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This time next week, I will not be in DC anymore, but back in New York. This time in two weeks, I will not be back in New York, but back in England. But right now I am, for one more week, in DC.
This is the second summer in a row that I have spent in DC. This is the second summer in a row that DC has been good to and for me. And while there were points at which I wasn’t totally happy—and was, in fact, quite sad—that was never DC’s fault. (I include the day that I cried on the street and couldn’t get to the metro stop because two women were involved in a physical altercation involving the throwing of a cane by the entrance in this.)
Last summer, I came to the conclusion that DC is, yes, a swamp of douchebaggery, but that that is, in its way, a good thing, because it makes you cherish the good people, when you find them (and you will find them, because there are, contrary to popular belief, a lot of them here). And I still stand by that, but that is not my conclusion about this city from this summer, which is this:
People insult DC all the time. It is acceptable—even encouraged!—to insult DC, particularly if you are from certain places (i.e. New York). It’s not that DC doesn’t know what you think about it. It’s that it doesn’t care. Because people are still going to flock here, for however long or short a time. And it’s still going to be the place to be for politics and policy. And none of the hate and insulting and belief in tired stereotypes can change that. And there is more than that here, too. There is also green space, and integration, and there are houses—houses!—in the city centre, and farmer’s markets and mixed, bizarre bar scenes and cultural sites and cute coffee shops and a gentler way of life than there is in some other places and also, by the way, an eagerness and a keenness that is, for some, stupid reason, frowned upon elsewhere. It’s not cool, but it’s not trying to be cool. It’s just DC.
Or, to put it another way: Last night I went with a friend to a concert (the second of three concerts I’ll have gone to in, like, two weeks, because they’re so cheap and convenient) and the crowd was weird and mixed and earnest and into it. And then we went to a bar to which I’d never been before that felt like every bar I’ve ever been to. And then we took a cab to a house party thrown by a friend of a friend by Capitol Hill and drank and danced and met the most eclectic group of house partiers I ever did meet, and I spoke of the future of Ukraine with a Russian expat and made a Nigerian grad student promise me that, though he felt intimidated by his peers (specifically, his white, male, American peers), he wouldn’t let them condescend to him, because his opinions are just as worthy as theirs, if not worthier (he did promise), and we looked out on the balcony to the Supreme Court building, and then my friend and I left and caught a cab back by the Congressional office buildings, and then today I walked around my leafy neighborhood and got some work done in a coffee shop where the coffee was well-priced and excellent.
And it’s not that I’ll miss any of that, per se. It’s just that I appreciate it very, very much. And that I think that that is this city’s secret—to be appreciated by those who bother, and to not care about the opinions of those who don’t.
And maybe I’ll be back next summer, or next year, in DC. Maybe I’ll live and work here one day. But maybe I won’t. Maybe this summer, with its interesting work and quirky characters and good friends who live here and whom I’ve seen come into their own and back to themselves here (especially the aforementioned, and this girl, too) and concerts and coffee and walking everywhere and also, yes, crying on the street and worrying about everything and nothing but knowing that it all turns out okay, in the end, and often better than okay, because how could it not be, because you’re here, and you are who you are in this city that doesn’t try to be anything more and isn’t anything less than what it is—maybe this will be my last summer in DC. Maybe I have this next week, and that’s it.
It is already so much.
It’s not that I think you’re being foolish because you’re trying to talk people into walking away from what’s ultimately an economically beneficial relationship for your country. (I do think that, but I don’t think you care so much about things like facts and the bigger picture and the long term as much as you do power based on fallacy-driven populism (much like your counterparts throughout the UK who want to separate from the EU).) It’s just that I’m not sure you’ve thought this through.
Your power as a movement, you see, comes from your ability to threaten. You get to point to the UK and say how much better off you would be if you weren’t in it and suggest that those in office are doing you a disservice by keeping you there. And people believe you, and you gain momentum, and you now have this referendum.
But if people vote “yes” on this referendum and you separate from the UK, what will you have?
You won’t actually be more economically viable. You must know that, deep down. You’ll have less political clout globally. You’ll have less soft power. And your one trick—that is, the threat of separatism—you won’t be able to play. Because you’ll have played it.
Recently, somebody threatened me. It was a threat I was afraid this person might make, because he’s threatened others with it in the past. And it was a threat I tried to avoid by being respectful and inclusive and kind. And it was a threat that came anyway.
And so to you, Scottish separatists, I will say what I would have said to this person before he delivered the threat, had I known it was coming, which would have been this: I hope you enjoy this moment. I hope it is everything you thought it would be when you plotted and planned it and drummed up support, or tried to, for it. When you play this card, when you throw it down from your hand, I hope you savor the way it falls on the table. As much as I can possibly hope anything good for you, I hope this gives you something like your twisted version of happiness. Because it was all you had, and now it’s gone.
And I hope you do your very best to deal with the reality of the situation while everyone else starts doing what they’d have started long ago, if only they’d known how little there was to actually fear from you: Moving on.
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