The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Heavily Democratic D.C. braces for a swamp-draining new Republican president

Alisha Edmonson, the owner of Songbyrd Music House, sits in her cafe in Washington. Edmonson is hosting a week of discussions and fundraisers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, plus a dance party in honor of President Obama. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

At 6 on the morning after the election, Mindy Moretti, a writer and editor residing in the District, reserved a rental car that she intends to load with her mutt Maisey and an overnight bag to drive out of Washington just before Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

“They’re coming — it’s inevitable,” Moretti said of the new administration. “But that doesn’t mean I have to be here with the welcome wagon.”

Alisha Edmonson, the owner of the Songbyrd Music House in Adams Morgan, is hosting inauguration week fundraisers for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, a dance party in honor of President Obama, and a brunch special celebrating his family’s move to nearby Kalorama.

The bar will sponsor no such welcome to Washington for the Trumps, including the president-elect’s daughter, Ivanka, who also is moving to Kalorama. “We are not a political space; we’re a safe space,” Edmonson said by way of explanation, smiling as she chose her words carefully. She declined to elaborate.

Presidential transitions are a staple of Washington’s political theater, a choreographed swirl of handshakes, air kisses and moving trucks that typically unfolds without disturbing the capital city’s tightly scripted rhythms.

Yet the dawning of the Trump era is a beginning of a wholly singular sort, primarily because the incoming president is the country’s most polarizing political figure in generations, one whose Washington roots consist mainly of the Pennsylvania Avenue hotel bearing his name that he opened in October.

The District is among the bluest of blue cities; more than 90 percent of its electorate voted for Hillary Clinton in November. Since then, Washingtonians’ anxiety, ambivalence and even hostility toward the newly forming administration have been discernible in ways large and small, from the refusal of any local marching band to volunteer for the inaugural parade to the Christmas carolers in Dupont Circle who retooled “Jingle Bells” to poke fun at Trump (“Tiny hands, tiny hands, they’re so cute and small . . .”).

Mama Ayesha’s, a restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern fare, has a mural on the exterior of its Northwest building that depicts 11 presidents, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Obama, six of them Republican.

Some of the restaurant’s regulars have gone out of their way in recent weeks to let their servers know they would prefer that the mural remain Trump-free.

Asked if Mama Ayesha’s would add Trump, the restaurant’s manager, Amir Abu-El-Hawa, insisted the answer is all about funding — not politics.

“Donald Trump is going to go on the wall — it’s just a matter of when we have the money,” he said. “It really is a budget matter.”

Discontent in ‘the swamp’

The city’s unease over Trump is especially pronounced compared with how residents greeted Obama. Even before his swearing-in, the nation’s first black president generated huzzahs by consuming a half-smoke at the local gastronomical mecca known as Ben’s Chili Bowl.

The Post's John Kelly gets behind the wheel to find out how D.C. residents feel about their soon-to-be neighbor: President-elect Donald Trump. (Video: Claritza Jimenez, Ashleigh Joplin, Dani Player/The Washington Post)

Unlike his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who rarely ventured into the city, President and Michelle Obama’s forays to H Street NE and 14th Street NW advertised those hipster-heavy corridors to the world beyond, fueling momentum that developers fear may be lost when the Obamas are no longer the District’s star attraction.

The new president, with his Fifth Avenue triplex and West Palm Beach estate, is unlikely to browse at, say, Politics & Prose, as Obama has.

“We had an influx of young, creative, techie, urban progressives — people who for the first time decided that D.C. was cool,” said Jim Abdo, a developer. “George Bush isolated himself. Obama did not. If we now have a president who takes on a George Bush style, will we see that kind of growth dissipate?”

Yet Trump's District boosters — yes, they do exist! — hope that his presence at the White House will reinvigorate far-reaching interest in Washington and that his plan to rebuild the nation's "inner cities" will be a boon for the District.

“We’re going to make D.C. great again,” said Patrick Mara, leader of the District’s Republican Party who, after eight years of a Democratic president, found himself experiencing an unfamiliar sense of joy when Trump won.

Mara couldn’t share his elation with his wife, Shannon, a Democrat, or his neighbors in Columbia Heights, where Clinton was the overwhelming choice. In fact, Mara said, for two weeks after the election he avoided eye contact with most people he encountered because “you couldn’t be happy in front of them.”

“It was like their spouse had died, their child had died, and their dog had been hit by a car,” he said. “You just never saw this level of loss.”

More recently, he said, people have approached him about inaugural tickets and employment with the new administration, including a young man he encountered at his neighborhood Chick-fil-A.

“How do I get a job with Mr. Trump?” the man asked Mara, who referred him to the transition team’s website.

Johnnie Scott Rice is one lifelong Washingtonian who wants no part of the new administration.

Rice, 75, has worked for Republicans and Democrats and said she has attended every inauguration since Eisenhower became president. She served as director of African American outreach for Republican Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

But Rice, who is black, said that she is too offended by Trump’s racially charged and anti-Washington rhetoric to attend his inaugural. She said she wants his name stripped off his hotel, which is inside the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue where she used to buy stamps and send mail.

“I hate that term — ‘Drain the swamp’ — about where I live and where I was born,” said Rice, a resident of Southeast. “It sounds like everyone here is beneath him. This man doesn’t know or care about us.”

Anwar Saleem, an African American business leader on the H Street corridor who grew up in Washington, is choosing a different tack. Although he did not support Trump, he said he plans to attend the inauguration and sees the president-elect as a potential ally for business owners.

“He’s the president, and we’ve got to get over it and find a way to make it work,” Saleem said. “If you want to play, you’ve got to play with the leader. If you don’t, you miss out.”

‘Zero history in the city’

Richard M. Nixon, another Republican president who roiled Democrats, was well acquainted with Washington when he took office in January 1969, having served as vice president and in the Senate.

His successor, Gerald R. Ford, for years lived in Alexandria while a member of the House of Representatives. President George H.W. Bush, the son of a senator, also was steeped in the city’s traditions because of prior stints in Congress and as CIA director and vice president.

Even if they disagreed with their politics, Washingtonians did not consider these Republicans outsiders.

But Trump is a lifelong New Yorker whose primary residence for the past 30 years has been Trump Tower. Washington has never been part of Trump’s narrative, except as shorthand for whatever he believes is wrong with the country.

“He has zero history in the city,” said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, an author and historian for the National First Ladies Library in Canton, Ohio. “You’ve had a lot of presidents who, when they take office, are not moving there for the first time.”

One exception was President Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor before becoming California’s governor. His arrival in Washington in 1980 triggered fears among left-leaning Democrats that he lacked the intellectual heft for the White House and that he would demolish social services and start a war.

Carolyne Peachey, a Washington publicist and events planner, spent part of a recent dinner with two alumni of Reagan’s administration recalling that period when Democrats derided the new president as a “grade-B actor.”

“In fact, he turned out to be a well-respected former president, regardless of one’s political persuasion,” Peachey said. “The same could very well be true of President-elect Trump. Way too early to make an assessment.”

Janet Donovan, a Georgetown-based publicist since the 1980s and founder of “Hollywood on the Potomac,” a magazine-style website, said the city’s tonier circles are anticipating a return to Reagan-style glamour, driven not by the new president but by his family. “I’m not sure I see him out and about — he has Mar-a-Lago and New York,” she said. “People are looking more at the children, and mainly Ivanka.”

But Donovan said the city is likely to remain largely unchanged, no matter the occupant of the White House. “Ultimately, this will just be another administration that people have to accept,” she said. “I’m sure there were plenty who didn’t like Obama and who didn’t like George Bush. People will adapt. You don’t have any other choice.”

While currying favor with the country’s new commander in chief is a rich Washington tradition, the city has also served as a scenic staging ground for presidential protests, including one during the 1877 inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes when a New York contingent — upset over the election result — erupted in what Anthony described as an early rendition of the “Bronx cheer.”

“They were jeering and cursing Hayes right on the inaugural stand,” the historian said.

More than a century later, a contingent of supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is seeking to raise $50,000 to rent a Capitol Hill rowhouse to serve as a headquarters for year-round grass-roots opposition to Trump.

The house will be known as “District 13,” a name inspired by the headquarters for rebellion in the “Hunger Games” movies, said Moumita Ahmed, an organizer. By early January, the group had raised more than $40,000.

“We thought, why not have a house right in front of Donald Trump,” Ahmed said, “right under his nose, with people coming from backgrounds and communities that are most impacted by policies he passes.”

Mike Haigis, the general manager of Barrel, a Capitol Hill bar, has his own contrarian thoughts, but his entail more bourbon than demonstrations. For the inauguration, Haigis is planning a pop-up bar in Barrel’s basement called “UNPRESIDENTED,” a name mocking a tweet recently sent by Trump’s Twitter account in which the author misspelled “unprecedented.” The pop-up, Haigis said, will feature, among other things, “custom-made art done in the bad taste of Trump and his Cabinet.”

Before the election, Haigis created the “Trump Bar,” also in Barrel’s basement, which offered drinks named after statements made by the real estate developer, such as “How Stupid Are the People of Iowa?” (a mix of corn milk and corn whiskey).

“We’d like to present an alternative outlet for enjoyment so Capitol Hill residents who saw this election as unfortunate can come here and blow off steam,” Haigis said. “This is an opportunity to be right on the button of the conversation.”

Paul Ruppert, the owner of Upshur Street Books in Petworth, prefers a more neutral approach. His 800-square-foot shop was the focus of national attention after Obama showed up one Saturday to browse.

While he’s not expecting a Trump visit (“I can’t imagine him making the trip from the White House — or New York — to Upshur Street”), Ruppert found in the new president the inspiration to sponsor discussion panels musing on the Trump era.

“WTF Now?!” is the series’s name, a title conceived by the moderator, Todd Kliman, a writer and culture critic, on the morning after the election.

“That’s a great title,” Ruppert told him. “Because that’s what everyone is wondering.”