What might be the last day of the great American experiment began in the capital with a light frost. A sunrise the color of a pumpkin-spice latte bathed the Lincoln Memorial. Quiet cliche seemed the order of the day. Hillary Clinton said that voting for herself was “humbling.” Donald Trump tried to sue Nevada. And one by one the good people of Washington slapped an “I voted” sticker on their chests, or on their Instagram, and acted as if their three electoral votes would save the world from a killer asteroid.
“There might be one or two delusional people who vote Trump here,” said Southeast resident Yvonne Z. Smith, gatekeeping about 1 p.m. at Precinct 117, an area of brick apartments and vinyl-sided townhouses that went 99 percent for President Obama in 2012.
Up in Spring Valley — a Northwest neighborhood that went 33 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012 — a white Mercedes was perched on a grassy crescent driveway. Latino construction workers laid slate for a mansion’s new walkway. The only sound was a leaf blower, out of sight.
Down Massachusetts Avenue, at the dead end of Whitehaven Street NW, is Clinton’s handsome brick home, which she bought as a senator-elect and lived in as a secretary of state. About 3:30 p.m., it appeared dark inside. A lone security guy sat in a black Suburban. Clinton was in New York, with most everyone else from Washington’s party set, hoping to give her speech under a literal glass ceiling on Manhattan’s West Side.
“Nothing big is happening in D.C.,” said lobbyist Peter Barrett as he arrived early Tuesday night at a Washington Post viewing party, at an hour when a DJ’s throbbing mixes still drowned out the early election returns on the TV screens. “Everyone I know who’s involved in anything is going to New York.”
In Washington the afternoon plodded, nuzzled by a perfect sun. The city broke 91.4 percent for Obama in 2012, so any suspense was imported, building slowly in volume from over the horizon, beyond the firewall of the Beltway.
Megan Gleason traveled to Washington from Seattle, just as she did for election night in 2008.
“It just feels like it means more to be here,” Gleason said, standing next to the Eleanor Roosevelt statue at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial about 3:45 p.m. Engraved nearby: “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation.”
Along the Tidal Basin, Kenneth Levy Richardson was fishing for bluegills, crappies and bass. He spent 44 years working in the library of the Supreme Court, supplying the justices with requested reading material. Thurgood Marshall used to tell him stories of marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Some people want to turn back the hands of time,” Richardson said, pulling another empty line from the water. “It’s not possible, but people will try.” He voted for Clinton during early voting last week.
Steven Christie, 38, walked out of a polling place at Eastern Market without a sticker on his sweater. He had just patted it on the shirt of his 2-year-old daughter, Coralie.
“This will be the first president she remembers,” he said, hours before the race was headed in Trump’s direction.
At dusk, as the nation began to shift uncomfortably in its seat, two women from Glasgow, Scotland, took a selfie near the north side of the White House. Lyndsey and Amanda, both 40-somethings, were attending an engineering conference in Baltimore but drove down for a photo op. Lyndsey wore a $7 Hillary ball cap; Amanda bought the Trump version. If they were suddenly granted citizenship, would their votes align with their headwear?
“Just to see what he does,” Amanda said. “He’s more crazy than stupid.”
“He’s not a daft man,” Lyndsey allowed.
“She should be in prison,” Amanda added.
Lindsey wore an “I voted” sticker. “I coerced this from a vendor,” she said. “I said in my wee Scottish accent, ‘Oh, how do you get one of those?’ ”
Up Vermont Avenue, at a “Never Trump” party for Republicans, Eric Trump held court. Wait, not Eric Trump. Bryan Pick. Who bears a striking resemblance to Trump’s blond son.
“Maybe he’s me from the future trying to come back and save us from something,” Pick said inside the restaurant Lincoln.
“It’s totally the ‘Terminator,’ ” a friend said.
At the Woman’s National Democratic Club, near Dupont Circle, spirits were high as nearly 300 guests sat down about 7:30 p.m. for dinner. Earlier in the day, nearly 500 people made last-minute calls for the Democratic National Committee here. CNN was on the big screens. Photos of Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt were on the walls. Attendee Marina Negroponte, 34, just moved back to the United States after spending 10 years abroad, most recently working for the United Nations in Tanzania.
“My Tanzanian friends have been texting me all day saying, ‘We’re rooting for you!’ ” she said. “So the whole world’s eyes are really on us at this moment.”
At 8:15 p.m. at a Capitol Hill party hosted by PredictIt, an online political prediction market, one woman grabbed another woman’s butt.
“Hey, don’t do that!” said Heather McLendon, 32, of the District.
“Come on, Heather. I’m getting you ready for the Trump era,” said Caitlin Hoffman, 28, of Virginia.
Said McLendon: “My mom called me this morning and called me a liberal. I said, ‘Mom, I’m a realist.’ ”
“My mom is a liberal, and she voted for Trump, so,” Hoffman said. “I said: ‘Mom, come on. You have a daughter!’ But she thinks Hillary is a scumbag. I say, ‘You might as well vote for the scumbag who knows what she’s doing.’ ”
The markets began to tank in the 9 o’clock hour.
The peso. Dow futures. Down, down, down.
The only TV at the dive bar Showtime, near Rhode Island Avenue and T Street NW, did not show election coverage. Instead, the staff put a classic on its small screen: “Titanic.”
“This ship is going to suck us down,” said Leonardo DiCaprio, staring from the upright stern at the advancing sea.
When the TV networks called Florida for Trump, hundreds of people in the dusky lobby of the new Trump International Hotel threw their hands toward the crystal chandeliers and cheered. Less than a mile up Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House, the mood curdled. About 1,000 people huddled in small groups, looking at their phones.
Overheard there at 10:41 p.m.: “No way, dude, he won Michigan?! No way, dude. He is going to be f---ing president, dude!”
At 10:58: “We’re gonna have a Trump presidency! I’m going to smoke all the weed I have when I get home.”
A 25-person choir in black and orange clothes stood on a small stage near a screen showing election coverage from various media outlets.
The choir sang: “No more racism. We are going to change the world.”
The screen said: “Trump wins Ohio, gaining nationwide momentum.”
As Trump took North Carolina and began pulling away in Michigan, there was one person in front of the White House wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. He was Sam Hyde, from Arlington, and he was more surprised than anyone.
“A lot of us Trump folks, we understood he probably wasn’t going to get in,” Hyde said. “Our vote was to send a message, so to see him get in is just unbelievable. Long shot doesn’t begin to describe it. He just . . .” Hyde looked off into the distance, speechless. “This is just a situation I hadn’t planned for.”
Many Clinton supporters disbanded into the night, speechless. Reporters began to surround the man in the hat. Four, then five, then six reporters, training their cameras and lights on 22-year-old Sam Hyde, wanting to know how it feels. Nearby, beyond a chain-link fence, construction of the inaugural grandstand was already underway.
On the west side of the White House, a bigger group began to coalesce. A few dozen began chanting around midnight, “F--- Donald Trump!” But a smaller group of giddy guys, in their late teens, scampered around, trying to get on camera. Every time the cameras looked away from them, they began to chant, “BUILD THAT WALL.”
Back at the Trump hotel, revelers chanted: “DRAIN THE SWAMP. LOCK HER UP.”
Ben Terris contributed to this report.