D.C. residents are also familiar with the way in which their city is conflated with the political cicadas who emerge and disappear every two, four and six years. The two-letter shorthand is rarely used as a descriptor of the city but, instead, for that same tourist zone that’s disproportionately occupied by people who aren’t from D.C. at all. Official D.C. is loathed by most of America for being home to the non-D.C. people who come and posture on Capitol Hill. Unofficial D.C. is largely ignored, except when it can be used as a stereotype of a heavily Democratic urban area.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) understands the opportunity that this affords. She came to Washington as an outsider — a far-outsider whose embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory earned her national attention even before she won. Her approach to the job so far seems to be mostly to leverage her new title for attention in conservative and on social media, something at which she’s quite successful. (That she was removed from House committees for her past comments did, as she warned, leave her with some free time.)
A small but recurring part of Greene’s attention-seeking is to treat her arrival in D.C. as though she is an astronaut landing on an unexplored planet or, perhaps more accurately, like a One America News correspondent who had never been to a big city before. She understands most Americans view Washington with skepticism and she also clearly understands her constituents — both in her district and watching her on Fox News or Twitter — are probably predisposed to regard the city broadly as a trash-strewn nightmare akin to the Bronx in 1977.
So she drops gems like this, from Tuesday night.
The narrative here is not complicated, but it’s worth parsing out. D.C. was “completely dead,” she claimed, because people were terrified of riots that might follow the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Police were “everywhere” to crack down on any violence — all the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As various people quickly pointed out, this wasn’t true. It was, by all accounts, a normal evening that followed an obviously tense day. Had that jury in Minneapolis not found Chauvin guilty, there probably would have been protests, but those protests would by now have been a function of outcry that spilled past the boundaries of BLM organizing. There is still an increased police presence around Capitol Hill, but that’s not due to BLM: It’s because of the threat of right-wing violence like that manifested on Jan. 6 after Greene and others insisted falsely that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen.
But if you’re tuning in to Greene’s Twitter feed from somewhere else in the country, this presentation of life in the city comports with the stereotypes. A city constantly on edge, where violence might erupt at any moment. Where hard-working citizens simply trying to live their lives are forced to cower inside as police hunker down to repel the dangerous hordes.
There’s another subtext here, of course, one Greene made explicit when she signed on to the “America First Caucus” and its embrace of “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” D.C. is a heavily Democratic city with a heavily Black population; more than 9-in-10 votes cast in the city last year were for Joe Biden. Georgia’s Fourteenth District is 85 percent White and voted for Donald Trump last year by a nearly 50-point margin.
Greene’s efforts to present a false picture of D.C. also folds into one of the other trends in American politics: the geographic separation of Democrats and Republicans. Polling before the 2020 election found 4-in-10 supporters of both Trump and Biden said they knew no one supporting the other candidate. Thanks to geographic sorting that’s seen younger college-educated voters cluster in large urban areas, the margins by which Democratic and Republican candidates for president have won counties have widened in recent years. After the 2016 election, large percentages of residents in each state lived in precincts (a decent proxy for neighborhoods) where the margin in the presidential race was at least 50 points in one direction or the other.
All of this fits together. A Congress member from a heavily red area traveling to a place people treat with skepticism or antagonism — and with which they probably have only a superficial familiarity. She can use her presence in the city as validation for the claims she makes about it, however easily debunked, reinforcing the perceptions of what D.C. is and, more broadly, how Democrats lead and why urban areas are so fraught. It’s detached from reality, sure, but not much more so than Fox News’s coverage of last year’s Black Lives Matters protests. Greene can cherry-pick or misrepresent what’s happening to fit her narrative.
Then there was the time she came to D.C. for an orientation shortly after being elected last year.
Greene was trying to argue that D.C. was some bizarro world of leftism where the government was forcing every business to close. She wanted her supporters to believe that this was what Democratic politics got you, and she wanted the attention that came from claiming that.
Like her tweet Tuesday evening, Greene’s claim in November was not true. Not only was it not the case that “nothing” was open, it wasn’t even the case that gyms weren’t open. So Greene followed up with a tweet claiming that she’d simply meant that gyms were restricting drop-in guests due to coronavirus restrictions. If you can pick that particular claim out of her original tweet, kudos.
Maybe that deceptive tweet about the gym was somehow born of her being new to the area. But Greene has been living in D.C. long enough by now that one assumes she understands it is more than the area that’s crowded with tourists. She should, by now, know that it’s a vibrant city with lots to do that isn’t centered on the federal government. She’s not a tourist any longer.
That she still chooses to portray the city as she does, then, reflects that she is choosing to portray the city in a false light. It’s not hard to figure out why.