THE CAPITAL — On May 1, barely six months after the midterm elections, Donald Trump appears to have abandoned the White House and abdicated his role as president. He issued no formal statement, though four White House aides — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — claim they found a napkin on the president’s desk in the Oval Office on the evening of April 30, scrawled in red ink with the following message: “Blame Crooked Hillary & Hfior & the Fake News Media.”
The aides claim they received no other warning of Trump’s departure apart from this napkin, and have no knowledge of his whereabouts. Similarly, they cannot explain the meaning or significance of “Hfior.” Flight-tracking databases show the departure of a private, luxury helicopter — a Bell 429 MAGnificent — from the immediate vicinity of the White House at 3:15 am on May 1. Tracking shows that same helicopter eventually landed in the Crimean resort city of Yalta.
“This is unprecedented,” said Tanisha Jones, Distinguished Professor of American History at Columbia University. “No other president in history has fled the White House like this.” Jones also remarked that the massive women-led protests that paralyzed cities around the country last weekend are similarly unprecedented, in both their size and the speed with which they came together. “It’s hard to imagine that these two things — Americans rising up to demand Trump’s resignation and Trump disappearing — are unrelated.”
In an early morning press conference, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders eluded questions about Trump’s departure. “I’m not aware of his movements at every second of every day,” she told reporters. Sanders then noted that at 5:15 this morning, former Vice President Mike Pence took the presidential oath in an unscheduled inauguration. “So, Trump has fled,” a reporter was heard shouting from the back of the press room. Sanders responded, “I’ve already covered that at length.”
President Pence has yet to appear publicly or release a formal statement. In a sign that the White House may be worried that Pence will be the next target of protests across the country, the Department of Homeland Security issued a special warning of civil disturbances, and the Republican governors of several states placed their National Guard troops on high alert. Millions have again flooded the streets and remain there — this time for parties, not protests, with an overall mood of joy and festivity.
“We’ve reclaimed our time,” Representative Maxine Waters told a joyous crowd of 500,000 who had gathered outside Los Angeles’ City Hall on Wednesday morning.
Pressure had been building on the Trump Administration for months, with many Trump associates under criminal investigation or behind bars, impeachment proceedings underway in the House, and an extraordinary wave of disruptive nonviolent protests around the country. In the last two weeks alone, occupations and blockades calling for Trump’s removal from office have prevented 50 Republican and 12 Democrat members of Congress from entering their offices in 42 different towns and cities.
“We really saw a surge in protest and civil disobedience after the Tax Day protests,” says author and historian Jamilah Battiece. April 15, a traditional occasion for tax-related demonstrations, was also the first day of a global #RebellionWeek called by the climate action group Extinction Rebellion. “Nobody is quite sure who decided it should also be a day calling for Trump’s resignation, but once the ‘You’re Fired’ idea started, it was unstoppable. Demonstrators marched to Congressional district offices in all fifty states, making connections between the madman in the White House, the madness of our climate policy, and the madness of our government’s spending priorities.” These, of course, were the protests that provoked Trump into sending the now-infamous tweets that escalated the crisis further, setting in motion the series of events that led to his departure from the White House.
There are signs, now, of movement forward. In her address to crowds on Wednesday, Representative Maxine Waters noted that “we’re on the way to the Bundle” — a series of proposed measures that began with a large jobs bill around renewable energy technologies, and has been expanded to include the abolition of student loan and medical debt, as well as the establishment of single-payer healthcare, six months of maternity and paternity leave, the restoration and re-funding of public libraries and other basic services, and even a Universal Basic Income in some areas. The package also includes an emergency measure to immediately free all detained immigrant children and reunite them with their families.
Throughout Wednesday and into today, a flurry of Democratic representatives — and a growing number of Republicans — issued statements underscoring their support for the Bundle. Recent opinion polls show that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum support the initiatives. The demands have proven popular even in Republican strongholds such as Texas, Arizona, and Idaho — where both Republican congressmen’s offices were shut down for two weeks in March after thousands of constituents refused to let anyone enter the buildings until a pledge to support the Bundle was signed.