A popular myth often repeated by aspiring American politicians is that Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital, was built on top of a swamp. It wasn’t. The famous fable might help explain why U.S. President Donald Trump is just the latest leader to talk about “draining the swamp” in his populist messaging.
Historically, Washington, D.C. has always drawn-in people who were hungry for power. Over the years, the White House, the U.S. Congress, and the Washington Monument have all come to symbolize strength. K Street in downtown is now lined with glassed office buildings. It is home to some of the world’s most successful and wealthiest lobbyists. But what is driving them here? And will the next generation follow?
CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.
Sitting on a park bench eating his lunch and preparing for a job interview, we meet Kevin Burden. The 23-year old recently moved to Washington, D.C. from South Carolina. He hopes to be an environmental lawyer. Burden said he wants just wants to be a part of it all.
“If you have found something that you want to strive for and have started setting up goals for that,” he said, “once you start seeing yourself achieve those goals, that itself is success.”
Burden admits his definition of success may evolve over the years, “once there are more things that I have purpose to.”
It’s not hard to find people-with-purpose in Washington, D.C. A few letters uptown from K Street is U Street. It’s Its intersections were the literal intersections of the 1960s race riots here. Its blocks are still home to some of the city’s most effective grassroots activism. Inside a popular and progressive bookstore/cafe, Busboys and Poets, Matthew Officer, an aspiring lobbyist, reads about Barack Obama. We ask what having power means for him.
“The ability to influence policy, the ability to influence public opinions,” Officer said. “The media, in my opinion, is at the epicenter of power and politics today. As long as you get in front of the camera, that’s what people care about.”
Officer clarifies that he doesn’t have power right now, in the true sense of the word. But he does have power, in a sense, “for myself: educating myself, being aware, being open to conversations. And I feel that in our generation, especially my generation, we tend to just block our ears to every other voice that doesn’t reinforce our preconceived notions of people and ideas.”
Howard University is just blocks away from Busboys and Poets, and just over two miles from the White House. An HBCU (Historically Black College/University), Howard is one of the country’s best. Many of its students said things were better under the previous President, Barack Obama. Howard University Doctoral student Landy Watley said Barack Obama gave her hope.
“There was a message of unity, as: ‘we all can.’ There was a way,” Watley said. “Whereas, people don’t feel like, with Donald Trump, there is a message of ‘we.’ There’s a message of a few, there’s a message to his base, and there’s a message to those who support him. And there’s no interest in coming to a grown-up, mature understanding that, though we may not agree on everything, from a policy point of view, it does not mean that we cannot work together, to work towards a common goal.”
Watley said President Trump doesn’t give her hope, per se. “But he gives me hope that the good people of America will stand up for what we are about and not let the divisive rhetoric continue to divide and feed what is bad, versus what makes us who we are and what is good.”
Donald Trump’s surprise victory last year surprised most of Howard University’s students, and indeed most of Washington, D.C.’s residents. More than 90 percent of them voted for his rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s win brought a new wave of ambitious conservatives to this otherwise liberal capital. Republican Jon Decker made the move here a few years earlier. He now works as a consultant.
“People who work in politics, especially young professionals who work in politics,” Decker said. “May be not as eager to converse with those whose views are different than theirs.”
He said having a Republican in the White House hasn’t made things any easier. “As a young single guy in Washington D.C., one of things I noticed a lot is you get the question of, ‘Did you vote for President Trump?’ I did vote for President Trump, and I’m not particularly ashamed of my vote. And I understand that for some, that might be difficult to hear.”
At Gallaudet University, America’s biggest university for the deaf, one student hopes people keep an open mind.
Doane said it’s important that people reading the media that both sides are consuming.
“[It’s important that] we are looking at all perspectives, that we understand the whole picture. One of the failures of our democracy – and this situation – is that we’re not keeping an open mind. Our focus has been so divided.”
Both sides recognize that there’s now a more politically-pronounced division in the country. It is inflamed by and reinforced through social media. A growing shift towards “us” and “them,” those with power and those without. It hasn’t always been this way. And that gives some optimism that the pursuit of common ground may someday successfully prevail again.