope for change in the District, and for the District, which gave only 4 percent of its votes to the man becoming president? A pragmatic yes from the luxury precincts — Baytok Bespoke Tailoring of Georgetown, where the buttonholes are reinforced with silk thread; the upscale consignment boutiques, including Ella-Rue, whose Georgetown window is now adorned with a bracing red flounce of a ball gown; the limousine livery services spiffing up for their close-ups. Business may be better with an administration led by billionaires unapologetic about their wealth and well-accustomed to its privileges. Even so, there’s a halting quality to conversations about what comes next: “I’m afraid to voice my opinions,” say some who do business here.
Through centuries of a fractious republic, the oath has stayed the same. It is decreed in Article II, Section, I, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Throughout the federal city, much is as it ever was, irrespective of who becomes president and speaks on the big screens that hang everywhere. The Architect of the Capitol switches offices for hundreds of congressmen and women in a matter of hours. The underground subway between office buildings hums along. And the souvenir sellers offer trinkets that work that line between cheeky fun and ridicule, to appeal to nearly any comer. Donald Trump foes, Donald Trump fans — they all need bottle openers.
Throughout the residential city, too, even with that flock of building cranes always nesting in a new part of time. A new D.C. Council is sworn in with spirit and sashes — and the lack of autonomy and exasperation that comes from the District being overseen directly by the federal government.
The city is one of the most uniformly Democratic places in the country, but it always has had its other divides; anybody with eyes open riding the Green Line its full length can see that. “West of the park,” “across the river,” old Shaw, new Shaw — all are code for what kind of people live where and what they don’t share.
Yet it is a company town, and proud of it. If the Smithsonian Museum of American History is America’s attic, the Mall is America’s front porch. There are 63 groups who, authorities said, have plans to demonstrate Jan. 20, joining the tens of thousands who will gather for the traditional group viewing, in person, of a new president being sworn in. None of it is unusual for the U.S. Park Police, perhaps the only law enforcement agency whose main expertise is ensuring the safety of those exercising their rights to free speech and assembly without interference.
So Friday may see some changes in the pomp and noise, and the Republicans may up the fur-wearing. But a long fox coat has always been a classic when shopping for seafood at the Wharf in 20-degree weather. Andrew Jackson, another firebrand who founded a movement, still rears up on his horse, Duke, near the White House. Miss District of Columbia Teen USA 2017, Karis Felton, strolls by with nary a glance in the statue’s direction. And here comes a new president, like all who came before him, who may learn the limitations of his power to change what persists.