News & Politics

What It’s Like to Be Madeleine Albright in the Age of Trump

Photograph by Lauren Bulbin

What’s it like to be such a recognizable figure in Washington?

“For the longest time, the only people who really recognized me were cab drivers. A lot of them were from someplace that I had actually helped— from Ethiopia, or Afghanistan. Or sometimes people would sit and stare at me—they would know that they knew me from somewhere. One time at National Airport, two women said, ‘We figured out who you are! You fly for United.’ Another time, I was on a plane and this guy walks by and says, ‘So you’re Margaret Thatcher.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ He said, ‘Yes, you are.’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He said, ‘If you don’t want to tell me you’re Margaret Thatcher, that’s fine, but I know you are.’ ”

Has your profile changed through the years?

“There’s no way to describe this without sounding really full of myself, and I don’t want to sound like a diva, but there is truly a difference since the 2016 election in terms of how much people come up and talk to me.”

This story is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Washington.” For more:

You mean you’re more recognizable in the age of Trump than as Secretary of State?

“It has jumped in a big way. I don’t know if it’s because of selfies and all of that, but it’s definitely noticeable, no matter where I am. I have my book on fascism out now. I’ve generally done pretty well on books, but for this one there are very large audiences. And they’re more like therapy sessions. People want me to tell them that everything will be okay.”

Do you?

“I tell them if they go and vote. It is very important to either run for office or support those who are. And I tell them it’s very important to talk to people with whom you disagree.”

Do you try to do that?

“I do. Recently, I went to the movies in Arlington, and these women wanted to have their picture taken with me. They had Trump buttons on. They said they disagreed with me but they thought I was interesting. I tried to have a discussion with them in terms of what they disagreed with. It’s not easy. But I do try.”

Where do you go when you want to be anonymous?

“I have a farm in Virginia, and I can blend in there. Or I go someplace like Harpers Ferry, where people aren’t expecting to see me and I don’t have to worry about my hair or what I have on. Or I’ll wear a baseball hat. I have one that says ‘Cowgirl.’ ”

Susan Baer

Susan Baer is a former Washingtonian editor and Baltimore Sun correspondent who has also written for CNN and the Washington Post. She can be reached at [email protected].