The Washington, D.C. based Federalist has declared that its own home city, and the town its writers profess to be dazzled by, is a wasteland of crime and disgust unworthy of statehood or residence. For those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar, The Federalist is a right-wing, online magazine with some less-than-ideal bias and reliability scores coupled with a love of publishing false information about the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, one of The Federalist’s latest mockeries of writing is a piece entitled "Let’s Not Give Statehood To The Third World Country Of Washington DC", and it's worse than you could imagine.
Before we look at the content of the article, there is an impressive act of sleuthing -and a slight problem for the credibility- of The Federalist’s article (beyond it being a Federalist article) to point out. Katelyn Burns, a freelance journalist and writer, found the author of the Federalist article’s formerly-public Instagram account along with a post where they (the person writing that D.C. is a wasteland of crime and filth) previously described D.C. as a “dazzling city” and expressed their excitement to move back here. Even the author for The Federalist was at one point in love with D.C., and it's sad to see that love turn into disgust for this city.
The article begins with a lovely opening salvo against the residents of D.C., “Washingtonians who have ever bothered to crack the Constitution (likely a minority of them) know D.C. statehood is unconstitutional.” I do not understand conservatives' trend of saying liberals have not read the Constitution; it is not that long or difficult to read, and many of us did "crack it". I have not conducted a survey or poll of D.C. residents, but given some of the residents’ propensity to work for the federal government or study politics and law, the D.C. population is among the most likely in the nation to have read the Constitution, regardless of their ideologies. What's more: in reading the Constitution, one can find a section that addresses how to change the Constitution and also how to add a new state, since the founders were very aware that times would change, and the Constitution and country would need to change with time. Perhaps The Federalist has an abridged version that skips those parts.
As it happens, I am one of those people studying politics so I did crack the Constitution open again; unabridged of course and noticed an error in The Federalist’s article that would mislead readers about the wording of the Constitution. The Federalist quotes Article 1 Section 8 “exclusive legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district … as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States' “ -an accurate quote straight from Madison's pen with The Federalist’s writer using an ellipsis to shorten the quotation. Of import is that the author’s use of the ellipsis is extremely misleading. Ellipses can be used to shorten quotes if what’s being quoted digresses from the point, but the writer should preserve the original meaning, rather than eliminate words disproving their argument, as is done here: with some of the words those three dots eliminated from Article 1 being, "over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square)". That's vital nuance to the original meaning and disproves the author’s constitutional argument about D.C. not being allowed statehood. The Constitution guarantees the Capital be no larger than 100 miles, but it makes no guarantee of how small it can be or of changing its size; in fact, the seat of the federal government has been shrunk before. Alexandria was once a part of D.C. but left in 1846, which is why D.C. is 68 square miles versus 100. It is entirely allowable per the Constitution for the seat of the federal government to be shrunk to the Mall area, a few square miles, and make the D.C. area a state. Oddly, the author cites another Federalist article indicating the same historical point and acknowledges shrinking the federal government’s seat would not "...violate our treasured founding documents".
Incredibly, the article somehow goes even more off the rails by supporting a fictional bid for the statehood of Somalia saying, “America would be better off giving statehood to Somalia. At least we could try fracking it. D.C. is no fracking good at all.” I'm all for a good pun but that seems a bit dramatic. Maybe the abridged Federalist version of the Constitution the writers are using as a reference also includes a section about how statehood is determined by a region's ability to be fracked versus Congressional approval. I'm unaware of Somalia's interest in a campaign for statehood; however, if Somalia has copious amounts of natural gas, the country should be aware of its conservative allies in The Federalist’s offices for a shot at admittance into the Union.
As I pondered The Federalist’s advocacy for the statehood of Somalia and how I could get a comment from a sovereign nation, things became personal when the author attacked, “the brunching leaders of the next generation drunk on bottomless mimosas and blind ambition, and the dweebs in gingham button-downs overcompensating for their stature with a very important job at Deloitte.” There is no political message, insightful veterans’ perspective, or historical precedent on my disagreement with that statement; I just enjoy the D.C. brunch scene and hate to see it attacked, so back off my mimosas.
The Federalist writer attempts to make D.C. seem like "a Third World country" -from self-described “dazzling city” of Instagram to a “district of disgust” in their article. The author describes trash everywhere, people defecating on sidewalks, people without pants roaming the streets, and rampant crime. I am not a D.C. native, I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and am assuming from The Federalist writer’s closing statement, “I’ve had enough excitement in this capital wasteland for a while. Wisconsin, a real state, is calling” that the author is from Wisconsin. We apparently have very different impressions of our adopted city. My time in D.C. has been brief; I have lived here for about a year now -first in Mt. Pleasant, and now in Glover Park (neighborhoods in D.C. for our non-D.C. readers) and have been enthralled with my new home. I love that in Mt. Pleasant there's an artist who draws incredible chalk art called @Chalk_About; I love Malcolm X Park on sunny days with people walking their dogs; I get amused when my runs are interrupted by protests nearly every day; and I like the guy in my neighborhood who sits in front of CVS and always asks how I'm doing. To be sure: this is not a perfect city. I've only scratched the surface of some of the more privileged areas; but it is a great one, and I think we are lucky to have found our ways here.
True: D.C. is not always the cleanest, and as The Federalist’s author has, I too have had some less-than-pleasant encounters with people. There was the time when a mob I was photographing tried to overthrow our government, and the several death threats I've received from Proud Boys when they terrorized our streets, but I assure you it's not a third-world city (I do not agree with that phrase however for clarity I will be using it in this piece). I've been to war torn cities, seen internally displaced peoples’ camps, and visited and talked with people in a city fighting for justice against powerful criminal gangs. There are images and experiences from my time in those places that will stay with me forever, both of incredible human resilience and the destruction we are capable of. Never in my brief time here in D.C. has anything come remotely close to those times or to the language being used by the Federalist writer to describe my new home. Furthermore, my times in the more difficult parts of the world did not make me believe that the residents and the places were barbaric or incompetent. Instead, like other service members, I grew to respect the resolve of the people that lived there and their capability to work and make their lives better. The "third-world" and its residents are more than a cheap comparative tool to make Wisconsin seem like utopia, and they deserve our respect. One of the greatest tools the Army gave me was a perspective that made me appreciate the luck I had in being born in a place as safe and well-off as the United States, and the fortune I had in being able to live in places like D.C. If The Federalist’s writer truly believes that D.C. is a third-world country, which thanks to Katelyn Burns we know they do not or did not always, then they are more ignorant than I could have possibly imagined.
Some of the problems facing D.C. that the author points out are neither insubstantial nor fictional. Public education is challenging here; the literacy rates need work, and the poverty levels are unacceptable. I am not ignorant to the fact that I have resided in some of the nicer neighborhoods in D.C. -and for only a brief time. I have a degree of privilege that would make me view this city through rose colored glasses, but I would point to the incredible people and organizations I have met here who demonstrate more than any marble facade why D.C. is a great city, and why it will be a great state. Where The Federalist’s writer sees despair and an opportunity to advocate denying other Americans their basic rights, the D.C. residents I've been privileged to know see opportunities for service. While The Federalist insults their neighbors during their lowest points -organizations like GoodTrouble, TLC, Luther Place Memorial Church, District Cleanup, DC Protests, and so many others-are out on the streets providing aid through acts of charity to people going through hard times, those people and organizations are helping others through troubling periods of their lives without judgement and with great kindness and compassion, they are representing a city I am proud to call home now. They are exceptional Americans who deserve the same representation in government as any other citizen.
No one who reads The Federalist should take it seriously, even its own writers don't seem to believe in what they are writing. D.C. residents, like all Americans, can continue to ignore the magazine's stupidity and inaccuracy. Focus, instead, on continuing to serve our communities and helping our neighbors. We all know D.C. is not a third-world country, it is a remarkable and beautiful city with problems just like any other. This city is filled with good Americans who deserve better than to be attacked by conservative writers and who need to have a voice in their federal government through the benefit of statehood.
Photo: Jeff Vincent/Flickr