Krista Monique Clouse is standing on the corner of G and 15th Streets, Northwest, holding a little tube of Blistex and belting out the Habanera from Carmen with resonant pipes and unabashed passion.
“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle,” she taunts, stopping traffic in all directions. Gathering around the daylight diva is a gaggle of out-of-towners new to Washington, D.C., and—from their slack-jawed expressions—new to Bizet as well. Beside her is the Secret Service redoubt that keeps undesirable infiltrators—jihadists, anarchists, Democrats—off the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. And directly in front of the fabulous Clouse—who likes to tell children that she is a distant relative of Santa—are the Department of the Treasury and the White House, from which reporters are emerging from our daily grapple with Donald Trump’s Ministry of Truth.
The famous aria proceeds.
“If you don’t love me, I love you,” the doomed seductress of the great opera warns. “But if I love you, watch out!”
“Sounds like Trump,” a reporter suggests when the singer pauses.
“Trump just motivates me to sing louder,” says Clouse.
It is the 47th day of the Trumpian regency, cloudless and blossomy. Already this week, the oiseau rebelle in the Oval Office has declared the new Republican health-care H-bomb to be “wonderful,” plagiarized a press release from Exxon-Mobil, blamed Barack Obama for releasing 113 terrorists from Guantánamo Bay who actually were freed by George W. Bush, taunted Arnold Schwarzenegger for his “bad (pathetic) ratings” on The Apprentice, tweeted that he has “tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve,” and accused Obama of the felony offence of wiretapping the phones at Trump Tower.
“Can you survive another 1,413 days of this?” a reporter has been wondering, wandering among the population. “And if he is re-elected, better make that 2,874!”
“We were barely able to make it through the winter,” Clouse responds. “What I have seen so far is that he is succeeding for people who are not living in my reality of this country. He may be making industry, science, business and the military great again, but I don’t know that I can rely on him to make my field great.”
“What I feel this country has,” says Santa’s niece, “is a sore lack of people doing beautiful things.”
Last September, Clouse was arrested while limning the Ave Maria on a sidewalk in Alexandria, Virginia, at 9:45 of an evening. Hauled away while defiantly singing Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina and charged with violating the city’s noise-abatement ordinance, she was jailed overnight and then released with an apology.
President Trump, it appears, would like to have Barack Obama kept behind bars considerably longer than that. (Obama, a television journalist revealed at the White House briefing on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources, merely “rolled his eyes” when he read of Trump’s accusation.) Clouse, meanwhile, plies her trade outside the White House, trading tremelos for tips.
“It costs a lot to be an opera singer,” she complains. “I sing out here because I can’t afford to rent the Kennedy Center. I don’t have an ‘indoor voice.’”
Neither do the several hundred women across the street in Lafayette Park, who are bellowing an oratorio of imprecations toward the West Wing and holding signs that say GOD IS WATCHING YOU DONALD AND SHE’S NOT HAPPY and SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE—WE ARE TRYING TO CHANGE THE WORLD.
“When we marched the day after Trump was inaugurated,” says one woman in a knitted pink cap—she is a government employee who gives her name as Kate—“I saw one woman holding a poster that said TOO MANY GRIEVANCES FOR ONE SIGN.”
“Can you survive another 1,413 days of this?” Kate is asked.
“Women’s rights is my new cause for the next four years,” she replies. “It is time for me to leave my white-woman bubble.”
To Capitol Hill, now, where a legislator who could be Howie Mandel’s twin brother —he is Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from the suburbs of Houston, Texas—is standing next to a much taller, thinner man and promising that their still-wet American Health Care Act “isn’t ‘Obamacare lite’—it’s Obamacare gone.’”
“We’ve arrived at the scene of a pretty big wreck,” says the stringbean, who is Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon.
“We can act now, or we can keep fiddling around,” says Brady.
“There’s not that much to get through,” concurs Walden, waving the 100-odd-page libretto of the bill, whose main difference from the existing law seems to be the excision of the word “Affordable.”
The infamous partisan aria proceeds. One floor below: Sen. Patty Murray, Democrat of the state of Washington, ostensibly blasting Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, but in fact blasting Trump himself for “a clear disregard for the laws, the Constitution, and our American families.”
“He doesn’t just think he’s above the law,” Murray snarls. “He acts as if he is the law.”
Not to be outdone, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon does everything but blame Judge Gorsuch—who is almost certain to be confirmed by the Senate before Easter—for the electrocution of a construction worker who touched a power line and the near-fatal frostbite of a truck driver whose employer compelled to stay with his trailer after the rig broke down. (Gorsuch ruled in favor of management in these cases.)
“The ‘hide-the-ball’ campaign is real!” Murray pipes in.
A couple of blocks away, breakfast and a panel discussion in a hotel ballroom: Louisville’s Mitch McConnell, apple-cheeked leader of the Senate Republicans, is crowing the happy (to him) news that, last November, the American electorate chose more Republicans on the state and local level than any other time since the 1920s. One of them, of course, was the former Democrat Donald J. Trump.
“We have a guy who will sign what we pass,” McConnell chirps. “We’re in the outcome business now.”
It is noted by the moderator that—regardless of public disgust—Congress is now so divided that Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, voted against McConnell’s own wife to be Trump’s secretary of transportation.
It is day 47 of the Trumpian regency. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting a hearing entitled “Undermining Democratic Institutions and Splintering NATO: Russian Disinformation Aims.”
Here, everything folds together—the sniping and sneering, the leering and lying that is killing any chance of comity in the U.S. capital as surely as José murders Carmen in Act IV.
A Democrat from New Jersey is snapping that is time to deliver “a real punch in the nose to Putin and his thugs.”
A Republican from California is saying that Vladimir Putin’s Russia isn’t an existential threat to American democracy—it’s just a muscular, self-interested country “being run by tough guys like Mayor Daley of Chicago.”
A Democrat from New York alleges that Trump’s entire presidency is compromised because “he is in hock not only to Russian banks but to Putin himself.”
“I think it is safe to say this is not a Kumbaya moment,” McConnell shrugs.
“This frightens me,” says the opera singer at the corner of 15th and G. “This is not the America I grew up in.”
“Great news,” tweets @realdonaldtrump. “We are only just beginning.”