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Ask The Washingtonologist: What City Are Washingtonians Supposed to Hate?

Illustration by Jenny Rosenberg.

Boston hates New York. Texas hates Oklahoma. Springfield hates Shelbyville. Pawnee hates Eagleton. Who are Washingtonians supposed to hate?

—Angry in Alexandria

Dear Angry:

Your humble advice maven loves nothing more than good old-fashioned municipal enmity. In this fractious, polarized world, few things unite neighbors quite like pointless hostility toward the unsuspecting citizens of some rival metropolis.

Unfortunately, history has not blessed our town with a natural foe. As a planned city, we were willed into being by the federal government, freed from the brutal economic competition that undergirds many of the great urban rivalries. (Before they vied for primacy in the AL East, New York and Boston were locked in a much more consequential battle for primacy in shipping goods across the Atlantic.) And as a federal capital, Washington was designed to be neutral ground for citizens from across the country—while being denied a chance to participate in the national political debates that might pit our local interests against someone else’s in rivalry-stoking ways. The result, 220-odd years later, is a kind of asymmetrical civic warfare, in which much of the rest of the country is free to assail a straw man called “Washington” and we have no one to beat up on.

It’s not for lack of trying. For a long time, people tried to gin up a contest with Baltimore, just a few dozen miles up the road. Sadly, Charm City would prefer to direct its bile at places like Pittsburgh. Plus, these days Baltimore is in sufficiently rough shape that any actual rivalry would require us to play Johnny Lawrence to its Karate Kid. No, thanks.

There has also been a recurring urge to pick fights with New York. But as far as the Washingtonologist is concerned, there’s nothing quite so Palookaville as some other city, even our own, insisting it’s just as good as those fancies up in NYC. Let’s leave that act to Boston.

Fortunately, the Washingtonologist has an idea: It’s time for our town to pick an enemy. It ought to be a place big enough for the fight to seem fair (sorry, Wilmington), a city at least somewhat similar in its economy (the war’s off, Cleveland), and one close enough that our teams could conceivably compete in the same division (as much as we’d love to get in your face, Phoenix, it’s just not happening).

A couple of our coworkers favor making war on Philadelphia, from whom we snaked the capital back in 1800—and who returned the favor by signing away Bryce Harper in 2017. But after some consideration, we’ve decided to cast our eyes south. Atlanta is home to baseball and basketball teams that compete with Washington’s, as well as Morehouse College, a traditional rival of DC’s Howard University. And as of right now, the Washingtonologist hates everything about the place. Just give us a few days to figure out why.

Have a question that only a true-blue Washingtonian can answer? Send it to washingtonologist@washingtonian.com.

This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Washingtonian.