A call from Michelle triggers intense emotions here — a reminder of what it felt like when the country’s first African American president moved into a white-columned mansion built by enslaved people.
Now, as the current occupant of the White House batters us with his Twitter tantrums and responds to a deadly pandemic by musing about disinfectant injections, the District pines for that pre-Trump period. In a time of crazy uncertainty, even a prerecorded call from the former first lady urging residents to stay home and giving tips on coronavirus testing feels like a comforting whiff of a bygone era.
“Guys, I just got a voicemail from a Michelle Obama robocall, and I think I’m going to save it forever,” tweeted D.C. resident Katie Connelly.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine told The Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil that the prerecorded call was like “a warm cup of coffee and a good hug.”
The District can’t quit Michelle. It’s more than quarantine fatigue and drunk-dialing an ex.
Our longing for Michelle is really our longing for a time when leaders tried to reassure, to inspire, to lead.
The buzz around the robocalls, along with Michelle Obama’s live-streamed story-time readings and next week’s Netflix documentary based on her memoir, “Becoming,” makes it clear how much the District misses her — misses them.
The eight years that the Obamas made history in the White House had a Kennedy-esque Camelot feel. Only Camelot 2 was far more inclusive.
The same Ivy League, country club Georgetown that was enthralled with the young and dynamic Kennedys also embraced the Obamas. But go visit any home in black D.C. and you’ll see more Obama portraits on the walls than you’d see crosses in a monastery.
The District — a place once known as Chocolate City — absolutely adores Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha.
And they are the first presidential family to remain in the city after their term ended since a dying Woodrow Wilson almost 100 years ago.
So hearing their names during this crisis — hearing Michelle’s voice on the phone from the Kalorama mansion where her family is quarantined — is powerful.
The Obamas took some flak from conservative bellowers who reported that the former president played a socially isolated game of golf at an exclusive Virginia country club last weekend.
But aside from a private golf trip, they seem to be doing isolation like the rest of still-working white-collar Washington.
The girls are home from college and in their own rooms doing online classes. Michelle and Barack are on and off conference calls all day. And they’re all trying to stick to some kind of a routine, Michelle told Ellen DeGeneres in a call DeGeneres recorded and posted online.
Michelle Obama couldn’t be more different from Melania Trump, who once wore a jacket that said “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” on her way to visit shelters for separated children at the border.
Trump won just 4 percent of the District’s vote in the 2016 presidential election.
And even after the election, a city used to diplomatically hosting presidents, red and blue, greeted the Trump family with an unmitigated grimace.
When I went out to talk to D.C. folks as the city prepared for Trump’s inauguration, I noticed Washingtonians were treating this as though Archie Bunker were moving into the penthouse of the Jeffersons’ building or Ralph Kramden were getting a place on Carrie Bradshaw’s street. It felt wrong, wrong, wrong.
And, largely, they were right, as Trump has repeatedly insulted the city, the federal workforce, the media and the intelligence community, in this company town. His administration even played a political shell game to give the District a fraction of the coronavirus aid it was due.
So the nostalgia for the Obamas is powerful. Just three years ago, we had a first family who told us about the difficulties of homework time with the kids, who took their girls to the same puppet shows and plays in the city that the rest of our kids saw, who weren’t afraid to relate.
She complained about her husband’s perplexing inability — despite his mad hoops skillz — to get his dirty socks into the hamper.
He cried when children were massacred in school.
This isn’t about politics or policies, but about decency and compassion. Our nation is in desperate need of recapturing that level of grace.
Even some robo-grace will do.
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