The not-so-glamorous Instagram life of a US senator

The not-so-glamorous Instagram life of a US senator

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Wait, what – no private jet? 

Far from it. 

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“One of the funniest ones was when my plane got grounded in Washington,” he says, coming across a June 2019 post when he banded together with two software engineers, a college professor, and a lawyer he’d never met to make the trip back home. “We rented a car and drove overnight,” he says. That post prompted one of his biggest responses ever, he says.  

The Maine senator may not be the king of Instagram – he has just 32,400 followers, compared with, say, the 8.5 million of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His down-to-earth approach is more the speed of Maine lobstermen trolling for crustaceans than politicos scrolling for scuttlebutt. But in a way that resonates with many amid the craggy coasts and whispering pines of Maine, his understated commentary on Washington and the people he represents challenges the pervasive cynicism about politicians and their polarizing use of platforms from Twitter to TikTok. 

“You would almost look at it and think it’s not even a politician’s social media account. It could just be someone who visits D.C. often,” says Andrew Selepak, a social media professor at the University of Florida. “But I think that’s probably a bit reflective of him as a politician.” 

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In an industry often associated with big egos and a myopic focus on one’s own interests, Senator King shows an aptitude for thoughtful observation. He takes an almost childlike delight in discovering a view of the Washington Monument through a crack in the elevator doors, thanks to a window in the Senate elevator shaft that he never noticed. He revels in sunsets or a Maine back road lined by snow-dusted evergreens that provide a respite from politics.

And he defies the downward pull of the social media vortex, pulling back the curtain on the humanity of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle – here’s Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine playing the harmonica and Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – while also being frank about their disagreements.

Not everyone is a fan; when he posted a dawn photo taken from the Capitol after a 25-hour nonstop session to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March 2021, one commenter wrote, “WHY DID YOU VOTE AGAINST RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE HOW OUT OF TOUCH ARE YOU.” The senator pointed him to a statement on his website. Hope it helps explain, he added. 

Indeed, beyond the rainbows and kittens, there is often a substantive and sober tone – whether he’s warning about climate change or musing about the health of our democratic institutions. 

Early in his career, he worked as a staffer on the Hill in the 1970s, when senators lived in town with their families and got to know each other. Now most leave on Thursday afternoons and don’t come back until late Monday. Apart from the bipartisan Senate prayer breakfast, there are hardly ever any opportunities to just get to know each other, explains the former Democrat who switched to independent when he ran for governor in 1994, but still caucuses with the Democratic Party in Congress. So he started hosting impromptu dinners, picking up ribs, beans, and coleslaw and inviting a few fellow senators – some Democrats, some Republicans – over to his 908-square-foot home in Washington. 

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“You can almost see the wheels turning and see the person say, ‘Oh, this person isn’t the monster I thought they were,’” says Senator King in a hallway interview in May, a few weeks after holding his first post-pandemic dinner. 

But he runs out of time looking for the post he really wanted to share – a photo of dirty dishes after one such gathering before the pandemic. It was his creative way of capturing the moment without infringing on the privacy necessary to foster bipartisan ties.

Here it is, further down in his feed, April 23, 2018: a takeout container with a couple of ribs sitting atop aluminum foil, a nearly empty jar of sauce, and dirty plates crammed onto a small counter. 

What you see here is the remains of tonight’s edition of my personal project to make a dent in this unfortunate reality, he wrote, explaining how the lack of trust makes it hard to reach the compromises necessary to get things done.

“Beautiful dishes, sad truth,” commented one follower. 

Another took a more hopeful view: “Thank you for bringing sanity to Washington.”


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