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Ghost Town (202)

Washington DC – 20 January 2017


Ghost Town (202), photo essay by Madeleine Bazil


All DC residents know: don’t go downtown on inauguration day. To do so means gridlock traffic, hordes on the Metro, and general insanity across the length and breadth of Washington. Generally, there is little appeal. Out of every 1,460 days, why leave the comfort of a suburban sofa on the single day where one has to to share one’s city with interlopers?

But in 2017, things feel different. The new administration has weaponized language, and in doing so altered the playing field. A election won by the skin of electoral teeth is now being referred to as a ‘landslide victory.’‘Pussy grabbing,’ phraseology once restricted to the lexical territory of PornHub, has become the language of the White House. Falsehoods are being repackaged by Trump aide Kellyanne Conway as ‘alternative facts.’

And a sparsely attended inauguration ceremony – markedly lower in mass transit riders and in Nielsen ratings than past years’ iterations – is now being touted by White House press secretary Sean Spicer as ‘the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.’

This is a boldfaced lie. In fact, on inauguration day, Washington was creepy in its emptiness.

Government agencies as well as many private businesses and offices generally close on inauguration day, and absent of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the event’s sparse attendance was glaring. The Metro was less crowded than any normal workday. The non-ticketed portions of the National Mall resembled the audience of an outdoor summertime concert – groups sitting leisurely on the grass atop their jackets, a walkable aisle between every familial island – standing in stark contrast to the elbow-to-elbow crowds of 2009 and 2013. ‘It’s like Fort Knox out here,’ remarked Joe, a souvenir vendor from St Louis, MO, shaking his head as he looked out at a barren Constitution Avenue. ‘And it’s nothing like ’08.’

In the surrounding no-drive zone, small but energetic localized protests sprang up, the otherwise deserted streets bookended by parked military vehicles at every intersection. The sky was grey and the air felt heavy all morning with impending rain, which finally began to fall just as Trump took the oath of office.

Trump can make up false number counts and WH Press Secretary Sean Spicer can offer up all the rambling attacks on the media that he wants, but photos don’t lie, and the photos show that attendance at the inauguration was sparse. In this Orwellian era, journalistic commitment to truth-telling has become more vital than ever.

(by Madeleine Bazil)

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