WASHINGTON – Just after arriving in Washington to work for President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway found herself in a downtown supermarket, where a man rushed by her and sneered, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself! Go look in the mirror!"
"Mirrors are in aisle 9 — I'll go get one now," Conway recalled replying. She brushed off the dart with the swagger of someone raised in the ever-attitudinal trenches of South Jersey. "What am I gonna do? Fall apart in the canned vegetable aisle?"
For any new presidential team, the challenges of adapting to Washington include navigating a capital with its own unceasing rhythms.
Yet for employees of Donald Trump — the most singularly combative president of the modern era, a man who exists in his own tweet-driven ecosystem — the challenges are magnified exponentially, particularly in a predominantly Democratic city where he won only 4 percent of the vote.
For as long as the White House has existed, its star occupants have inspired a voluble mix of demonstrations, insults and satire. Yet what distinguishes the Trump era's turbulence is the sheer number of his deputies — many of them largely anonymous before his inauguration — who have become the focus of public fury.
"Better be better!" a stranger shouted at Stephen Miller, a senior Trump adviser and the architect of his zero-tolerance immigration policy. Miller's visage subsequently appeared on "Wanted" posters someone placed on lampposts ringing his City Center apartment building.
One night, after Miller ordered $80 of takeout sushi, a bartender followed him into the street and shouted, "Stephen!" When Miller turned around, the bartender raised both middle fingers, according to an account Miller shared with White House colleagues. Outraged, Miller threw the sushi away, he told his colleagues.
Most of the interactions that Trump's aides have with strangers amount to nothing more than posing for selfies. But his advisers have also found themselves subjected to a string of embarrassing public scornings.
Before Vice President Mike Pence's swearing-in, his neighbors in Chevy Chase, where he was renting a house, hung rainbow banners to protest his opposition to equal rights for gay men and lesbians. When Pence went to the musical "Hamilton" in New York, the actor playing Aaron Burr concluded the evening by announcing from the stage that he was afraid that Trump wouldn't "uphold our inalienable rights."
More recently, Trump appointees have starred in a flurry of in-your-face encounters that ricochet around social media for days on end.
A week ago, it was a Sidwell Friends teacher who interrupted her lunch at Teaism in Penn Quarter to tell Scott Pruitt — eating a few feet away — that he should resign as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. By last Thursday morning, nearly half a million viewers had clicked on a video of the confrontation that the teacher, Kristin Mink, had posted on Facebook. By Thursday afternoon, Pruitt quit.
"I would say it's burning people out," said Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's former communications director. "I just think there's so much meanness, it's causing some level of, 'What do I need this for?' And I think it's a recruiting speed bump for the administration. To be part of it, you've got to deal with the incoming of some of this viciousness."
On at least two occasions, demonstrators have assembled outside the Kalorama home of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Both like to attend early-morning spin classes at Flywheel, a nearby studio, where the room goes dark when the class starts.
The president himself leads a cloistered existence, never visiting a restaurant or golf club other than the ones he owns or controls. Trump does not like to appear meek, using rallies and his Twitter account to lacerate rivals.
In recent weeks, say senior officials, Trump has voiced dissatisfaction with aides who have backed down during public confrontations, including his spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Virginia last month by the owner.
Two weeks ago, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen walked out of a Mexican restaurant after demonstrators followed her inside to rail against the administration for separating children from migrant parents. "Shame!" the protesters shouted.
Newt Gingrich, former Republican House speaker and Trump ally, said the way to end the public confrontations is "to call the police."
Referring to Trump's advisers, Gingrich said, "They should take solace in the fact that we must be winning, since these people are so crazy."
Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who spent 13 years in Congress, said Washington has always been a hotbed of dissent. What has changed, he said, is that aggressive tactics "are becoming more normalized. We're in a situation where bad behavior is being rewarded."
After Mink, the teacher, confronted Pruitt on Monday, she found herself both applauded and chided on social media. She did not appear to mind the attention. After Pruitt resigned, she tweeted: "Hey @realDonaldTrump where are you going for lunch tomorrow?"