Fear and Loathing in John Lewis' Congressional District

A gonzo journey through the horrors of Georgia's Fifth

Politics Features Donald Trump
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Fear and Loathing in John Lewis' Congressional District

On one hand, Atlanta is a great and good city. On the other hand, Trump is a “billionaire” and the President-elect. Who is right?


The President-elect recently attacked American treasure John Lewis; and he didn’t just attack Lewis, he attacked the Fifth District, which John Lewis represents. As the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported:

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Trump said in a pair of Twitter messages ahead of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations. “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

As a recent arrival from Texas, I’ve found Atlanta to be the most welcoming town I could imagine. The evidence told me that Trump’s story was wrong. The world outside my window argued against his claim. The numbers informed me he was lying. My friends in Atlanta said he was wrong; they seemed happy and savvy.

Most of all, my gut told me he was deluded: every time I stepped outside, the usual feeling of security and contentment that comes with living in Atlanta fell over me. Since moving here in November, Atlanta has changed my understanding of what it is to live in the South. It seems like a second home to me; I didn’t realize I could be so comfortable in a place I’d never known.

But on the other hand, Trump was soon to be the most powerful man in the world. After all, the choice was between trusting the leader of the country or applying my own judgment. One required less brainpower than the other. If Trump was right, Atlanta was the kind of place where teeth were soon to become a valuable commodity, traded just as easily as cocaine and human lives were trafficked in Miami during the Eighties …

But if Atlanta was a good town, that meant Trump was wrong. And if Trump was wrong about a major American city, that meant the Republic elected a thin-skinned reactionary boob with poor judgment. If that had happened, that meant the country had changed into a bewildered beast incapable of reason. If the President-elect’s word could not be taken at face value, who could? It was a hideous vision to reflect upon. Which story should I believe?

What a dilemma! It kept me up for moonless nights. I had to find the truth: was Trump right about Atlanta? It was extremely important this story be covered with verve and vim. No fly-by-night glad-handing would pay the piper. Rather, I would have to get down to the brass tacks of the brass tacks of the question. I would have to find the Real McCoy, and then drink his bone marrow. In journalism, there can be no Too Far …

Already people were attacking the President-Elect. I decided to hunt for the Atlanta he was talking about. That way, I would prove Trump right, save the Future President from looking foolish, which meant saving the country, which meant, by the transitive properties of logic, I would be the greatest American since Washington. It was a great burden, but I accepted it, all seven feet tall of me. The salvation of my country was at stake.


As I left my house in tree-lined Druid Hills, my eyes swiveled in various directions searching for the apocalyptic hell-scape Trump had warned about. Conventional wisdom, and “facts” told me that the median list price for a house in Atlanta was $184,900. Out closer to Decatur it ranked right under a cool half-million; but since Trump could not possibly be wrong, I had to look closer.

As I drove down the street in my leased Jetta, I kept watching the well-kept gardens and smiling neighbors. Since they were citizens of Atlanta, as the Donald had said, I had no doubt they were plotting mischief. As for the home values, I assumed there had to be something wrong about the houses: some fact that, if known, would reveal they were in what our future President had called “horrible shape”—perhaps the bodies of dead Union generals stacked like cordwood below the stairs, perhaps, or pits of rabid eels kept for the amusement of friends. Much as we eventually found Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, I was sure to find Trump’s truth here.

For a case like this, professional supplies were needed: namely, Pringles. I gunned the engine to a skin-peeling thirty-five miles an hour as I cruised down clean streets. Watching oncoming traffic, I signaled I was turning right. I was allowed in by polite drivers who waved at me. “Very clever, Atlanta. Very clever indeed,” I hissed to all of the people in my car, which included just me.

As I drove to CVS, I was reminded again of how many of the roadways of Atlanta are sinuous pathways between giant trees and rolling hills, unlike Los Angeles or Dallas. This gives the Atlanta motorist a feeling of traveling through an overgrown, attractive, well-kept woodland village. What sinister, anti-Trump purpose did they serve?

I made it to CVS, near Emory University, one of the great educational institutions of the country. If Donald was correct, it was likely full of communists. Looking across the street, I saw the highly popular brunch restaurant “Rise and Dine.” Now that I thought about it … Trump had said Atlanta was in “horrible shape” ... you know what? I remembered that, come to think of it, that restaurant was almost a half mile from my house! Nearly half a mile between my door and brunch! Yes, that’s right, now that I thought about it … the parking situation was not perfect! Had it all been a lie?

More objective minds would say these were first world problems, but since Trump had decreed that Atlanta was not the first world, I figured it was okay to be angry about the nearest gym being seven minutes away. I felt as if I had escaped from the Matrix for the first time: millions of tears started pouring from my eye-holes like a slightly drunk dad staring at his daughter’s prom photos.


Indeed, this sneaking suspicion grew and grew. As I drove down the highly-efficient transportation network, which includes Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the busiest airport in the world, I passed the Center for Disease Control, which has probably saved billions of lives through wizardly insight. I thought of these numbers: these were the very same lives that I would also save, somehow, by finding out the truth about Atlanta.

Yet no matter where I searched, the illusion was remarkably consistent. Evidence for Trump’s claims was as elusive as relevance in a fusion jazz concert. I looked for Trump’s fallen city, and could find it nowhere. In was invisible at the Sierra Club, where earnest women and men spoke of building clean energy in Atlanta; it was hidden at the Carter Center; it escaped me in Five Points and in Candler Park, in Midtown and Piedmont. Even in the four miles of The Bluff there is hope.

It could not be seen in the cosmic bowling of Norcross, or Inman Park. The Old Fourth Ward didn’t seen old or “falling apart.” In Smyrna, Lindbergh, Virginia Highland, Poncey, Morningside, none of Donald’s predictions seemed true. The only place close to Trump’s vision was Buckhead, which, as I understand it, is a kind of jail where Mayor Reed keeps privileged people quarantined for the public good.

It was enormously frustrating. I was Ahab, without his whale.

Daunted, I went to the Chinese Lantern Festival in downtown Atlanta with my friend Ann. I was in real trouble—the realest. Was the American Dream dead? Stabs of hideous regret screeched in my hindbrain. What was I do to? As we took a tour through the monuments of Centennial Park, I remembered I briefly visited Atlanta twenty years ago, for the Olympic Games. The town had been flourishing and bustling even then. Could Trump have been wrong? I refused to accept it. America elects only upstanding moral paragons who drop highly moral bombs; it’s what we do.

As my mouth blathered to my pal about God-knows-what, I stared blankly at the various tall towers that made up the Atlanta skyline. I recalled all of the corporations which had moved to Atlanta: The Home Depot, the United Parcel Service, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Airlines: all of them lived in the Peach City.

So did Genuine Parts, First Data, Veritiv, SunTrust, AGCO, Asbury, NCR, PulteGroup, Newell, IE, GPHC, AGL, Axaill, Aaron’s and Carter’s. Giant corporations are not known for being overly sentimental; they make decisions based on calculations about whether or not a city is successful, economically feasible, and pleasant for its workers and executives to live in. In a way, a corporation living in your city is a very high tribute, because love alone wouldn’t keep them around. They would have looked at the many places a business can live and decided to call Atlanta home. And so many of them had.

It made absolutely no sense unless … unless … could they be in on it too? It hit me: they were, they were! They were all in it, a conspiracy to make President-elect Trump look foolish! I looked around at the diverse, delighted crowd around me.

It wasn’t just the companies. They were all in on it. Every single Atlantan, conspiring against the President-elect and yours truly. I was a barn-owl trapped in a bouncy castle … no way out.

I’d spent many sober human hours at the Home Depot. The thought of them entering into villainous league against me made me want to turn into a fetal cry-ball incapable of speech or thought. But that wouldn’t do today, oh no. I resolved to soldier on and eat my weight in elegant tapas in a chic restaurant surrounded by attractive Atlantans later that night. That would show them all.

Atlanta, why are you pretending to be a fun-loving, welcoming, courteous town? Oh sure, the facts may tell me that’s exactly what you are, but when did facts do anything for us? It’s not like they landed us on the moon or ended smallpox or build a great city in a forest. Stop with this charade of prosperity and diversity! How Atlanta has muddled through all of these years without Trump, only God—or his avatar and prophet, Donald the Wise—knows. Sad!

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