Dody T. Michaels recalls a night this past winter when he treated some friends to cocktails in the plush environs of Off the Record. Seated nearby were a couple of 30-something women, and the two groups chatted at the bar, he braced for the inevitable question: So, what do you guys do?
At the time, Michaels was the Assistant Secretary for Border, Immigration and Trade Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, and he’d learned to keep mum in such social settings. That night, his friend three drinks in blurted out something about Michaels being “Trump’s main hombre for the Mexican border.”
Michaels tells this story now at his private security consulting firm, where he hung his shingle this spring. “They went silent, and then one told me in the coldest voice that I was morally responsible for the children who had died in immigrant detention.” They dropped a $50 bill and got their coats. It was the last straw for Michaels. Three weeks later he sent DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen a five-sentence resignation letter. “Those women were right,” he says now. “I couldn’t keep working for Trump.”
High-profile departures dominated the news during Trump’s tempestuous two years as president — unsurprising, perhaps, for a former reality TV star whose schtick was telling people they were fired. But even less-visible officials describe a subtle shift in their daily interactions that made them feel like pariahs even in a city where mercenaries and power-trading are the norm. Slowly and surely, association with Trump’s presidency felt radioactive.
After Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, put a Virginia restaurant on blast a year ago for declining to serve her, food service only got worse for officials. A growing number of establishments announced their unwillingness to serve Trump administration officials by hanging “Bye-Bye 45” signs in their windows.
Current and former government officials confirm that the informal movement spread even more widely. Some say their credit cards were declined repeatedly at bars and restaurants, after long waits for checks.
A 28-year-old antitrust lawyer at the Department of Justice was so vexed by his lack of success dating online that he complained to Tinder’s customer service that the app was broken. “Eventually I realized everyone swipes left on this White House,” he said.
Officials learned to stop using their real names at any sort of service counter, lest they find themselves being openly heckled or having their order lost or bungled. “I know for a fact Rick Perry uses his dog’s name plus the street he grew up on when he orders at Starbucks,” says a former Department of Energy official who used to take coffee meetings with the department’s Secretary. Added one barista, “Whenever we knew we were making coffee for a Trumper, we’d quietly make it decaf. There were a lot of bleary eyes around the White House.”
As big protests dominated headlines over the past six months, everyday acts of resistance undermined support within Trump’s administration and fed a sense of crisis around his presidency. Some workers saw disobedience as self-care, while others saw it as their chance to join a lineage of movements that stalled Nazis in occupied France and won civil rights victories in the Jim Crow South.
“When my grandkids ask me what I did during the Trump administration, I don’t want my answer to be, ‘I was really into watching Rachel Maddow,’” said Veronica Wilson, 33, of Tysons, Virginia, a hospice nurse who this spring started offering “Withdraw Your Consent” training sessions at Lafayette Square. “Ordinary people have amazing power. We made a lot of Trump’s people start tapping out of that life, like no más.”
Once the weather warmed in mid-March, Lafayette Square blossomed into an open-air campus for trainings, meetings, and other resistance activities. A rotating cast of food trucks, subsidized by online donations, offered reduced-price tacos or halal. On colder days, volunteers poured hot chocolate into to-go mugs for marchers heading toward Capitol Hill to join recurring sit-ins at Congressional offices. Come April, it was where people bedazzled bluebirds before demonstrating at Twitter HQ to demand Trump’s account be shut down for violating terms of service.
Mostly, Lafayette Square became a place where anyone with even a free lunch hour could drop in and be assured they’d be put to work on some project, and hear mariachi bands. Five months of playing protest gigs — like a Spanish-language arrangement of Green Day’s “American Idiot” outside the White House — made local celebrities out of many DC mariachis.
“I’d rather be playing a quinceañera than another climate change rally,” said Hector Suárez, who plays trumpet for the DC-based quartet Mariachi Jalisco. “But absolutely this was a year I’ll never forget. You wouldn’t believe the acoustics at the the Lincoln Memorial.”