WASHINGTON, DC - Donkeys and elephants? Not in the 'Washington Zoo'

The presidential battle in the U.S. through Flemish eyes! Today part 8: Barbara Stynen and Chris Mahony writing us from Washington, DC. With the elections at the doorstep one might anticipate a circus of stubborn donkeys and honking elephants in ‘the Washington Zoo’. Yet signs of Hillary the donkey or Donald the elephant can not be found outside of car bumper stickers.

Barbara Stynen (34, photo on top) is married and has two children. Barbara is a housewife and lives in Maryland. Co-author Chris Mahony (35, small photo below) lives in Washington DC. Chris is married and works for the Centre of International Law Research and Policy.

George Orwell knew it; life is an animal farm. So is American politics, especially in Washington, DC.

The political heart of the United States has a tangle of political spin doctors, 11,500 slippery lobbyists, communications personnel able to turn a bug into an elephant, an army of cold-blooded lawyers and hard-working analysts trying to predict political trends. This very unique species is of vital importance to congressmen and women, who face re-election concerns every two years.

The two key protagonists are the donkeys and the elephants. The donkey symbolizes the Democratic Party. The term arose when the political opponents of Andrew Jackson - the first Democratic president - called him a "jackass" during the 1828 presidential election.

The Republicans are known as the elephants. An 1874 Harper's Weekly political cartoon by Thomas Nast first depicted the Republican Party as an elephant (see photo). Both symbols gained traction, and ultimately, acceptance.

Car bumper stickers

With the elections at the doorstep one might anticipate a circus of stubborn donkeys and honking elephants in ‘the Washington Zoo’. Yet signs of Hillary the donkey or Donald the elephant can not be found outside of car bumper stickers.

The large posters and small leaflets known to Belgian electoral campaigns are absent in Washington DC. The typical American rallies and political debates occur outside the capital. It looks like this joker attracts most of the attention in Washington DC.

Absence of political buzz

Similarly, in the workplace, election fever remains temperate (Chris works for a DC-based international organization). Here and there you hear small talk about Hillary's cough or Donald's discourse.

Other staff members are asked for their opinion and analysis from time to time. But the presidential elections do not attract all the attention.
Walking the Washington streets causes one to wonder: "Why the absence of political buzz?"

"Taxation without representation"

The answer lies in the unique design of the political process. For what is essentially a two-party race – admittedly, an endangered species of independents and third party candidates do exist – Washington D.C. is essentially a pro-Democrat demography.

A combination of urban poor and professionals and a well-organised African American community drives ‘the district’ well into the Democratic corner. Moreover, the "District of Columbia" cannot elect representatives in the House of Representatives or the Senate, which causes the visible political battle between Republicans and Democrats to drop below zero.

The people of Washington are fed up with this special status of their district and make it clear through the infamous slogan on the DC license plate, “Taxation without Representation”.

Fight takes place in another part of the zoo

So everything appears calm here on the political front. The donkeys and elephants are fighting in contestable states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. That’s because the elephants and the donkeys are furiously raising money, here, in New York, and in other U.S. centres.

In these locations residents’ votes are taken for granted, but their money (and allegedly that of large U.S. corporates) must be fought for. That fight we do not see. That fight occurs in another part of the Zoo, away from the eyes of the Zoo’s patrons.

Coming up on Tuesday: Eva Verbeeck writing from Oregon: "A different race from what Portlanders had expected".