Last spring, Lily Onnen’s husband called to report he’d found the perfect home for sale, across from a lush, green city park and perched above a busy thoroughfare in Seattle’s charming Leschi neighborhood. The 1905 Cape Cod had hardwood floors, historic fireplaces, original leaded windows, and one particularly noticeable, though newer, element. When Onnen herself set foot on the property, that feature sealed the deal: four giant numbers and eight large letters that displayed a message—a countdown.
The numbers were about to dip to just under one thousand, while the letters in all caps read “DAYS LEFT.” In other words, the duration until January 20, 2021, the official end of Donald Trump’s term in the White House when, potentially at least, his successor will be sworn in. Onnen sees the clock as a beacon during a stormy political time in America, especially as the country speeds toward another crowded presidential race.
“Let me tell you—I am not a fan of Trump or his administration,” Onnen says. “Every day I wake up and hope the number is zero.” At some point, it will be; until then, Onnen’s husband, Paul, dutifully changes the numbers on the clock by hand, often to a cacophony of drivers honking their horns or passersby snapping photos. It’s part protest, part symbol of hope—it was also a formal addendum written into the sale of the home.
“They wanted to keep it, and I was fine with that,” says John Holt, the previous owner and original clock creator. “Lily felt that it was fate they could buy that house because their politics and mine agree.”
Since its inception the month after Trump took office, the countdown clock has almost exclusively drawn support, according to its owners. Inevitably, though, some of the attention brought a bit of backlash, even in heavily liberal Western Washington, where nearly 72 percent of voters in King County cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton in 2016, compared with about 22 percent for Trump. After the countdown display first made headlines, someone smashed the couple’s car windshield, says Onnen, likely upset with the installation.
The progressive couple remains optimistic—as does Holt, who still maintains the
@trump_counter Instagram account from his new home in Magnolia (he’s moved twice, recreating the clock in both locations). With the 2020 election just over a year away, both households will be watching what unfolds in the third round of Democratic debates this month.
If Trump wins a second stint at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Onnen jokes it could mean packing up and moving to Canada. “But the reality is if we stay here and we keep that clock,” she says, “then there’s always 2024.”