Jamie Raskin is taking the concept of Democrats in the wilderness to a whole new level. It’s late afternoon on Inauguration Day—overcast and cool, though decidedly warm for January in Washington, D.C.—and the freshman representative from Maryland’s 8th congressional district is leading dozens of supporters down a twisting trail in Rock Creek Park, a 1,754-acre wooded sanctuary inside the District, that borders his suburban constituency.
This isn’t some formal congressional event; Raskin, formerly the majority whip in Maryland’s state Senate, is wearing hiking boots and sweats. He’s walking his dog Potter down a muddy path that Raskin has known since boyhood, and his friend Melanie Choukas-Bradley—author of A Year in Rock Creek Park—is telling the group about various trees of interest along the way. This afternoon’s two-hour hike is a personal touch by one of the few promising progressives sent to Washington last November—a way to reassure fellow liberals they aren’t alone, even as darkness falls literally and figuratively over the nation’s capital.
Raskin was one of nearly 70 members of Congress who skipped President Donald Trump’s swearing in and subsequent festivities on Friday, putting out a call for dispirited progressives to join him on this walk in the woods to experience “the moral and spiritual uplift of nature.”
“Donald Trump says that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese,” Raskin says at one point during the walk, “but actually what the intelligence community has proven is that Donald Trump is the hoax invented by the Russians.”
Raskin says it was strange to miss his first inauguration as a member of Congress. In the end, though, the former constitutional law professor and progressive stalwart simply couldn’t abide treating Trump like a typical president.
“I realized I did not have it within me to go and to watch that and to manifest any faith that his oath is going to mean anything,” he says. “He is a man who has shown nothing but disdain for the rule of law and the constitution, all the way up to today.”
To Raskin, Trump’s emerging administration “has the very strong whiff of a money-making operation.”
“The Trump hotel in D.C. is booked solid with foreign governments and embassies throwing parties,” he says. “All of that is a direct violate of the Emoluments Clause of the constitution, which forbids the president from collecting any payment of any kind whatsoever from foreign governments.”
Raskin watched Trump’s speech at home while working with organizers for Saturday’s Women’s March. (Later in the evening, in an appearance on MSNBC’s All in With Chris Hayes, he would call the president’s remarks “the meanest, most lowdown, insulting inaugural address in American history.”)
In Rock Creek Park, Raskin tells me the eeriness of the coming presidency set in on Thursday night, which “felt like the beginning of an occupation by an alien power.” By Friday, that occupation was complete. “It was a melancholy day,” Raskin says. “There’s something a bit surreal about it, like it’s a movie in the Batman series or something.”
Raskin is fond of Batman references. He recently said the new administration “can put the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin in charge of Gotham City—but we are still here.” So I ask him about Trump echoing Bane from The Dark Knight Rises in his inauguration speech.
“That was prescient,” he says with a smile.
If the goal of Raskin’s nature walk was therapeutic, it worked. One after another—sometimes in hushed tones—his fellow hikers and constituents tell him how grateful they are to have him on Capitol Hill. “He is refreshingly direct—honest, unafraid,” says Laura Greene from Kensington, Maryland.
Raskin will join the Women’s March on Saturday with a sign reading “This Is What a Popular Majority Looks Like.” He’s also planning to advance the anti-Trump resistance in his congressional oversight role.
“We have to get to the bottom of what happened in the 2016 presidential election,” Raskin says. “Obviously there’s a lot of investigation taking place. There’s a Senate investigation taking place. There are a lot of journalists who are on the story. It seems well established now that Putin has a conscious campaign to subvert our election and to undermine Hillary Clinton and to get Donald Trump elected. Regardless of who you wanted in the election, you should be very troubled by that.”
Raskin is more than troubled by Trumpism in general, but he’s also heartened by what appears to be a re-engagement with progressive activism.
“I don’t know what we have done that this has befallen the republic,” he says, “but we have to fight our way back.”