Washington’s Trump Mania: ‘I Get Nervous When My Phone Buzzes’


WASHINGTON — Contrary to how it might look on social media or on the cable news network of your choice, people here are not exactly running through the streets en masse, gripped by the latest news about President Trump, screaming about a possible impeachment.

At least not yet.

With the city beeping and chirping with updates related to various investigations and leaks surrounding the White House, the capital this week has felt on the verge of overheating, both literally and politically. And the people of Washington seemed to be in a strange existential place: unable to get enough of an off-the-rails news cycle, and yet on the verge of Trump-related fatigue from the breathless pace.

At the Capitol on Wednesday, roving packs of reporters waited in 90-degree heat, ready to ask lawmakers what they thought about the latest news that has stemmed from Mr. Trump’s abrupt firing of James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, who was investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian officials. At least one lawmaker resorted to sarcasm: When asked if he was having fun, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, one of the few Republicans visibly stepping away from Mr. Trump, smiled and said, “Oh, it’s fantastic.”

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, wasn’t in the mood to joke: “Don’t assume that this democracy holds for another 230 years,” he said. “You’ve got to be actively tending to it and protecting it.”

Beyond the confines of the Capitol, the Dow Jones average dropped and the Metropolitan Police chief condemned a “brutal attack” by Turkish security forces on people protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in town for a visit. There was a less frenzied mood in the bars and restaurants in the streets surrounding the Capitol, where men and women in suits sipped Coronas during happy hour under TVs tuned to CNN. The Capitol Lounge was flooded with real estate agents who had rented out the Nixon room, and down the street at the quieter Hawk ‘n’ Dove, two young men were huddled near the end of the bar, watching the latest news about Mr. Trump.

“If he can keep his head down and let this blow over,” one could be overheard saying to the other, “he’ll be fine.”

For a few hours, at least, Mr. Trump’s Twitter account stayed dormant. The news cycle did not. Another story flashed across the screen: Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, had been appointed to oversee an investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

This was just the first big news story of the evening. A few hours later, people attending a popular weekly trivia competition at Nellie’s, a gay sports bar with an increasingly mixed crowd, were struggling to keep up with current events before the next alert flashed: Mr. Trump’s team had known that Michael T. Flynn was under federal investigation, but he was hired as national security adviser anyway.

Maria Gorbaty, a 26-year-old graduate student at George Washington University and a member of the “Federal Bureau of Impeachment” trivia team, was keeping up with the news but admitted to being overwhelmed by the informational downpour.

“All of the push notifications,” Ms. Gorbaty said. “One after the other. You kind of get numb to it even though you know you should care.”

Her classmate, Kelsey Atwood, 24, chimed in, “I get nervous when my phone buzzes.”

A few blocks away, it was clear that it would take a little more than a few hundred news alerts to rattle the people who’ve made Washington their home through multiple presidential administrations. At the Jefferson Hotel, a social-scene crowd gathered to drink red wine and celebrate the release of a novel by the author Holly Peterson. Ms. Peterson, a New Yorker in town for the evening, said that she considered herself up-to-speed on current events, but that nothing had prepared her for the swiftness of the political discussions she found in this crowd.

“It’s like a Martian coming down to a political planet,” Ms. Peterson said. “You have this feeling that they’re all speaking a language.”

She had a point: On Twitter this week, it was actually possible to see the glossary. Words like “impeach” and “Watergate” and “Nixon” ricocheted around a digital space populated by journalists, politicians, activists and pundits. Even C-Span, not normally a standout on Twitter, set a record by publishing video of Al Green, a Democratic congressman from Texas, standing on the House floor and calling for the impeachment of Mr. Trump.

Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University and a political analyst for CNN, said that it was reasonable for people to be drawing parallels between the news swirling around Mr. Trump and what happened in the Watergate scandal: “By firing Comey and having a photo op with Kissinger, and by referring to tapes, he has invited the comparison” to the scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Mr. Zelizer said.

He did mention a few key differences: The lack of a unified outcry among Republicans, the urgency and speed of the modern news cycle — the Watergate scandal, he noted, unfolded over a period of years — and an equal and opposite explanation for Mr. Trump’s current troubles from his conservative supporters.

“Nixon didn’t have a conservative media that he could count on,” Mr. Zelizer said. “There were no conservative social media people pumping out stories that are favorable. And that is what Trump is depending on, to some extent.”

That side of the news media was hardly apparent across this heavily Democratic city on Wednesday, and CNN seemed like the primary vehicle for news in places from bars to barber shops. But one notable exception was the Trump International Hotel in Washington. As the evening ticked toward midnight, bar patrons sat under a TV airing Fox News Channel. There, the network’s big story was prominently displayed: Mr. Trump had complained of unfair treatment in a commencement address to Coast Guard graduates.

By the next morning, these stories threatened to go stale as Mr. Trump took the reins.

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” the president wrote on Twitter.

Screens across the capital flashed to life shortly after. Another day in the capital had begun.



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