Context — January 25, 2017, 11:19 am

Crowd Control

A weekend of alternative estimations

Top: Live stream still courtesy 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee. Bottom: Demonstrators take part in the Women's March to protest Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017 © REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Click to enlarge. Top: Live stream still courtesy 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee. Bottom: Demonstrators take part in the Women’s March to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017 © REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

On Saturday, at a dive near Logan Circle in Washington, D.C., there were two bartenders working, both women. “This is the busiest we’ve ever been,” one said, offering a generous pour of Pinot Noir, and looking frantic. The place was brimming with a pink knit Pussyhat-wearing crowd—all elated, all exhausted. Displayed on a large T.V. screen against a back wall was the White House briefing room. Sean Spicer, the press secretary, emerged in a bulky gray suit, his blonde hair combed to one side and his blue eyes bloodshot. “Yesterday, at a time when our nation and the world was watching the peaceful transition of power—and, as the President said, the transition in the balance of power from Washington to the citizens of the United States—some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.” He suggested that ridership on the D.C. Metro to see Donald Trump be sworn-in as president was higher than it had been for Barack Obama, and that the previous day had seen “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” He threw out some numbers, which were wrong. He also said, “No one had numbers,” and went on, “By the way, this applies to any attempts to try to count the number of protesters today in the same fashion.” The cacophony of the bar crescendoed in a unified chorus of “boos.”

The next day, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s adviser and scarecrow, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to defend Spicer’s performance. “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts,” she explained. By this time, reports were comparing the inauguration turnout—the real number was about 160,000—to that of the Women’s March, which delivered around half a million people to Washington. Counting all participants in some 565 U.S. cities, it is believed to have been the biggest demonstration in American history, drawing over 3.3 million people; marchers outside the country added more. “I don’t think you can prove those numbers one way or another,” Conway went on. “There’s no real way to really quantify crowds, we all know that. You can laugh at me all you want.” Here were the kinds of laughter appropriate for this moment: Chuck Todd, laughing in disbelief at Conway’s answer; the protesters, laughing in amusement at one another’s signs; the good people at Merriam-Webster, laughing at the sudden spike in searches for the word “fact.” The laughter continued into the night, until everybody’s throat began to hurt.

This is a fact: since the Vietnam War, when a crowd of similar size descended on the capitol, the city has rarely been occupied so bigly. (Bigly, another word for Merriam-Webster’s study, was wrangled over by linguists using spectrogram analysis; it was found to have been a mis-hear of Trump saying “big league,” but nevertheless became “the most looked-up word that was never actually used in 2016.”) Nate Silver, the wiz pollster who after this past presidential election seemed more like a bad boyfriend, gave some credence to Conway (“Counting crowds is an inexact science”) but didn’t bail on the concept of math entirely. His site, FiveThirtyEight, collected attendance estimates from local news accounts and weighed them against official reports to calculate reliable figures. Other crowd scientists—suddenly a very controversial field—examined aerial photographs, measuring the average density of 2.5 marchers per square meter. The sky’s view image of the D.C. protest, shown beside that of Trump’s inauguration, depicts the popular vote—which he lost—but not the soundtrack—“Welcome to your first day / We will not go away.” Is that a fact? The temporary joviality of a protest can have an unfortunate effect of supplanting the underlying rage. There was revelry, chanting, clinking. And then the masses went home.

The messages at the rally were varied. Uterus signs offended transgender women. Black marchers grumbled at the fact—a real one—that 53 percent of white female voters chose Trump on Election Day. Hillary Clinton’s supporters darted eyes at Bernie Bros. Behind the stage, a woman and a man holding a “Trump-Pence” sign were swarmed by a group of marchers, who seized an opportunity to face the opposition; a passerby called out, “Don’t engage!” America Ferrera, the actress and activist, seemed to notice the awkwardness. In her speech, she said, “If we—the millions of Americans who believe in the decency, in the greater good, that justice is for all—if we fall into the trap of separating ourselves by our causes and labels, it will weaken our fight and we will lose.”

At the bar, among friends, people forgot to worry for a little while. The line to the ladies’ room was orderly. Someone lost her ring, and a search was swiftly conducted by a coalition of strangers. A customer told the woman pouring her drink, “You’ve done more for the march today than all of us in this room combined.” The first day of the “American carnage” president hadn’t felt so bad. (“Trump is the cure here,” Jeff Merkley, a Senator from Oregon told the New York Times. “He brings everybody together.”) In the din, one could not hear Trump down the street, signing executive orders in the interest of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and blocking funding for NGO’s that provide or “promote” abortions. Nobody uttered the name “Kushner,” even as he was approved to a White House job by the Justice Department. For a night, the 3.3 million marchers took some time to rest, and to laugh—all of them, all they wanted.

Help support our ongoing coverage of Donald Trump by subscribing to Harper’s Magazine today!

Share
Single Page

More from Betsy Morais:

Annotation, Art August 29, 2017, 1:24 pm

Trumpeter Storm

Donald and Melania Trump go to Texas. 

Context May 2, 2017, 4:31 pm

The Moderator in Manila

What the Trumps are building in the Philippines

Annotation April 6, 2017, 6:10 pm

Dressed to Kill

Jared Kushner goes to Iraq

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2018

Nobody Knows

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Other Whisper Network

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Infinity of the Small

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Empty Suits

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Great Divide

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Other Whisper Network·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

No one would talk to me for this piece. Or rather, more than twenty women talked to me, sometimes for hours at a time, but only after I promised to leave out their names, and give them what I began to call deep anonymity. This was strange, because what they were saying did not always seem that extreme. Yet here in my living room, at coffee shops, in my inbox and on my voicemail, were otherwise outspoken female novelists, editors, writers, real estate agents, professors, and journalists of various ages so afraid of appearing politically insensitive that they wouldn’t put their names to their thoughts, and I couldn’t blame them. 

Of course, the prepublication frenzy of Twitter fantasy and fury about this essay, which exploded in early January, is Exhibit A for why nobody wants to speak openly. Before the piece was even finished, let alone published, people were calling me “pro-rape,” “human scum,” a “harridan,” a “monster out of Stephen King’s ‘IT,’?” a “ghoul,” a “bitch,” and a “garbage person”—all because of a rumor that I was planning to name the creator of the so-called Shitty Media Men list. The Twitter feminist Jessica Valenti called this prospect “profoundly shitty” and “incredibly dangerous” without having read a single word of my piece. Other tweets were more direct: “man if katie roiphe actually publishes that article she can consider her career over.” “Katie Roiphe can suck my dick.” With this level of thought policing, who in their right mind would try to say anything even mildly provocative or original? 

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Pushing the Limit·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the early Eighties, Andy King, the coach of the Seawolves, a swim club in Danville, California, instructed Debra Denithorne, aged twelve, to do doubles — to practice in the morning and the afternoon. King told Denithorne’s parents that he saw in her the potential to receive a college scholarship, and even to compete in the Olympics. Tall swimmers have an advantage in the water, and by the time Denithorne turned thirteen, she was five foot eight. She dropped soccer and a religious group to spend more time at the pool.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Post
CamperForce·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Amount one Colorado county spent in January 2016 to arm school security with assault rifles:

$12,000

A rabbit brain was frozen and thawed without destroying its memories.

The shooter discarded his AR-15 semiautomatic weapon, the model used in six of America’s ten deadliest mass shootings and referred to by the NRA as “America’s rifle,” and then fled to a nearby Walmart, where customers can buy rifles but cannot purchase music with lyrics that contain the word “fuck.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today