When Donald Trump came to Washington, D.C., this week, it was as if he’d brought all the anger in America with him. His triumphant supporters reveled in the pain of liberals; near Chinatown, red-faced white people taunted protesters who were stuck in a pen, screaming “Trump!” and “He’s your president now!” and “Crybabies!” Close to McPherson Square, asshole anarchists burned trashcans, smashed windows, destroyed a limousine, and spray-painted “PIG” across a D.C. National Guard vehicle. The police shot tear gas, and there were at least 95 arrests. At one point a police van tried to head up K Street; it was pelted with water bottles and other objects and sped backward down the street. Throughout the city, there were several fistfights between pro and anti-Trump forces. Apparently the white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched in the face, twice.
As I write this, I can imagine conservatives huffing and puffing at the injustice of blaming Trump for the actions of the black bloc. But anarchist street fighting is a pretty inevitable response to the elevation of an authoritarian who himself celebrates vigilante violence. I don’t want to defend thuggery and vandalism; like all responsible middle-aged liberals, I think such behavior is bad and counterproductive. I’m just not shocked by it. This is Trump’s America—the worst of every ideological tendency has been empowered, and we’re at each others’ throats.
Even where there’s a shred of goodwill, communication between pro- and anti-Trump forces seems impossible. At the edge of McPherson Square, where many of the left-wing demonstrations were based, I saw a female Trump supporter arguing with protesters. She was wearing a camouflage MAGA hat and a flag-printed scarf, and was outraged that the demonstrators were making America look bad before the world. Indignant, she said that she’d heard someone from the foreign press saying, “Oh, this place is exotic because of all the weirdness.” Then, in response to something I didn’t hear, she shouted: “I am not ashamed to be white! Why does everybody make a big deal? I stay at home and I watch my children and I raise them. I don’t get anything from the government!”
Soon, a young black man came over to her and offered a conciliatory word. “There’s people out there who would divide everyone,” he said. “We’re all Americans. We may not have the same views …” She nodded and said plaintively, “The hate, we don’t need it!” For a moment she looked shaken, and I realized how frightening the scene must look to her, smoke rising in the street and protesters marching around with black masks and goggles. I don’t know why, but I tried to convince her that people were angry and scared for a reason, that it wasn’t all just a tantrum. Everything I said about Trump, she replied, “That’s what we thought about Obama, and we got through it.” And all I could do was sputter, “But the things you thought weren’t true!” We don’t live in the same world. It’s too bad we have to live in the same country.