On a recent March morning, as a nor’easter walloped an idyllic Brooklyn street with snow, members of the Park Slope Food Coop ambled inside, shopping for bargains on broccolini and organic wheatgrass. I was here under somewhat false pretenses, as a reporter from out of state to tour the co-op—the truth, but not the whole truth.
At the door, a young blond woman told me I wasn’t welcome to roam a single organic-mango punctuated aisle unless under the supervision of a co-op member. She instructed me to take an elevator upstairs, where I would find a customer service desk. There, I met several members. I told them I had traveled here to take the political temperature of Clinton Country. This place, I explained, seemed to be the epicenter of liberal consensus.
The Park Slope Food Coop—a 17,000-member-owned and operated food store with a vaguely communist-sounding name—is a Sam’s Club Republican’s fever dream of where card-carrying members of the East Coast elite shop for groceries. For starters, I could locate no industrial-sized containers of ranch dressing. All the food comes from no farther than 500 miles away, most of it from small farms. And the politics of the co-op’s members are decidedly progressive, in case you missed the front-page story of the Linewaiters‘ Gazette, which is sort of like the co-op’s Pravda: “Immigrant Rights and Local Farms,” a piece that traces just how pivotal immigrants are to the PSFC’s food supply chain. One member I met estimated that, during the 2016 primary, 60 percent of the co-op’s members threw their support to Clinton and the other 40 percent supported Bernie Sanders. Not to mention that the co-op is situated in one of the toniest parts of Brooklyn, the site of Clinton’s campaign headquarters, and a borough that she won by 61 percent.
Inside, I met Elie Venezky, a 45-year math educator and entrepreneur who described himself as “upper middle class.” Venezky was here to put in his monthly 2 hours and 45 minutes in exchange for the privilege of accessing some of the city’s cheapest food prices. For the first few minutes of his shift, the Clinton voter laid out a relatively straightforward, if improbable, way Donald Trump could gain his support.
“If he came out in tears and admitted his whole life was a lie, and that he’s changing all of his policies, and that he’s going to fight for the people, and that maybe Putin isn’t such a great guy, sure, he could win me over that way,” the card-carrying member of the coastal elite told me. “But the chances of that happening are pretty slim.”
Why didn’t Venezky regret voting for Clinton, what with the stock market rallying and jobs aplenty, with people wishing one another Merry Christmas again, and with North Korea reportedly coming back to the diplomatic table to talk denuclearization?
“I mean, come on, read the news,” he told me.
Venesky would be perhaps the most persuadable voter I would encounter on a 72-hour excursion through Clinton Country in early March. My editors had given me this assignment as something of a lark. The idea: Just as reporters from New York and D.C. trek into Trump Country to visit greasy spoons and other corners of Real America™ to measure support for the candidate, I’d venture from Trump Country to the most stereotypical bastions of coastal liberal elitism, and ask the people I met whether they still support Hillary Clinton. An innocent abroad, I would leave Hamilton County, Indiana, a deep-red suburb north of Indianapolis that Trump won by nearly 20 points, the kind of place where the Koch brothers are presently carpet-bombing Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly with $2 million in television and digital ads for his vote against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Once on the decadent East Coast, I would luxuriate in its undiluted upscale liberal consensus at bookstores, wine bars, cafes and other Blue State institutions peopled by NPR tote-bagging sophisticates. Perhaps I’d drop in on something activist-y, a meeting of Resistance types. It was a trip that would take me across three states, from a food co-op in Brooklyn to an unabashedly liberal bookstore in Bethesda, all in counties Clinton won by at least 60 percent or more of the vote.
But as much as I thought I knew what to expect, I was wrong. The deeper I plunged into the Blue Abyss, the more I realized how broad the political chasm between Clinton Country and Trump Country really is.
It wasn’t necessarily the politics that shocked me. Of course, voters in Clinton Country are generally horrified by Trump. And there is essentially nothing Trump can do to win them over or make them second guess pulling the proverbial lever for Clinton or Sanders or even the Green Party’s Jill Stein. In nearly three dozen interviews, all but two people told me they did not regret not voting for Trump. This pair, whom it took me nearly two dozen people to find, were Trump supporters, the only ones I encountered on the trip. Everyone else was a loud and proud Trump hater.
“He’s a moron,” said Meghan Early, a real estate broker still sweaty from a Beyoncé-drenched SoulCycle class on International Women’s Day in NoHo, the tony Manhattan neighborhood.
“He’s the kleptocrat we thought he would be,” a 48-year-old Brooklyner and IT worker who would identify himself only as Philip said as he passed the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, looking wistfully at the glass-encased, space-framed convention center where Clinton was supposed to give her election night victory speech, breaking the glass ceiling by becoming America's first female president.
“He’s absolutely stupid,” said Barbara O’Grady, a retired 76-year-old browsing the aisles of Politics & Prose, the woke Chevy Chase bookstore owned by owned by Bradley Graham, a former journalist at the Amazon Washington Post, and Lissa Muscatine, a former Post reporter and speechwriter for Crooked Hillary’s State Department. When I asked her what she thought of Trump’s presidency, she doubled over in pain, as if she had ulcerative colitis. “How could you do this to me?” she said. “I was having a good day.”
But I also found there was something more to the Trump hatred—a kind of closed-off complacency that also translated into how they treated me. The more I persisted, and closer I got to the beating heart of D.C., the more reluctant people were to talk to me on the record. The whole trip would leave a sour taste in my mouth over how difficult it is to perforate the Blue Bubble. It wasn’t just the clichéd dispatches from Trump Country that Clinton Country voters had come to loathe—it was Trump Country itself.
It wasn’t always so: For a fleeting moment after the election, citizens of America’s bluest areas seemed genuinely curious to learn something about the vast swaths of Red America that propelled Trump to a surprise Electoral College win. Cable bookers beat down the door of Red State Voter Whisperer J.D. Vance. Reporters from the coasts racked up bylines from lunch counters in the middle of the country, trying to piece together what had happened in the electorate, as if they were forensic investigators on CSI: HEARTLAND, gathering bits of anecdotal and socioeconomic evidence to figure out how Trump won.
Now, though, the bubble seems to have closed back over Clinton Country. What voters here have learned about their fellow citizens in states such as my own Indiana has left them discouraged and dispirited that they share a nation with such benighted, gullible voters. Their sentiments were expressed succinctly by their exiled candidate recently in a March speech in Mumbai. “If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle, places where Trump won,” Clinton said. “What that map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that own two thirds of America’s gross domestic product. I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, Make America Great Again, was looking backwards.”
I asked Early, the SoulCyclist, what she made of the parts of the country that, as her candidate suggested, were “looking backwards.” Had she ever visited? No, Early told me.
“But I’ve flown over it,” she said.
Hearing herself, she paused, and offered a disclaimer.
“I am in a bubble,” she told me. “But now, I don’t want to get out of it.”
Among the kombucha-swilling denizens of the Park Slope Coop, I discovered 64-year-old Jack Shalom, a retired math teacher who lives in Brooklyn. He voted for Stein. “For me, it’s about critiquing capitalism,” Shalom told me. The Democratic Party was no longer a “worker’s party,” he said.
What did he not like about Trump? He shrugged. “So many things,” he said. He cited Trump’s support of the “Janus SCOTUS decision,” which I’ll admit I had to look up. He was referring to Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, a case that, if it went the wrong way, was “going to destroy public unions,” he said. It wasn’t a case you heard folks bandy about back in Trump Country.
Shalom introduced me to Jennifer Cook, 49, a Clinton voter. Cook, who said her family earns more than $200,000 a year—including dividend income from a family business—cited a “malaise” that has gripped her and her friends since Trump entered office. Is there anything Trump could do to win her over? “Nothing,” she said. “Absolutely nothing.”
Next, I chatted with Rod Morrison, 66, a British expat who became a U.S. citizen in 1994. Morrison also still supports Clinton, despite the buzzing business at his marketing company, where the majority of his clients are Republicans. He had come to the co-op to return some vegan cat kibble for Daisy, his aging tabby. Recently, his wife had switched Daisy to raw rabbit, which she seemed to enjoy. “Pascal won’t touch it, but Daisy and Mr. Rat gobble it up!”
Like Morrison, everyone I met seemed to be financially well off, a sign of just how much money is still sloshing into pockets of Blue America. In my quest to understand this brand of voter, I visited Chelsea Market, an upscale, enclosed urban food court. Sort of like a food court you’d find at a mall in Indianapolis, except without Chick-fil-As or Wetzel’s Pretzels. In their places stood establishments such as Corkbuzz Wine Studio and The Green Table, which, according to its advertising, was “one of the city’s first farm-to-table restaurants.” It served “farmer’s market salads and daily soups, along with sustainably-raised fish, pasture-raised poultry and grass-fed beef.”
At Corkbuzz, I sidled up next to Chelsea resident Paul Kelly, 57, who owned a marketing firm. He had left work early because of the weather, and was riding out the storm over a pinot noir, a beet salad and some pulled chicken. What should I know about the Chelsea neighborhood to report on it in a nuanced way? I asked him. “It’s probably the gayest part of the city,” he told me. A Clinton voter who said he got his news exclusively from the New York Times and MSNBC, Kelly said he thought the Democratic Party had nominated the wrong candidate to compete in the Rust Belt. Sanders or Joe Biden would’ve handily beat Trump, he said. Still, he told me, “Hillary would’ve been a better president than the candidate she was.”
Kelly took solace in his faith that Trump would soon be impeached, though he did not think Trump had ever spent an evening with Russian prostitutes. “I think his crime was financial,” he told me, adding that he didn’t believe a so-called pee tape would ever surface. “I don’t know if he’s indebted to too many Russian oligarchs or a money launderer or what.”
After chatting with Kelly, I stopped by a table in a plaza portion of the market, where I met Noa, a 24-year-old Clinton voter who worked at a New York City publishing house. She noshed on avocado, salmon and tuna sushi with a friend who didn’t want to give me her name. Nearby, a cellist inexplicably plucked out a classical rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
“He doesn’t know anything about policy,” Noa told me, “so I’m not shocked that his policies aren’t good.”
Noa was, for example, utterly confused by Trump’s position on steel tariffs, fearing it would spark a trade war. She rolled her eyes when I asked her about the progress Trump had made on the War on Christmas. She doesn’t celebrate the holiday, she told me. Trump, I reminded her, claimed that as a society, “We’re saying Merry Christmas again.”
“I really didn’t alter how much I do or don’t say Merry Christmas” when Trump became president, she said.
Pack. tribe. crew. posse. cult. gang. community. SOUL. The glowing neon-ish white words hovered near the entrance of SoulCycle NoHo. It was International Women’s Day, and as the city dug out from more than 9 inches of snow that came the previous day, I decided to SoulCycle my way to a better understanding of Clinton Country. I’d ridden a bike before, but I had never been to a SoulCycle class. The closest one to me is three hours away in Chicago. Juxtapose a map of their locations with an electoral map, and it’s not difficult to see the company favors hanging its shingles in urban parts of Blue America.
After I changed into some cycling shoes, I scanned an etiquette guide posted on a wall by a row of lockers. “To preserve the SOUL sanctuary, we have a few simple requests,” it read. Request No. 2 was titled “skip the cross talk.” “Talking during class is a major distraction for the spiritual folks around you,” it read. I looked for any requests that would prohibit me from interviewing cyclists about Trump after building up a good sweat. Among the dictums I perused was request No. 5, simply called “The pack.” “There is a direct correlation between your energy and your neighbor’s ride. If you want to do your own thing, please don’t ride in the front row.” Not wanting my Midwestern energy to spoil others’ spiritual experiences, I chose a bike in the back row.
I entered the candlelit sanctum, which smelled of lavender and liberal angst. Once on my bike and pedaling, Beyoncé’s “Run the World” was already blaring over the speakers. The instructor Marvin, a perfectly sculpted gentleman who appeared to be in his mid-30s, barked out a welcome.
“Hey everybody, happy International Women’s Day!”
“Wooo!” The riders around me yelled back.
Girls we run this motha, yeah.
“Girls, be flirty,” Marvin instructed.
Girls we run this motha, girls.
“Guys, man up,” Marvin added.
Uncertain what it meant to “man up” in this specific scenario, I pedaled faster until I pulled a calf muscle.
Who run the world? Girls.
Forty-five minutes later, the class came to a merciful end. That was when I caught up with Early, the 33-year-old Brooklynite who grew up in Manhattan. Asked how she felt about Trump’s first year in office, the real estate agent rolled her eyes. “First of all, I’m brown,” she said. Early said she knew Trump’s reputation from friends who worked on “The Apprentice.” “He’s horrible,” she told me.
Did she have empathy for Trump voters? Or was she angry at them? She wasn’t angry, she said, but “maybe they should come to Bed-Stuy and walk around the projects to see what my life was like.” I told her I was from Indiana, and had come here to do almost exactly that. She thanked me for listening. “I go off on tangents like this at parties. People are like, K, bye.” We said goodbye.
In the SoulCycle lobby, I met a wiry 45-year-old man who was dressed head to toe in black. A writer who used to work in journalism, he said he couldn’t give me his name because he was working on a writing project that was “kind of political” and he “doesn’t want people to be able to Google” his political beliefs.
He said he found the current political and cultural moment, “deeply, deeply, deeply disturbing,” and lamented how there seemed to be an impassable political divide between the coasts and the middle of the country.
“That disconnect is very, very sad,” he told me. “It’s a seemingly molecular disconnect.” He thumbed his iPhone, then made his way back out onto the street, navigating through a flock of Canada Goose-jacketed passersby.
“Impeach 45!” The protesters—14 of them hoisting signs that said “Impeach Bigotry and Rise and Resist“—chanted. “Get him out!”
On the evening after I finished SoulCycle, I found a Rise and Resist NYC protest at Union Square Park in front of a Whole Foods. They had staged a protest once a week for the past four months. Others have been staged at Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and the Trump Building on 40 Wall Street.
For 45 minutes, in 37-degree temperatures, the protesters drew attention to black and white posters with “100 Reasons to Impeach Donald Trump.” The subtitle of the posters, printed in Trumpian all-caps, read: OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. ABUSE OF POWER. OVER 2,000 LIES. RACISM. MISOGYNY. EMOLUMENTS VIOLATIONS. UNDERMINING JUDICIARY. UNDERMINING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. Reason No. 1, like most of the other reasons, was simply a Trump tweet: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” And reason No. 99 simply read: “Shithole Countries.”
Now, a man named Martin Quinn, 47, the leader of the protest, was taking a fearless moral inventory of the president, pegging him with insults in reverse alphabetical order, from “Zealot” to “Ableist.” Quinn, I would later learn, was an editor at St. Martin’s Press, a book publisher headquartered in Manhattan’s Flatiron Building. Each time he would call the president a name, his fellow protesters would shout back “Impeach!”
“Thief!” Quinn yelled.
“Impeach!” the crowd called back.
Hoisting one of the Impeach signs was 74-year-old Jackie Goldenburg, who lived on the Upper West Side. She asked me where I was from. “Indianapolis,” I told her.
“Do you like basketball?” she asked me.
“Basketball is fine,” I told her. The question—roughly the equivalent of asking a Texan how many heads of cattle he owns—reminded me of one of Clinton’s emails that the State Department released in October 2015, in response to FOIA request. “Are you still in basketball-crazed Indianoplace?” Clinton asked an aide, employing an intentionally derogatory spelling of the Hoosier city.
Perhaps sensing my amusement that she would assume I liked basketball—some East Coast liberal’s idea of how Hoosiers spend the entirety of their discretionary time—she told me something that surprised me. She, too, was from Indiana. She came here to New York City in the 1970s, from South Bend. She studied English at Cornell and then attended law school at New York University.
I asked her occupation. “Outside agitator,” she told me. Sure, but what was she doing before she retired?, I asked.
“I was a vice president at JPMorgan Chase Bank.”
I must have raised my eyebrows or registered a look of disbelief.
“Even former vice presidents of banks can be radicals,” she told me.
I boarded a delayed Acela, the jam-packed Amtrak train that links Boston to Washington, which pulled out of Penn Station at around 9 p.m. Supposedly a high-speed vessel, the Acela is sort of like a gleaming tunnel that connects the East Coast elite, a refuge where they share their plots and anxieties in hushed tones as they commute up and down the Eastern Seaboard. In 2016, Bloomberg Politics’ now defunct insider-y television show “With All Due Respect” revealed in a segment that many Americans don’t even know how to pronounce the train’s name (Ass-la?). I half expected the Acela to be a shinier version of a Capitol train from the Hunger Games trilogy, a machine that hurtles along at 250 miles per hour, with a lavishly decorated interior. But inside, it didn’t look much different to me than the run-down Amtrak trains I’d taken from Indianapolis to Chicago.
Bound for the din of D.C., a tribute headed for the gilded Capital, I planned to cafe-hop northwest up Connecticut Avenue, hoping to absorb the political sensibilities of the liberal intelligentsia in a town that voted 90 percent for Hillary.
The Acela hurtled deeper into Clinton Country. At some point, exhausted from SoulCycle and hoofing it around NYC, your correspondent fell asleep.
I awoke at around 11:30 p.m., somewhere in Baltimore, I think, and scrambled to interview anyone I could find. Most passengers, I discovered, had nodded off, too. Those I approached, dressed in rumpled business suits with their ties on their laps or laying in the seats next to them, all waved me off.
Finally, I approached two men in their 30s who were sitting a few seats back from mine. They worked in education policy, but declined to give me their names, the first of several dozen D.C. residents who didn’t want to speak on the record.
“It’s all a bad memory,” the Clinton voter said of November 2016.
I asked them what they made of the Trump presidency so far. “You give a baby a pair of scissors,” the man said, “and they hurt themselves.”
But, the man cautioned, there was a limit to the damage Trump could do while in office. “Anyone in D.C. will tell you that’s not where the power is,” the man said. “The power is all on Capitol Hill. His agenda is stalled.”
It sounded more like a palliative mantra than an answer to my question.
Busboys and Poets, a bookseller and cafe at Washington’s 14th and V streets, wears its politics proudly on its shelves. On a display near the front of the store sat tomes such as A.C. Grayling’s Democracy and Its Crisis, which, as the Wall Street Journal wrote, explores “the tension between the belief that power belongs ultimately to the people, and the desire for stable and humane government”; Rose McGowan’s #MeToo manifesto, Brave; and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, in which Hochschild, a sociologist, “embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right,” according to the book’s marketing materials. The book has an uplifting arc, one in which Hochschild “finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets ... people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.”
In my own journey so far, I was having no such luck. Sitting in a nook near the window, Brian Gurr, 45, an energy consultant, sipped some black coffee. He studied the menu, which included, according to a sign in the window, “conscious cuisine” that fed a “happy tribe.”
Gurr told me that since the election, he was still working through some shock. But he was also trying to listen more, he said.
“I feel like people who are in Clinton Country are a little too quick to be critical of people in Trump Country, if you will, and maybe aren’t willing to give an earnest consideration of the opinions and emotions that drive people in Trump Country as they should,” he said. “People in Trump Country have quite a different value set than Clinton Country, and we need to respect those differences. When I look at people there, though, who are still supporting Trump, I’m a bit taken aback by that.”
Gurr said he thinks the country’s internal conflict stems from its rural-urban divide more than anything else. “That identity of rural versus urban is getting reinforced through the media,” he said, “and then people buy into that more and more.”
“I’m fully guilty of living, working and recreating in a bubble,” he admitted. But, he does try to get out of the bubble sometimes. “I live in D.C., but I recreate in West Virginia,” he said. There, he hikes and mountain bikes, and he feels that connects him with Trump Country. I asked Gurr if he had any Trump supporters in his family. He didn’t, he told me, “but I kind of wish I did. Because honestly, I have yet to hear a coherent, rational argument as to why people support Trump. I think it’s an emotionally driven decision. It’s a rebellious vote against the status quo.”
To bridge that cultural and political divide, Gurr told me he was trying to widen his media diet. He had downloaded the Fox News app, and even occasionally scrolled through its headlines. Instead of just reading The New York Times or NPR, he now was also making a point of watching “PBS NewsHour.“ “Not a huge leap,” he admitted, “but they’re a little more moderate.”
Past sylvan, townhouse-lined streets, over switchback roads near Rock Creek Park, where the driveways were filled by Audis and Teslas and Volvos and MINI Cooper Countrymans, I pressed farther into Clinton Country. After my quick turn at Politics and Prose, I traveled a few stores down on the same Chevy Chase block to Comet Ping Pong, the casually hip pizza parlor where alt-right conspiracy theorists believed Clinton, along with her senior aide John Podesta, ran a child sex ring. When I walked in, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was playing on a projector and some older men were batting around a ping-pong ball in the back. I tried to imagine Edgar Welch, the North Carolina father of two who raided the place in December 2016, armed with an AR-15, a .38, and a knife, looking for a nonexistent basement where he thought Clinton and her ilk were sexually abusing children in satanic rituals. Goosebumps rose on my forearm.
At the bar, I ordered an arugula salad with chicken, and then set about looking for Clinton voters. I stopped by the table of 82-year-old Bill Seevers, a former hydrologist, his wife Dorothy, and their friend Peggy Mastroianni, a retired attorney. They live in Glover Park (a sort of downscale version of Georgetown, apparently) and have been friends since their New York days. I introduced myself, explaining why I was there.
“You’ve come to the right table,” Mastroianni told me as she pulled at a slice of the White Pie, with olive oil, garlic and fresh mozzarella.
“If I had a megaphone to yell it out, I would say, ‘You’ve elected a criminal,’” said Bill, who described himself as apoplectic about Trump’s repeal of environmental regulations.
I asked them if they had heard about Pizzagate, and what they thought about the president who was at one point friendly with Alex Jones, the alt-right commentator who had spread the conspiracy theory. “It’s horrible,” Mastroianni said.
“The reason we came here the first time is because we wanted to see it, because we heard about it,” Dorothy said.
While we talked, I noticed a shadow had fallen over part of the table. I became aware of a waiter standing, somewhat menacingly, behind the booth, his neck craned to hear our conversation.
“Do you know this guy?” He asked the table, glaring at me.
“No,” the three old friends said. I cringed.
“So you’re just interviewing them about Pizzagate?”
“Well, more so about how the president has done so far,” I said.
“And we’re quite willing to tell him about that,” Peggy told him.
“Just double-checking,” the waiter said, coldly.
“Am I posing a problem?” I asked the waiter.
“We’ve dealt with quite a lot of stuff about this,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I feel bad about it.”
“It’s just a little alarming that you would come in here and talk about Pizzagate.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, sincerely, but reminded him that I was also a customer.
“I know that,” he said. “I would like you to stay a customer.”
He disappeared, and I continued to chat with my new friends.
“We can’t agree with anything Trump’s done at this point,” Bill said. “He’s taking our country in a totally wrong direction.”
What did Bill think of Trump voters who still supported the president? “I think they’ll eventually catch on,” he said.
“The idea that the coasts are what they are, and the people in the middle feel left out, they feel forgotten, and nobody cares … ” Dorothy mused, “there was something in the Times I read about that this morning that was pretty good. Kristof or somebody.”
“I think it’s very important for us to all talk,” Mastroianni said. “I don’t believe, in like, dissing these people. But those who supported Trump are regretting it.”
I finished my salad, tipping the waiter 30 percent out of Midwestern guilt, and Ubered just outside the District line to Bethesda and the art-deco restaurant Mon Ami Gabi, where I found Alex Johnson, 46, and his wife, who declined to give her name, enjoying white wine over an early happy hour. Both worked for the GOP and were Trump voters. After interviewing 22 people over the course of nearly three days, they were the first Republicans I found. And much like many who supported Trump in 2016, and despite Comet Ping Pong Bill’s prediction, they’re not regretting their vote. Instead, they lamented liberals who had taken the election too personally.
“I can’t watch ‘Morning Joe‘ anymore,” his wife said, sounding a bit like one of the president’s tweets. “They are rabid and unfair.”
They weren’t invited to a family friend’s wedding in Manhattan, they told me, because of their support for Trump. Recently, a text from a friend showed up on Johnson’s wife’s phone: I feel like, now more than ever, you’re either with us or against us, the text message said. And the Johnsons, their friends had concluded, were against them.
“The reaction of all of our friends is that the world is coming to an end,” Johnson said. “We have dear friends who aren’t speaking to us. It’s sad. It bums me out.”
My time in Clinton Country was running short. I had one more stop to make, the Columbia Room, a dimly lit, fashionable cocktail bar in the Shaw neighborhood in D.C.
When I entered, I told an employee that I was here because my editors had told me this was one of the best cocktail bars in the city. “The best cocktail bar in the nation,” the man replied, citing some recent favorable press clips.
I made my way to the second floor, a section of the bar called the “spirits library.” There, I saw a man and a woman enjoying cocktails at a table for two. I approached them and asked them to chat about Trump. They weren’t interested, a man who wore his blond hair with a side part and sported tortoise-shell glasses told me. I imagined he worked at a think tank, whatever that is. Defeated, I found a table nearby and scoped out the scene.
A few minutes later, the man with the tortoise-shell glasses walked by on his way out. “Good luck with your story,” he said.
I ordered a $16 Manhattan No. 6, a pinkish hue blend of rye, zombie vermouth, lime, cherry liqueur and bitters. It would drown my reportial sorrows, I thought. I scanned the upstairs bar area, looking for a few final Democrats who would give me a quote that would allow me to put a ribbon on my dispatch from Clinton Country.
But in quick succession, I struck out. One silver-haired man wearing a tweed blazer told me he’d prefer to enjoy his Friday evening rather than talk about Trump. Fair enough, but he was one of more than two dozen people who declined to talk with me for what seemed to me a pretty straightforward piece. In Trump Country, Trump voters’ disdain for reporters may be more choleric and louder, marked by raspberries blown at the press. But in Clinton Country, I found a quieter, more gentle disdain for journalists. They may not boo CNN at Trump rallies, but how dare you interrupt their Friday evening cocktail?
I decided to make one last attempt before I caught an Uber to the airport. I kneeled next to a table of two men whom I judged by their red faces and generally loud voices to be several cocktails deep. Only one agreed to allow me to quote him, on one condition. “I’d prefer not to give you my name, because nothing good comes of it,” said the man, who was a registered independent and an attorney. “He’s the most calamitous president since Hoover,” he told me.
Just then, a waiter approached. He wore a scowl on his face. He peered at my open reporter’s notebook. The jig was up; my time in Clinton Country was over.
“Gentleman, I’m sorry to interrupt,” the waiter said, as I shut my notebook sheepishly. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t feel imposed upon.”