During the Trump years, there was a lot of debate over whether it was okay to shout at administration officials if you saw them out at a restaurant. But now that those folks are gone, the question remains: How should a true Washingtonian react when encountering political celebs around town? Ignore them? Ask for a selfie? Give them a piece of your mind?
—Curious in Chevy Chase
Your question gets to what was once a cardinal rule of this city: Everyone, no matter how noxious or criminal or incompetent in their public life, gets to be a civilian sometimes. If you want to holler at them—or, for that matter, fawn over them—visit their office. If they’re in line at Giant, leave them alone.
These rules, of course, were crumbling well before Sarah Huckabee Sanders ever got herself evicted from a restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, and for reasons that have more to do with modern celebrity, social media, and ubiquitous phone cameras than with political polarization. Plenty of reasonable people might say it’s just as well. The old politesse often involved sheltering cosseted insiders from the anger they generate. Plus, the elected officials among Washington’s boldface-name demographic are different from famous athletes or actors. As the people’s representatives, they’ve essentially asked for the people to engage with them.
All the same, the Washingtonologist thinks the better arguments are ones that support the old rules. As a nation, we ought to be trying to get more citizens into public life, something that’s harder if taking a job means giving up the ability to have date night in peace. In an increasingly stratified society, it’s also better that our governing class—and, for that matter, our chattering class—actually walk among us. If they do their own Saturday-morning grocery runs, they might learn that the price of meat is way up or that their friendly cashier has been displaced by a scan-it-yourself station. Don’t give them another reason to stay in the mandarin bubble.
But, dear reader, I know you didn’t come for advice about public policy. You asked what you should do. And on that score, the Washingtonologist’s logic is much simpler: Nothing is geekier than pointing and gawking at someone whose only claim to fame is that they’re on CNN from time to time or once served as a deputy spokesperson at the White House—or even is someone who’s a genuine political power. The Washingtonologist spends a lot of time refuting out-of-towner allegations about DC’s purported uncoolness. Yet even he cringes at the idea that multiple local eateries have recently tweeted out news about having received a visit from the Secretary of Transportation. Just quit it, people! Be cool. It’s good for your country, and it’s good for you.
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This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.